Carolyn has spent over 20 years working in the pension industry.
She started her career with an actuarial company and realising the actuarial life was not for her moved to an in-house role with British Airways Pensions.
After six years of consulting with PwC focusing on strategy and change management she moved to Fidelity International to work in proposition design and management. Carolyn is currently Head of Pensions Product at Fidelity International, and is responsible for the development of Fidelity’s pension and retirement products and services in the UK.
Her and her team are also responsible for helping define Fidelity‘s pension policy and retirement thought leadership in the UK, and with colleagues around the globe to provide fresh insight into the ever more complex issues our customers face in saving for and living in retirement.
Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role
I have spent over 20 years working in the pension industry, that sounds a long time when you write it down but certainly doesn’t feel it. I started my career with an actuarial company and realising the actuarial life was not for me moved to a role with British Airways Pensions where I qualified, got to grips with all aspects of pensions in an enormous company and had the opportunity to work on a big pensions transformation projects, which really got me to understand that working in pensions is multi-faceted and full of opportunity to learn all sorts of skills. Then moving to PwC, I spent 6 years focusing on pensions strategy and change management helping large organisations undertake pension and benefit projects. In 2006 I moved to Fidelity International to work in proposition design and management. I am currently Head of Pensions Product at Fidelity International, and with my team am responsible for the development of Fidelity’s pension and retirement products and services in the UK. I also help Fidelity’s pension policy and retirement thought leadership in the UK, and with colleagues around the globe to provide fresh insight into the ever more complex issues our customers face in saving for and living in retirement.
Did you ever sit down and plan your career?
No never. I went through a phase in my early teens of wanting to become a lawyer, influenced by the TV legal drama LA Law. Then in university I studied physics and almost did a post grad in atomic physics, but decided to go travelling instead. Fresh off the plane I went to stay with a friend in London and looked for a job and found one with a firm of actuaries wanting maths and physics graduates, and that was the start of my career in pensions.
My view is if you have a plan and stick to it you may miss opportunities. Whilst if you have a broad sense of direction and what you want out of life or your job then you may be more open to things that just come along.
I recently talked to some girls in their final years in school studying STEM subjects and they were so focussed on what they wanted to be, I really don’t remember that being the case when I was in school. I talked to them about looking for opportunities to do new things where you don’t expect and not closing doors just because something may not be what you think you want. Whilst I work in pensions I have done all sorts of things…big systems projects, lobbying and public relations, communication design, strategy, merger and acquisition, policy development, travelled the world. I’ve never felt in a rut that I can’t get out of.
Have you faced any challenges along the way and if so, how did you deal with them?
Of course, small ones, big ones, work ones, personal ones. I really believe that people should work to live, it may sound jaded but it is something I have lived by. Work should enable you to do the things you want to do but it is important that you enjoy yourself along the way. Everyone has rubbish days but the question I ask myself is – is it so rubbish that you don’t want to be doing this? if so move on. Most of the time the answer is no it is just a blip and when you cast an analytical eye on the situation (back to my science background) you have great people around you, you are challenged, you are learning new things, you have peoples respect, you earn enough etc whatever criteria are important to you. When it’s the case that you aren’t achieving what is important to you in and out of work then it is time to look for something new.
If you could change one thing for women in the workplace, what would it be?
That women can be themselves rather than act in the way they think they should. I have worked in male dominated environments most of my career, and in some have felt that to get on as a woman you should act like a man. “no” diversity of thought and approach is a strength of a team and not a weakness and we shouldn’t have to try and clone what is perceived as the way of doing things.
What has been your biggest achievement to date?
I have forged a successful career, have a wonderful family, and have seen the world. I know that I am lucky in that many women don’t have the support to be able to balance it all and end up compromising on some or all fronts
What is your next challenge and what are you hoping to achieve in the future?
Fidelity have allowed me to take six months career break next year to take my son travelling before he starts school. I think six months round the world with a four-year-old will be my biggest challenge to date. Then back to Fidelity to develop products and services that will help our customers plan and achieve their retirement goals.