Driving change: Women in Block Forum
For International Women’s Day 2022, Gurpreet Virdee, block discounting account development manager at Siemens Financial Services (SFS), shares her experience of being a professional woman in the world of block discounting, and what sparked her to help create the Women in Block Forum.
When I first joined the finance sector in the mid-90s, we ladies were rare in customer-facing roles within the asset finance industry and block discounting (or block financing) in particular. Now times have changed. More progress is needed to attract an increasing proportion of female talent to the sector, so the situation has been a work in progress, but I can now see traction.
The block market is niche and has a lower employee turnover than other areas of the finance industry which could explain why gender equality has taken a time to get moving. With only half a dozen core providers in the block market, there are only a finite number of roles. These are often filled by people with years of experience, and so just from a generational change point of view, the majority of senior roles are still occupied by men. Only when people retire do spaces open up for the next generation to move up the ladder, so there is a strong argument for more active effort to be put in by the sector to ensure and improve representation on all fronts – gender, ethnicity, disability and so on.
The way I came about getting into this field was somewhat by chance. I started out working in internal sales at SFS but used to cover annual leave for the block team. A position came up and I was lucky enough to join the team. Fast forward to today and I am one of two female account development managers in the block discounting team. Given that we’re a 3-person team, I think you’ll agree things have changed. And it’s not just our team that is changing – we are seeing a steadily growing cohort of talented, ambitious women amongst our customer base. So it’s arguable that the finance side and the customer side are addressing their gender balance at a similar pace.
Although we have been implementing positive changes for the representation of women at SFS, I also felt a responsibility to help boost engagement with the issue in the industry as a whole. While attending a block event, I was inspired to encourage greater balance in the attendee list and caught myself envisioning a forum that would be dedicated exclusively to the women in block discounting – that’s how the ‘Women in Block Forum’ came about. The forum is a complete mix of women from across the industry, from customers, funders to support staff. We meet up quarterly (usually over a glass of wine… or two) to network and support each other.
For several years, there has been good female representation in support roles, but we want to encourage and enable female talent to progress into more senior roles. Block discounting is growing in popularity as businesses have the opportunity to grow their own book in the current climate which has seen a downturn in conventional lending. Working ‘in block’ requires good product knowledge and an ability to interact with customers, so there’s no good reason for talented women not to be attracted at the entry-level, or to have a full career progressing up the ladder based purely on merit. I hope to see new initiatives like the Women in Block Forum emerge to encourage greater diversity within the sector and act as a support structure for women interested in entering the market.
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