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10 Pieces of Career Advice from Successful Women in Finance

November 20, 2018 | Georgina Varley

Women of the Square Mile

Ahead of the European Women in Finance summit, we caught up with 5 famous women in finance who spoke at this year’s Women of the Square Mile conference.

Pips Bunce, Wendy Redshaw, Dame Helena Morrissey, Cecilia Harvey, and Anu Adebajo share their career advice and top tips on how to be a successful woman in the finance and banking sector.

What advice would you give to your younger self?

Pips Bunce, Director at Credit Suisse: I think the only advice I would give to my younger self is be truly proud of who you are – do not worry about what people will think, totally embrace your authenticity because you should be living your life for yourself, not for how you think others want you to look, or be, or act. I think by empowering those people to do that, by being fully authentic, people will live a much more fulfilled and confident life. 

Cecilia Harvey, Director at Vocalink: The advice that I would give my younger self is to relax, just be yourself, don’t try and be something that you’re not and just be real. Wall Street and working in the city was quite new to me. I had never worked in that type of environment before and I didn’t know how to act “like a banker”. I think that I spent so much time trying to figure out how to act and I should have just been myself and it would have been fine. That’s really the advice that I would give my younger self – just to be yourself, everyone’s going to love you – well, maybe not everybody but that’s okay. Just do your best job.

Dame Helena Morrissey, Chair at Diversity Project: I would tell my younger self not to worry quite so much. I think it’s really important not to let the fear of what might go wrong to put you off from trying. I have managed to overcome my fears, and often the worst thing that can happen is that you have to start again or that you have a temporary setback. I think we women tend to overanalyse situations, we are quite self-critical and I’m afraid that sometimes we are judgemental of others – so, just go for it sometimes.

Wendy Redshaw, CIO for Collaborative Technology Solutions at Deutsche Bank: I think the advice I’d give my younger self would to be aware of things, and by that, I mean I have worked with a lot of people during my career and I’ve enjoyed working with them and then I’ve moved on, whereas actually those threads come back, again and again. So, to keep my network alive and nurtured would be the advice I’d give my younger self.

Anu Adebajo, Investment Manager at British Business Bank: The advice I would give to my younger self is fake it until you make it. I think that’s really important. It’s shown time and time again that men apply for a job role and might not tick off everything on the list, they might only tick off 20% of the things on the list, but they say that’s it – that’s talking about me. Whereas, women we feel that we need to tick off 90 or 100% of the things on the list before we apply for a role. And, I think there’s something we can learn from that – that fake it until you make it mentality. I wish I’d told myself that too, don’t feel scared that you don’t have all the answers, don’t feel scared that you’re not an expert, that you don’t know 100% of the facts. You know something and just go for it – don’t let that hold you back.

What’s key to being successful?

Pips: Unless you are being truly authentic within the workplace, within who you are, you are not going to relate to people in the same way and you’re not going to be absolutely engaged in who you’re working with. Authenticity  as Oscar Wilde says, “Be yourself. Everyone else is already taken”  is so key. You cannot be a strong, powerful leader unless you are being truly authentic and true to who you are.

Cecilia: I think one of the key attributes for somebody to be successful is to be transparent, and that’s in many different ways. Firstly, you need to be quite authentic about who you are as a person and what you’re about. And then, also, I think that you need to make sure that you are being honest with people, you have the integrity in terms of your day-to-day. When you say you’re going to do something, you do it and you really keep your promises. I think that transparency, that integrity, is key to being successful.

Dame Helena: Nothing happens in a straight line. Everybody’s career is a labyrinth, I don’t think it’s really a ladder and there are twists and turns, setbacks. In fact, every day, even in the life of someone who is supposedly successful, there’s big moments of failure as well as successes. The key is how you deal with them. I think, as Winston Churchill talked about, a thought mentioned in the recent film about his life, how you learn to respond to setbacks is a very big part of what makes someone succeed rather than just falling to the wayside.

Wendy: I think being able to define a vision and then work towards that vision, to be flexible, to be kind, to think about other people’s perspectives and to see how you ‘might’ do something. So, for example, we have ‘How Might We’ boards all around the office, so if there’s something that comes up as a blocker then we think ‘How Might We’ get around that and start to pull together creative ideas to solve the problem.

Anu: To be successful I think you really need to believe in yourself. A lot of women, especially, sometimes lack that self-belief in a way that men don’t – a lot of the time it is self-belief that is not necessarily backed up by any actual talent. I think that’s a really key part, if you don’t believe in yourself why should anybody else? That goes quite a long way for you to be successful. Obviously, it’s great to be backed up by substance as well. I think that you need to know your area, whatever that is, and really live and breathe it and research it, and use that to combine your self-belief with an actual knowledge, talent, whatever you would like to call it. I think those are the key ingredients.

For more information on these female role models from this year’s Women of the Square Mile, click here. Make sure to register for next year’s event where even more top women in finance will be sharing their experiences.

European Women in Finance returns for 2019, to buy tickets click here.