Inspirational Woman: Emma Sterland | Regional Managing Director, Tilney Smith & Williamson London

Emma SterlandEmma is one of eight Regional Managing Directors at Tilney Smith & Williamson, looking after one of the London regions.

Prior to joining the business nine years ago, Emma worked for HSBC Private Bank for 10 years. During her time at HSBC, Emma worked around the UK in Cardiff, Exeter, Dublin, Leeds and decided to make London her home in 2009. Outside of work Emma is married with two daughters aged four and seven, and when she’s not balancing work and her children, she likes to keep fit. 

Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role

Current role – Regional Managing Director for Tilney Smith & Williamson London. 

I have worked for Tilney for 9 years and in the industry for 20 years.  I joined Tilney when it was Bestinvest and during the last 9 years have seen the business change and grow significantly.

I am married and have 2 young girls aged 7 and 4.  I am from Yorkshire, but have moved around the country with work living in Cardiff, Exeter, Leeds and London (I did spent a bit of time travelling to Dublin weekly to support an office opening).  I moved to London in 2009 and absolutely love it here and see London as home.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

Not really, I always knew I wanted to take professional exams once I got into a profession and so once I started in the finance world I soon got started with exams.  I lose track of the number of exams I have taken but I am chartered and Fellow of the Chartered Insurance Institute. 

Have you faced any challenges along the way?

Yes of course.  My style is open direct and fast paced, I am self-aware enough to know that this isn’t always suited to others and I do try and pause to think through more challenging messages I need to deliver and my approach.  I believe in being authentic however it doesn’t mean you can’t flex around the edges depending on your audience.

Getting interviewed for a team leader role at 38 weeks pregnant was a huge challenge, I knew that if I got the role it would cause an immediate gap for the company.  The interviewing manager even said this to me!  I was successful however that had its challenges as I had a new team that I never met before going on maternity leave.

What has been your biggest achievement to date?

  1. Getting my first advising role 20 years ago, I will never forget the interview or the phone call to tell me they were giving me the role even though I had no advising experience. We all need someone to give us a chance.
  2. The role I have now, I am hugely proud of the role I have and absolutely love supporting colleagues to be the best version of themselves.

What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success? 

Drive and sheer determination.

How do you feel about mentoring? Have you mentored anyone or are you someone’s mentee? Who do you feel has most helped you on your journey?

I personally feel this is absolutely essential as part of personal development.  I have worked with a number of mentors to help me and I have found this hugely beneficial. I have worked with mentors who can support a development area, people who are different and approach matters in a different way to give you a differing opinion.  I have 2 mentors at the moment and these are for different things.  If you don’t know people you can approach, work with your line manager as they may know someone who is a perfect fit.

One more recently that has hugely helped me is around my choice to have a career rather than be a stay at home mum/the primary carer.  We are in 2021, however, in the financial world we don’t have lots of Senior Females and definitely not equal in numbers and so it can be lonely.  I have used my mentor to talk through my personal challenges on this and how to balance it all, work, life, family.    A key take away – you sometimes just have to let some stuff go!

I have also acted as a mentor for a couple of colleagues and find this hugely rewarding.  Often it is ability to have an open and frank discussion outside your team with fresh input that helps and can be challenging in a non -confrontational manner.

If you could change one thing to accelerate the pace of change for Gender Equality, what would it be?

More openness about maternity leave, returning to work support and acceptance of the family life juggling with young children. I personally put a lot of pressure on myself returning to work after my first child and I would have benefited hugely from more support at this time.  I did get some great advice from a friend is who Senior in a HR role for a Global firm – she told me this is a really short period in your working life, be a Mum and accept you may not get an outstanding rating this year – in the grand scheme of everything it doesn’t matter!  As an individual has performed to a high level prior to children this was not an ease piece of advice to take but she was absolutely right.

What benefits have you seen both individually and within your organisation from being involved with The WealthiHer Network?

1. Internally we have pulled together and created an internal Women’s group that focusses our efforts on our external client events.

2. Greater access to some brilliant coaching content

3. Education pieces around the research

We need more of this in the industry, it drives me mad when companies direct their conversation to my husband solely thinking I have no involvement in our financial arrangements or judge that he will make the decisions.  This is a quick way to be unsuccessful in working with couples or women!

If you could give one piece of advice to your younger-self what would it be?

It’s a marathon not a sprint.

You will get further as a strong team than a strong individual.

What would be your call to action for the industry in terms of furthering female advancement?

Proactive thought around flexi working that works for women (maybe juggling children or even elderly parents).  We lose so many great women as the balance becomes too challenging and with so many school holidays, I know many friends who have just “given up” work as it is not worth the stress.  This knowledge would be great to have in our industry but we need to find a way to make it work for colleagues, clients and commercially.

As a follow up to this, more around return to work after carer breaks.  Can we champion women who were previously very experienced but due to having a family may have taken a number of years out as a career break?  If the earning entry point is low then we are back to the cost of childcare vs working debate.

What is the one piece of advice you would give to a woman to help her along on that journey, if they haven’t already started. Or/ what is the best advice you have ever received and from whom?

Be open and transparent about your career aspirations with your line manager.  Often we are not great at this and hope others reward us for good work, however if you do not share your aspirations no-one can help you.  I learned this myself the hard way and honestly it is so true. 

If you find it hard to articulate your future aspirations, I would highly recommend working with a coach and I did exactly this when I came to a cross road in my career.

What is your next challenge and what are you hoping to achieve in the future?

I only recently started my current role last year so I am totally focused on this.

I do hope in the future to support some form of charity in a Non Exec capacity but for now I have enough to balance my new role and 2 young children.

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