Success Won’t Fall in Your Lap – You Have to Pursue It
It is an established fact that inclusive teams consistently outperform others when they include colleagues with varied background and outlooks. In fact, Alibaba founder and CEO, Jack Ma, at the Global Conference on Women and Entrepreneurship in Hangzhou, attributed the success1 of his own business to women and referred to female empowerment as his company's "secret sauce."
Even though financial companies are increasingly focused on tackling gender diversity issues, female representation in the C-suite remains low. According to New Financial’s study2, only 25 percent of board directors at firms and organizations in the European capital markets industry are women, and 18 percent of executive committee members are female. Even if women are becoming more visibly present, they are still underpaid compared to their male colleagues. Recent attention-grabbing headlines surrounding unequal pay for BBC presenters3 show this isn't something limited solely to male-dominated industries like the financial industry.
So what is holding women back? It's a multitude of factors. Many of these may be out of a woman's control, but there is one thing all women in every industry can do to help themselves and that is to become their best advocates.
While the assumption "my work speaks for itself" may have worked in school, it is not a reality in the workplace. To advance your career you must understand your value proposition – your unique contribution that you will bring to the table – and use it to your advantage.
How we can disrupt ourselves?
Secondly, many portray office politics as a negative. But politics can also be about relationship building and it can be constructive, if approached with a positive mind-set and the correct skills to navigate it successfully. Those skills can be developed via a mentor or an advocate who is already present at the top table. Having an influential ally who not only supports your career and backs your decisions, but one that also ensures your voice is heard, can fuel success. Equally, you should not only look for your own mentor, but also become an advocate for others as well. As Jack Lemmon once said; "If you make it, you have to send the elevator back down."
Another focus that must be addressed is around risk – do women take as many risks as men? We continue to hear how technology is advancing every day and causing new disruptive forces in the industry, but what we don't often hear is how we can disrupt ourselves. Being disruptive is about doing something different, challenging pre-conceptions and breaking out of conventionally accepted operational models. While the world outside our comfort zone can often appear daunting, women need to break away from old habits to gain the confidence to take a chance. Simply ignoring these can be damaging to a career. Therefore women need to play on their strengths, but not ignore the weaknesses. Instead, play them to your advantage and brave them both.
Most importantly, there should be no more playing it safe. Taking a calculated risk is a great opportunity to stand out and to present yourself as a leader. Georgina Bowen, a colleague of mine in our Kilkenny office, remembers that when she joined State Street she had no direct fund servicing experience. She had worked as an accountant and had a basic understanding of how you might look at a NAV, but nothing concrete. "But to have an idea of what you need, that might be enough. Taking that little leap had a significant impact on my career."
Finally, while we all love spontaneity, it is sensible to plot some turning points along the way. Where do you see yourself in five years? What areas of the business interest you in the long term? Do you fancy a stint abroad? There are just a couple of questions you should ask yourself not only at the beginning of your career, but throughout it to open doors of opportunities, including some you may have not originally considered. The more risks you take, the more comfortable you will be with the next one.
1. Kokalitcheva , K. (2015, March 20). Female executives are Alibaba's 'secret sauce,' founder Jack Ma says. Retrieved January 03, 2018, from http://fortune.com/2015/05/20/alibaba-jack-ma-women/
2. Bax, L., Seddon-Daines, O., & Chinwala, Y. (2017, June). COUNTING EVERY WOMAN 2017. Retrieved from https://30percentclub.org/assets/uploads/UK/Third_Party_Reports/Counting_Every_Woman_2017_-_low_res.pdf
3. Ruddick, G. (2017, July 20). BBC facing backlash from female stars after gender pay gap revealed . The Guardian. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/media/2017/jul/19/evans-lineker-bbc-top-earners-only-two-women-among-best-paid-stars
Kim Newell Chebator is the Chief Administrative Officer for EMEA. Kim is responsible for the areas currently within the European Banking structure, which focuses on regional governance and control framework initiatives that provide strategic oversight for business unit and legal entity delivery. She is also responsible for coordinating our regional control framework which includes Corporate Compliance and Enterprise Risk Management.