International Women's Day

Specialist finance industry gets behind International Women's Day

Today (8th March) marks International Women’s Day, a time to celebrate the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women, in addition to further accelerating gender parity.

In an ongoing mission to encourage more females into finance and property, B&C has asked numerous women from the specialist finance sector for their personal experiences, how they got into the roles they are in today, and advice for others looking to pursue a similar career.

We hope that this will help boost the presence of women in the press, raise awareness of disparities that still exists, celebrate women’s achievements, influence positive behaviour, and attract and retain more women in this sector.

We also think it’s important to note the areas where progress is still needed.
Make sure you visit our new ESG page, where we will be posting more stories throughout the day and beyond. Happy International Women’s Day!

Imogen Sporle, senior private broker at Finanze

“After deciding I wanted to be a broker, I wanted to know a bit more about the job and what it was like before I spent my time and money doing my CeMAP exams. I started calling round every broker in my local area (about 15 small brokerages) asking if they would take me on for work experience or have a chat with me about the role. On my fifteenth call, a lovely self-employed broker answered and told me she was looking for an admin, and told me to come in later that week for a meeting to discuss what a broker was. If I was happy, she said she would help me study for my CeMAP exams and take me on as an admin for some on the job experience — and it went from there.

My advice to other women is to be unapologetic about blowing your own trumpet in interviews and on your CV. It will be this that gets you noticed! Also, starting in an administration/account management role is a great way to get started as you will likely learn so much invaluable information in these roles and, even better, your employer might help fund your CeMAP exams.

“Even in the last three to four years, so much has improved with female-owned brokerages and networks popping up all the time. To put this into perspective, when I made my first calls looking for a position as a broker, out of the 15 calls, 13 of the business owners were men. I have since worked for a wonderful lady (the CEO of Connect Mortgages) and have not found myself short for opportunities.”

Louisa Sedgwick, managing director at Hampshire Trust Bank

“I have been in the intermediary mortgage world for many years, so of course this hasn’t happened overnight. It comes with hard work and perseverance, along with a little bit of luck. My career path has been fairly standard; I dipped my toe into financial services as a pre-regulation mortgage underwriter, moved into retail, then became a BDM, corporate account manager, regional manager, and head of sales etc.

“I would say I’m pretty self-aware. I have a strong character and can, on occasions, be a little outspoken. But that said, I listen to and respect other peoples’ views. I certainly think having a sense of humour and a very thick skin goes a long way in this industry! But, most of all, I really enjoy the space I work in and have been fortunate to have experienced some great leadership which has helped me on my way.

“My advice for other women looking to pursue a similar career would be to not compromise your values to fit in. If you do, you will regret it over time. In addition, don’t be afraid to speak out — you might get it wrong from time to time, but that’s great, because that’s how you learn and grow. Also, ask for help; it’s very rare someone will say no, and it’s something you will be doing for others throughout your career.

“Finally, look around the industry and,, of course outside of it, and see who you really respect and admire. Have the courage to approach them in order to get them to support and mentor you — it’s incredibly rewarding, and not just for you.

“It’s certainly true to say that the industry has come on in leaps and bounds over the last 10-plus years, which can only be a good thing, as it is fair to say that it wasn’t the most, shall we say,  forward-looking sector. That said, even now there are still occasions where I might be the only woman in a meeting or event. We need to call this out and challenge those who are running the meeting or event. The chances are, they didn’t think or even notice. Once they do, they won’t make the same mistake again. I know this will work, because I have done it lots of times and it feels great to see my fellow female colleagues the next time around!”

Kim McGinley, managing director at VIBE Property Finance

“Having literally fallen into the specialist finance industry in 2007, I have grown very accustomed to this very male-led sector. Being only a young 20-year-old at the time, and attending many events, often where I was the only female in the room, I learnt quickly that I had to prove myself and ignore the judgements of others.

“Having went on to have children, I reached a point in my life where I didn’t want to be dictated to any longer for when, where and how I worked. After having children, I was back working within only three months, dropping my very young daughter to nursery. I know only too well the good old ‘mum guilt’ so many talk of, even to this day. There were times when my children were sick and I wasn’t allowed to leave work or missed the school drop-offs and pickups – I felt that I was missing out on so much.

“I realised I had gained great knowledge in what was deemed to be a complex sector, and I wanted to use that to benefit my own clients directly — and so VIBE Specialist Finance was born. This was an absolute ‘now or never’ moment. VIBE was formed with family at the heart and soul of simply everything that we do. I don’t want anyone in my team to ever feel how I had felt in previous roles.

“The last nearly four years of running VIBE in the times that we have seen have been tough to say the least, and full of highs and lows. I’ve grown the team and started a second business — moreso from those classic ‘head and heart’ moments. There have been times when I’ve had no idea what I’ve been doing, but my sheer determination and passion for what I do has been what’s got me through, as have my team.

“I’ve never learnt so much about myself before these times. For me, having a positive mindset is what has got me through. Would I change anything? Absolutely not! One thing I’ve never done is compared myself to others or looked at what they are doing. It creates self-doubt, which I just don’t have time for. I’ve really put myself out there on social media in terms of building the brand that we have and, if I’m honest, I love being able to be authentically and unapologetically myself.

“Some of my most respected colleagues in this amazing sector have become mentors – both men and women — and the generosity and offers of help from so many in the industry when I launched VIBE really took me by surprise. To anyone looking to join the financial services industry, do it!  We need more females in prominent positions paving the way for others. Push your own boundaries and get comfortable being uncomfortable! Put your self-doubt to one side and remember your strengths — go for that job promotion and start that business. Our industry has so much to offer and everyone has something to bring to the table.”

Charlotte Stanford, senior associate at Sirius Property Finance

“In my day to day work, predominantly a commercial mortgage broker specialising in trading businesses, complex investment portfolios and bridging, dealing with BDM’s, underwriters, solicitors, valuers etc, I deal with incredibly talented people. However, there is no denying that whenever it comes to escalating an issue higher up the ranks in any firm, the higher the chain, the more male dominant it becomes.

“We promote the products we offer as diverse and progressive and pride ourselves on being able to help everyone, so we should reflect that inside the industry, too.”

Deborah Short, COO at Pilot Fish

“I’ve worked in the financial services industry for over 30years. I’ve had a great experience so far and a rewarding and varied career. I originally trained as an accountant and worked in both small and large enterprises. I co-founded Pilot Fish alongside managing director Richard Jones in 2011, and we’ve since built a fantastic team.

“My ethos that I continue to lead with today is to collaborate, adapt a team attitude and understand the importance of the people in your business. Join a company where you’ll have a good team around you — one that invests in their people and offers you a strong mentor.”

Catherine Lidgley, head of marketing at Pilot Fish

“In my role, I get to collaborate with other marketing managers from across the industry. It’s a privilege to collaborate with many strong female leaders who are collectively raising the bar for marketing standards.

“I’d not long joined Pilot Fish, four years ago, when a lender published a particularly sexist campaign featuring an image of woman’s cleavage and a suggestive tagline about lowering rates. Alice Williams (director of property at Pilot Fish) and I called out the campaign, shared it across socials and recommended the lender raise their standards. We received a huge and positive response. Fortunately, this style of marketing is on its way out but, women and men in our industry should always have the confidence to speak up and call it out when it’s needed."

Alice Williams, director of property at Pilot Fish

“My time in the industry has been both rewarding and challenging; despite the gender equality advancements we have made over the last 25 years, there is still a way to go, primarily with unconscious biases from the wider industry, as well as the sexualisation of the women in the industry that continues to be an issue. The majority of people in our sector are a delight to work with, however there is still a percentage that need significant behaviour and attitude changes.

“My advice to women is to approach the industry with an open mind; there’s always going to be muppets in any market, but have the confidence to call out inappropriate behaviours, and remember it’s the minority. The majority of those in the industry are advocates for true equality and don’t allow any gender bias to enter the equation. If it’s a career you wish to pursue, go all in, and don’t allow others’ opinions or attitudes to change that.”

Michelle Goodson, finance consultant at Pilot Fish

“I worked in customer services and administration for over 25 years, then as a finance administrator for three years before joining Pilot Fish. I initially joined as a case administrator and learnt so much in the role. I was promoted to finance consultant, and now specialise in sourcing BTL/HMO/MUFB finance.

“I have to keep fully up to date with market knowledge in order to perform my role and ensure I’m offering our clients the best solution. In my experience, women have great attention to detail, which is a required skill for a finance professional. Consequently, women should not be put off joining the industry.

“My advice to women is to not feel intimidated; you can reach your potential in anything you put your mind to. I was extremely nervous going into a completely different sector (at over 50 years’ young). It challenged me. No case is ever the same and each day is different. We work in a fast-paced environment, and I love that I learn something new every day.”

Danielle Jewell, chief operating officer at Castlebridge Finance

“I have been in the invoice finance industry for 17 years and every day is different, every client’s needs are different, and I love the challenge this brings. I started out my career in 2005 as sales administration support. Fast forward to 2022, I am chief operating officer and board member of independent invoice financier, Castlebridge Finance Limited. To be able to say this makes me proud, not just of myself, but my fellow board members and our company.

“Business success is defined by profit, growth, sales, targets and KPIs, which are absolute. However, to make all of those things happen, you must have a workforce that buys into your vision of success. Monetary thanks is the obvious but, as we see a huge shift in the workplace since the pandemic, it shows that flexibility and work-life balance are at the top of employees list of requirements, and why not?

“While moving up the ranks of my career, I got married, had a baby, and was given flexibility — not to have to choose between them but have both, which certainly took a lot of worry and uncertainty away! But I am all too aware that I was extremely fortunate. I would speak to friends and other mothers, and they were forced to make difficult decisions and lived with the guilt of having (needing) both. Amazingly, I see this fading away. Just speaking with my daughter who is now in her teens and making decisions that will determine her career path, you can see her passion for conquering the world — but how she wants to, based on decisions she will make, telling her story how she wants it told. It’s delightfully empowering.

“This flexibility and support I received helped me to get where I am today and I am defined by this, as a woman, an employee, a leader, and business owner. As a company, we have a number of women in senior positions and I will embrace their choices and offer what I was given in the past, remembering each day that women are strong players in the finance industry. We need women in leadership roles and, ultimately, prove every single day in our professional and personal lives that we really can achieve what we want and have it all!”

Kerry Shaw, head of business analysis at The Loans Engine

“I studied Law at university, with my aim of becoming a solicitor. However, following my work placements, I decided this wasn’t the correct career path for me. After completing my degree in 1995, I joined a now defunct second-charge firm called Endeavour Personal Finance, where I was given the top 10 firms to service, one being Central Loans Limited (CLL).

"When Lloyds TSB merged in 1998, Central Loans’ head of ops asked if I was interested in joining a brokerage rather than relocating to a Lloyd’s office, and that was my career path set for the next 20-plus years.

“I started as an adviser/packager combined role and was part of the team that saw CLL grow to be one of the biggest brokerages in the UK. When I joined, all management roles were held by men, but that changed as, within in a year of joining, I was promoted to a team leader position where I got to train and assist others who were starting their career in finance. At this time, Debbie Burton also joined, and we were a force to be reckoned with…

“With the growth of the firm, a new office was opened in Norwich which meant the chief executive relocated and I was promoted to joint head of ops and responsible for all staff in the Watford office.

“With technology emerging in the early 2000’s and the benefits it bought to a very manual underwriting process, I transitioned into system development and set up an in-house team to work with a contractor to develop a technical solution to source, sell and package second-charge loans. This has grown over the past 15 years to the point where our system is developed and maintained in-house and is a leading system in our area of business.”

Ana Díaz, marketing manager at Fiduciam

“Thanks to working at Fiduciam, surrounded by a team that supports and promotes equality in the financial sector, I am never afraid to lead marketing projects where the audience is – which, sadly, is still often male dominated. However, it is inspiring to see how ambitious female colleagues are shaking up the status quo.

“We at Fiduciam are excited to see how the female members of our team continue to push boundaries and change mindsets within the financial services industry and elsewhere. We are dedicated to do everything necessary to facilitate this and to improve representation, opportunities, and experiences for all women.”

Are you a woman in the financial services industry keen to get your voice heard? Contact [email protected] — we would love to chat!

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