Carol Roberts, who started her journey in the world of finance over 50 years ago, “at a time when a woman’s role in the workforce was bound by perceived limitations”, offers her view on IWD 2021.
Now, as we celebrate another International Women’s Day, I want to reflect on how much our industry has transformed over the years, the positive changes we’re all still working towards, and the exciting roles women are carving out for themselves in our industry today.
All about timing
I owe my success to good fortune and hard work — as well as a supportive family and colleagues. Taking my first steps into the finance sector at a young age as a junior clerk, I was thrust into a career that was largely closed to women and I grasped that opportunity with both hands.
I am acutely aware, however, that opportunities came my way that simply didn’t for others. For this reason, I feel I have a responsibility to use my experiences and position to ensure the industry — and beyond — is more inclusive in the future. It’s fantastic to see things are moving in the right direction.
This past month, UK ministers have urged businesses to appoint more women to executive positions in the boardroom, following a Government-backed review on gender diversity. It has also been announced that the Financial Conduct Authority has appointed five women to top roles. Indeed, the highly skilled and talented Operating Board that I sit with at Time Finance is 50% female. But industry issues remain, and businesses are missing out on serious talent. We must remain focused and stay on the right track when it comes to representation — especially now.
A difficult year
The modern-day challenges women are facing have been particularly highlighted during the pandemic. Through the various lockdowns all parents have struggled with the burden of maintaining productivity levels whilst taking care of little ones. Yet there have been numerous reports that women have felt their jobs becoming more at-risk due to childcare requirements, than those of their male counterparts. When we want to be talking about boosting women in leadership roles, headlines like this can make us feel we’re moving backwards, not forwards.
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There are likely a number of reasons for these worrying trends; perhaps it’s still hard for women to balance a successful career without feeling guilt. Or perhaps we need to question how many employers out there were genuinely supportive of parents working from home and juggling home schooling.
To rise above current limitations, we not only need to empower and enable women but also quickly learn and respond to the fact that there’s more to ‘equality’ than female empowerment alone — with ingrained gender roles, race, religion, disability, sexuality and background all essential considerations.
Keeping the wheels of progress moving
I’m incredibly proud of my career to date, but it hasn’t been easy. Let’s face it, the road to progress is seldom travelled without a few stumbling blocks, and I often found I had to work harder to prove myself, or simply battle to get in the room! I recall one occasion in the 90s when I was incredulous at the treatment I received. Despite being the host of an event, I was almost denied access to an evening dinner at a golfing club, since women were not allowed in the club house. While waiting for my guests, I was then informed that I would be unable to have a drink until I was in the company of a man. Well, you can only imagine the conversation that followed…
Many still face hurdles of exclusion today but, for women in general, there are thankfully far fewer incidences like this one. And, while it may have taken a long time to get to this point, it is now widely known that hiring, promoting, and fairly paying women… pays. In fact, investment and research into this very subject continues and routinely shows that company profits and share performance can increase by up to 50% when there is significant representation at a higher level.
Adopting a grassroots approach
Of course, representation at a higher level can’t be changed overnight and starts by building well from the bottom-up. We should all be looking around and asking ourselves, how many doors have I left open for a young person starting out recently? What am I doing to drive change?
As I discovered several decades ago, having someone notice something in you at a young age can make all the difference, so we need to better prepare candidates from all walks of life for success. This is one of the reasons I spent some time working with a young enterprise programme that ensured that high school students had access to as many opportunities as possible. It’s also why I’m so passionate about investing in entry-level positions and supporting apprenticeships.
At Time Finance we run a great initiative — our Talent Leadership Programme helps shape the next generation of business leaders. Challenged with real tasks and projects to give them genuinely valuable experiences, the cohort of A dozen 25 to 35-year-olds benefit from 1:1 mentorship with a member of the Operating Board, as well as bespoke training sessions with an external career and leadership coach.
The work in this area will never stop and, right now, the more we can do to help give young people a boost the better off we will all become. To create lasting change in the industry, we need to continue taking practical steps to improve diversity and inclusion in the workplace. This is why I take my role with The Leasing Foundation and position at Time Finance extremely seriously and I will persevere to build and develop on all we have achieved to date — continuing to rewrite the rulebook to change lives for the better.