An annual global celebration of the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women, IWD is both a moment to reflect and a call to action. This year’s theme is #ChooseToChallenge, focused on forging a gender-equal world, raising awareness about bias and how challenging can help bring about change. In part one of a new series, marking IWD and Women’s History Month, we discuss motivation, mentors and finding meaning in the simple things. 

This year’s campaign around challenge is encouraging everyone to have a voice... A diverse organisation is more successful so it’s win-win for everyone.

Criona Sproson

Criona Sproson

Head of Human Resources, Brown Shipley

Initially I wanted to be a lawyer; I wanted to be Ally McBeal. I really liked the people aspect, so I qualified in employment law and worked both in and out of London until I was made redundant. It was pre-crash, so it still had a bit of a stigma attached and knocked my confidence; it felt like the worst thing in the world, but it also helped motivate me and sent me in a different direction – working in-house at a bank.

When I was at Coutts, I had a line manager who asked me if I’d ever considered being an HR business partner. She gave me the opportunity, so I took the plunge and for the first year, it was one of the hardest things I’d done. I felt out of my depth but luckily, I had an amazing team who helped me. That line manager who supported and gave me confidence to push myself was a role model. I learnt so much from her, including managing stakeholders, relying on my judgement and understanding how to influence in a positive way. Another role model was a female CEO who showed me that in a male-dominated environment, you don’t have to change who you are or act in a certain way to command attention and be respected.

There are more conversations happening at all levels about gender diversity and a broader recognition about the value that can bring to organisations. From an HR perspective, I’ve seen a lot more investment and focus on addressing gaps, whether that’s female talent programmes, changes to recruitment practices, training around unconscious bias (which is broader than gender) or increased flexibility in the workplace. While there has been this investment, we still need to see more action in making change so that we hire more women and develop and retain more of them at all stages of their career.

After the pandemic, we need to look carefully at the impact on women and their careers to ensure they haven’t been disadvantaged. I appreciate that women aren’t always the only carers, but they are often the main one, so trying to juggle that and deliver at work in the current environment is extremely challenging.

IWD is an opportunity to reflect on how far we’ve come in the last 12 months and also to look ahead. It celebrates women’s achievements but also reminds us that there’s still more we can do. As my career has developed, I’ve realised that rather than be an observer, I can help create change by being more vocal and not accepting the status quo. We all have a part to play in that. This year’s campaign around challenge is encouraging everyone to have a voice. Once speaking up was seen as disruptive, but it should be encouraged. A diverse organisation is more successful so it’s win-win for everyone.

Male allies who want to be part of the debate and recognise that it can be difficult for women to speak up are key to achieving that equality.’

Rachel Macfarlane

Rachel Macfarlane

Group Head of Legal, Quintet Private Bank

I’ve always sought opportunities that take me out of my comfort zone. That has been my driving force in every role or project, and it’s one of the main reasons why I am where I am today. I’ve got resilience in bucket loads, and I always question why something is done in a certain way or how it can be improved and made more efficient.

I always knew that I wanted to be a lawyer. My first work experience was with a criminal solicitor but, after sitting in a police cell with someone who was being charged with attempted murder, I very quickly realised that being involved with the underworld wasn’t what I wanted.

Quintet stands for something new and different; we are challenging what it means to be a private bank. In the summer of 2019, I was working at Brown Shipley when I was lucky enough to hear Jakob Stott speak about the organisation’s purpose. It matched my values and I realised that for me to go the extra mile in my job, I need to be aligned with an organisation’s objectives and truly believe in them.

I’ve been fortunate to have line managers and mentors in my network, both male and female, who have supported and challenged me. But if I think about my biggest motivator it’s my mum. Ever since I was little, she has encouraged me to try new things and be the best at whatever I want to be, to create my own career and life goals. Those messages were drilled into me from a really young age. I sadly lost her four years ago, but any time I’m thinking about a problem, I can hear her voice in my head giving me advice.

There is more visibility of women in senior positions. During my early days in financial services, there was a lack of role models and that has definitely improved. Now graduates can see someone who looks like them in senior roles and think, I could do that.

We are nowhere near to achieving equality in the workplace, although many businesses now realise that it’s of value to have women round the table because they’re important, not because a box needs to be ticked. Male allies who want to be part of the debate and recognise that it can be difficult for women to speak up are key to achieving that equality.

Four years ago, when I had a baby, I got comments implying that coming back to work full time was a bad life choice (it wasn’t at Quintet, I should add). After maternity leave you can feel quite vulnerable so hearing those outdated views, with such blatant judgement, was quite hard. It’s not an acceptable conversation point.

I’ve always looked for opportunities to join women in business events and at Quintet I helped set up the Female Professional Women network. This year’s IWD theme ‘Choose To Challenge’ particularly resonates with me because we need to challenge for change. If we see something isn’t quite right, we all have a duty, male or female, to speak up.

A richer life is about being fulfilled in every aspect. I say that it’s a life in balance, as opposed to having a work/life balance. It’s about family, career, friends, trying something new: I’m currently learning French because at work, I engage with colleagues in Luxembourg who speak the language. I think it’s important to do things that use your brain in a different way.

It’s important for me to take good care of my family but also to have satisfaction and recognition at work.

Emily Hung-Baumont

Emily Hung-Baumont

Client Advisor Assistant for the Asian market, Quintet Private Bank

I’ve always liked meeting people from different backgrounds. My first job was with Credit Suisse in the Taipei office, and it involved daily interaction with clients, which I loved.

My role model has always been Margaret Thatcher. When I was growing up in Taiwan, the Iron Lady was on the news a lot and I admired her uncompromising political style. She was the first female leader of the Conservative Party and trying to push her way through; I think it takes a lot of courage and mental strength to do that.

I’ve been in private banking for more than 20 years. I decided to switch from a client advisor role to a supporting position when I became a mother because at that time, the priority for me was to cherish every moment with my little girl. Being a client advisor requires lots of travelling and I didn’t want to be away so often. My biggest motivation for remaining in the private banking sector for so many years is establishing a trusting relationship with clients – that is the joy of the job.

As women we carry a lot of stress, by juggling a family and a career. It’s important for me to take good care of my family but also to have satisfaction and recognition at work. In the last decade, there has been a big push in the business world to recognise working mothers, which is a real positive.

In large organisations there is a strict hierarchy and you are often just put somewhere where they think you’ll fit in, but when you have a platform like Quintet everything is possible. You have a say about the structure and your voice is heard. It feels more equal and your capability is unlimited.

My definition of a richer life is simplicity. If I can laugh out loud every day and enjoy every moment of being present, I feel fulfilled.

For me, a richer life means doing something meaningful, seeing change as an opportunity, staying in the present and recognising the small, wonderful things in life.’

Anne Halvorsen 

Anne Halvorsen

Director, Merck Finck

It wasn’t my plan to work in finance but as soon as I started, I realised that giving investment advice is exactly what I wanted to do. This is my passion. I’ve done it my whole life and I’m very happy. I don’t think it’s good to stand still, so in 2019, I got my certification as a Sustainable and Responsible Investment Advisor from the European Business School in Frankfurt. Now my focus is on sustainable finance and I find it very enriching.

I currently have 100 women whom I consider to be role models. I am a member of the German Futurewoman Network; everyone is from different industries but with one thing in common: a strong commitment to sustainability. The goal of the network is to empower women in sustainability, make them visible and promote their careers. It is very inspiring, and I am proud to be part of it.

In my personal experience, opportunities for women have developed for the better. For example, there is currently a great demand for female investment advisors; I think it’s because clients, and women in particular, think we have more empathy. But this is the exception rather than the rule. In many areas, women have to fight to assert themselves and often have to do much more to find acceptance. I know many women who work part-time because of their family situation and do as much as if they were full-time employees. There are so many competent female managers and executives, and in my view, we urgently need mixed management structures in order to bring innovation. Whether the enforced legal quota for women on supervisory and management boards will help, I don’t know. It is definitely a start and I have hopes that it will raise awareness.

My focus is on sustainable finance, so I was looking for a bank that is seriously dedicated to this topic. At Quintet I found the perfect environment. Here, I have very good, innovative solutions for me and - more importantly - for my clients. It’s a bank for people who see the world differently, which is why I fit in so well.

International Women's Day is very important. There is still a lot to do. We talk about equality between men and women – but there is none. In my business, I’m lucky. I earn the same salary as my male colleagues, but there are so many areas where there is a gender pay gap. This year IWD has a special meaning for me. My thoughts are with all the strong women who currently have to master the challenges of homeschooling and a home office. I am a mother of two children myself and I know what many women are doing right now. This is a good opportunity to talk about this and say thank you for doing such a great job.

For me, a richer life means doing something meaningful, seeing change as an opportunity, staying in the present and recognising the small, wonderful things in life. It has nothing to do with external standards, but rather arises from an inner attitude.

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