Being a female leader in a male-dominated industry | Anne Williams, COO at Henry Howard Finance

Anne Williams, COO at HHF

Anne Williams is Chief Operating Officer at UK SME finance provider, Henry Howard Finance (HHF).

Based in South Wales, Anne was appointed to the role in March 2017 owing to her depth of experience as a former senior manager with GE Capital, among others. Anne works at HHF’s UK headquarters in Newport, accountable for its HR, marketing, sales support, pay-out, credit, customer services, collections, IT and compliance teams in delivering Asset, Vendor and Retail finance solutions to SMEs countrywide, and is also a board member.

Here, she talks to WeAreTheCity about being a female leader in a male-dominated industry

It was a formally recognised part of my previous role with GE Capital but when it comes to life in general, I suppose I’ve always been a ‘female champion’. It’s certainly an ethos that I’ve carried through with me to my current role with Henry Howard Finance, in the most positive of ways I can.

In business, as it is in life, I think it’s important to start by clarifying the positives that being a self-confessed ‘supporter of women’ involves though – it’s certainly not about running the ‘other side’ down in any way shape or form. What it does mean is balancing the status quo wherever possible.

In a business sense, this means fostering an environment where employees are supported to champion each other regardless of their gender, age, ethnicity or anything else.

At Henry Howard Finance, we have a near equal gender split in office-based staff, with 49 per cent of us female employees. At senior level, the company’s Head of Marketing, Head of Compliance, Head of Legal, Group Finance Controller, Head of Business Partnering, Compliance Manager, HR Manager, Business Analytics Manager (and more) are all female too.

I am very proud of this fact, not least because women in the UK are still found to occupy a minority of senior roles in the financial services sector specifically, after a parliamentary report described the sector as ‘falling well short’ regarding gender diversity.

Moreover, a House of Commons Treasury Committee Report released in June 2018 found there was ‘clearly an underrepresentation of women in senior positions in the financial services sector’ and that ‘furthermore, women are generally better represented in firms’ support functions rather than profit generating functions.’

Why? Why does it have to be any more complicated than doing what’s right for the employee and the business in question? Employing a workforce should always involve equality but, as importantly, it should be about diversity too. This is, after all, the modern way. Flexible working hours, home-working, term-time versus school holidays – these are all employee issues now prevalent across a wide range of sectors and relevant to employees of all genders and backgrounds, and rightly so.

Ultimately, as a modern business you have to be prepared to invest in people just as you expect your employees to invest their time in your commercial endeavours in return. I have always worked under the premise that you reap what you sow, both as an employee and as a senior manager, and that ultimately proving your employability and emotional buy-in as an individual regardless of your gender is key.

With this in mind, I’d like to think my place as a woman in business has not been compromised any more than it should have been, and would wish the same for any employee showing true commitment and drive towards the business I stand to represent at any one time in return.

Fortunately, for us as women in business, the world is at least beginning to change – the current gender balance at HHF being a clear illustration of this. This is no time yet to rest on our laurels either, however.

There must always be a balanced, neutral, impartial approach applied to any recruitment process of course – there is no place for tokenism – but only through highlighting the success of women in financial roles will we continue providing the inspiration required for a new generation of female leaders, and beyond, to emerge.

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