Encouraging more women into leadership

When I first started my city banking career in credit risk, I found myself working alongside one of the first females to return to the bank after having a baby. 

It is still hard to believe that women in banking felt unable to return to work after marriage and having a family, and this scenario didn’t happen that long ago.  When I first started working in credit there were a few female colleagues working in analytics.  However, what did strike me was the lack of females in management and leadership positions.  As a young, ambitious woman in banking this made it hard to have other women to aspire to in terms of leadership style and career path opportunities.  Thankfully that is now starting to progress, and we are increasingly seeing more female leaders in credit and banking, which will hopefully provide a clearer route for the young females building a career in credit today.

Throughout my career I have had to overcome both the hurdles of being a women in credit and also being the youngest.  Being based in the City, in many committees I would be the only woman, the youngest woman and often the only woman in the room with a northern accent.  There were many occasions when I felt that people weren’t taking me seriously and they would try to talk over me while I was speaking. I remember having to make a conscious effort to project my voice and speak up and become more assertive to address those situations, and that was daunting.

Attracting the right leadership

For me, my progression into a leadership role came down to three factors. Firstly, I was prepared to take a chance and move out of my comfort zone by taking on different roles in credit and internationally too. This was challenging for me and came with a much higher risk of personal failure.  Secondly, I also ensured I was actively promoting the work and successes that my team and I had achieved. Thirdly, I began building my network across the organisations I’ve worked in and have been lucky enough to be supported by some great mentors and sponsors over the years.

Diversity at board and leadership level is key to bringing in the different skills that females can bring to the table. This in turn, helps to develop the right products for a wider range of customers that use credit products and services.   I would say this is critical to the success of any credit company or bank.  If businesses want to address unconscious bias and continue to attract the right leadership, further work is needed to encourage more females and underrepresented groups into leadership to ensure we provide the role models for those younger generations starting their careers. Given half of the workforce is female, the credit industry needs to make use of the full array of talent and expertise available to them.

Stepping out of your comfort zone

When it comes to championing more women in credit risk, typically, what gets measured gets done.  Having a diversity target is a positive step, but further actions are needed such as:  increasing the future talent pipeline by working with schools and universities to promote the type of opportunities that are available and open to women in credit and other STEM careers.

As a woman in credit risk, I’ve learned that you have to be prepared to step outside of your comfort zone into something you may not have the complete skill set for right now. If you wait to tick all of the boxes first, you’ll never move forward. Being a woman in a male dominated sector means you have to work hard, be tenacious, and stick your elbows out because you might have to force your way into opportunities at times to get your work or point of view across. You should also never overlook the importance of taking time to develop a strong network, make use of mentors and coaching advice too. I’ve been really lucky to have good people that have helped me along the way, and it really does make all the difference.

About the author

Emma Heathcote, Client Partner at 4most city-based risk analytics consultancy

Emma graduated in 1996 with a degree in statistics and searched for a role in analytics.  She started her career in banking within a credit analytics team. She spent 20+ years working across a number of roles in credit risk taking her from a trainee analyst to director level in the UK and internationally today. During her career she actively looked for new roles and challenges to challenge her comfort zone.  The latest one being the move to consultancy where Emma is flourishing in the role of Client Partner.

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