Empowering advice for women in finance

Posted 23 January 2024 by Faith Liversedge

According to the 2017 World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report, ‘Female talent remains one of the most underutilised business resources’ and yet when it comes to finance, the gender gap is alive and well. In 2023, there were roughly 568,000 full-time male employees in the financial and insurance activities sector in the UK and only 381,000 full-time female employees.

And as employees rise in seniority, unequal gender representation in financial services worsens. According to a global report by Deloitte, in 2021, women only made up 21% of board members, 19% of C-suite roles, and 5% of CEOs.

One of the many reasons for this gender disparity is the lack of female role models. So here we’ve gathered invaluable advice from inspirational women who are not only thriving in their careers, but are also passionate about mentoring the next generation of women in finance.

These women have set new standards for what it means to lead and grow in financial services; each piece of guidance is a testament to their experience, resilience, and commitment to fostering a more inclusive and diverse professional environment. 

Let’s take a look at what they said: 

Gillian Hepburn, Commercial Director, Benchmark Capital

Be professional, utterly reliable and don’t try to be someone you’re not. The incredible Madeleine Albright also believed this when she said, “I love being a woman and I was not one of these women who rose through professional life by wearing men’s clothes or looking masculine. I love wearing bright colours and being who I am.”

Incidentally, I also love to use the Madeleine Allbright quote “There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women” A great piece of advice!

Helena Wardle, Founder of Money Means, Partner and Chartered Financial Planner at Smith and Wardle Financial Planning

The best advice I was given was to build your network. I don’t mean go to networking events, I mean build connections, have conversations and get to know a lot of the incredible people in our profession. It made an enormous difference to me and has been a brilliant source of support. Ensure that you give back in a similar way.

Melissa Kidd, Director, Motem

It's often said that we, as women, need to be more confident. I've spent many years trying to cultivate this often-elusive state. What I've learnt is that confidence is made up of three ingredients - competence, courage and self compassion.

I find this is more achievable when you break it down: competence - we need to know what we're doing or saying; courage - to push ourselves out of our comfort zone so that we grow; and self compassion - to help us be on our own side whatever happens. Too often we beat ourselves up thinking that's going to help us improve, when really all it does is make us stressed and miserable.

Samantha Secomb, Director at Pentins and Women's Wealth

We women need to remember that the templates we’re often measured against were created by men, for men, and that the templates need updating. We bring strengths, diversity of thinking, and fresh ideas to the table. We can be ourselves and financial services will be better for it. We don’t need to become more like men.

As Albert Einstein said: “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”

Cathi Harrison, Founder and CEO, The Verve Group

Financial services is a relationship business; whether with clients or with colleagues and peers. You might need to be a bit more proactive and nurturing and building relationships, but it will certainly help with your overall knowledge, experience and connections. It’s actually quite a small industry and you will very quickly meet the same faces again and again. Yes, there are fewer women in the industry still but, that’s changing (the men are still friendly too!).

Gretchen Betts, Managing Director, Magenta Financial Planning

Find a way to manage your mental health well, carving out sufficient time for recovery from what is a very fast-paced, demanding role. Really understand what being your ‘authentic’ self is, because I think still too many of us still worry about external pressures and expectations. Be the highest qualified you can be in your chosen area, embrace what you care about most in your business and in the way you deal with your clients.

Philippa Hann, Head of Solicitor Engagement, RQ Ratings, Non-Executive Director Paradigm Norton Financial Planning and Nicholls Stevens Financial Services, ex-Lawyer, Coach and Professional Speaker

Invest in yourself. Take the course, buy the books, make the trip to the conference and stay overnight so you can network, upgrade your qualifications and knowledge, ask that person you admire for a coffee so you can understand them and their approach to business better. You are the best investment you can make. Don't apologise or feel bad for spending money on your future.

Michelle Darracott, Non Executive Director, The Pensions Trust

Find other liked-minded women so you can support one another in your respective career paths and be each other's advocates and look for opportunities to collaborate with other women.

Laura Barnes, Director of Business Development, Nucleus

Be assertive, own your career choice, trust your skills. Don’t be afraid to ask for what you want. Cultivate friendships, speak with confidence, manage your energy carefully and learn how to handle conflict.

We all have a responsibility to identify prospective leaders and mentor them through the early years of their development. No matter where we are in our careers, there will always be someone starting their journey, and we hope they encounter fewer obstacles than we did.

Michelle Hoskin, Founder, Standards International

Always be and remain authentically you. Women continue to fail to realise not only their own potential, but the power that they hold in their female approach to the work, and to the people around them. Women have a unique view of the world, and they bring a special balance to it. It saddens me when I see women trying to be too much like their male counterparts. This brings aggression and unnecessary dominance and a tone to their approach and their delivery, which is just not needed in today’s world of financial planning.

My favourite quote comes from Jamie Kern Lima who said “Authenticity doesn't automatically guarantee success, but inauthenticity guarantees failure.” Every time. Always.

Cathy Brennan, Founder, Resourceful Planner

People buy from people and it's important to build your personal brand: knowing how to introduce yourself is key; get comfortable talking about your achievements and be visible. Find your tribe by attending events and seek out like-minded people. A follow up personal message and connection request on LinkedIn is always a good idea. Finally, be persistent and persevere, you’re in it for the long haul!

Laura Robinson, Partner, Clarke Willmott

The reason people choose to work with you isn’t always about getting great results, always having the answers or how competitive our fees are. In my experience, people often choose you simply because you’re the type of person they want to work with. That ‘type’ might well be different for everyone, but there are a few things that have stood out to me over the years:

- Be yourself: let your clients know you.

- Do what you say you will do, every time. Don’t over-promise, don’t fail to deliver.

- Be proactive, not reactive.

- Manage expectations realistically from the outset. Failure to do this is a major cause of complaints. 

Why do these things help? Probably because they make people feel in safe, reliable hands and, when it comes to our financial wellbeing, I think that’s exactly what most people are looking for. 

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Faith Liversedge

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Faith Liversedge