In the third part of our Women's History Month series, we talk to four Quintet Private Bank female employees about valuing freedom, embracing individuality and daring to step up.
Head of Client Experience, Quintet Private Bank
I didn’t follow the conventional education route. After growing up in Germany, North Africa and Saudi Arabia, and then England and Scotland, at age 17, I ended up doing a stint in the British Territorial Army, then training as a chef. Only after that did I do my business degree. I was in the first intake of a new graduate programme with a large bank but never thought I would get the place as it required an assessment. Everyone else was highly academic and looked the part in their tailored grey suits. I did my presentation on the Principles of Camouflage and it seemed to blow them away. Or maybe it was just refreshing to have a small lady in a slightly bizarre purple outfit talking to them about how to hide a tank in the jungle!
Without a doubt, my mother is my biggest motivator. She had three children by the time she was 30, spent time in the army as a medic and lived for eight years in Saudi Arabia as an English woman, forbidden from driving or working freely as most of us know it. Yet she didn’t let that stop her – she went to university in Riyadh to learn Arabic, trained and worked as a teacher, then a midwife, and then a health visitor when she returned to the UK, while helping to set up a childcare operation in one of the most deprived areas of Birmingham. When I look back on what she achieved at a time when women weren’t supported like they are now, it is incredible. She taught me it didn’t matter that I wasn’t academic and did things my own way. Mum told me regularly: “Einstein said the measure of intelligence is the ability to change and is not knowledge but imagination.” In my life, change and imagination have been fundamental.
Most people would think that my army or banking experience would have shown the biggest levels of inequality, but, actually, it was working as a chef that was unbearable. I was subjected to some extreme moments of harassment and misogyny as a woman in a professional training kitchen. I also look back on the early days of my corporate career and feel disbelief at some of the treatment young women had to endure on a daily basis. It is also a shock that we thought this was normal then – we didn’t complain for fear of reprisal. We were overlooked for promotion, paid less and treated badly.
I started my banking career in the early 2000s and there was still a lot of discrimination. I am mixed-race and someone who has always enjoyed fashion, hair and makeup. Back then - and sadly in some organisations even now - that combination for some inexplicable reason meant I wasn’t judged for my ability, intelligence or work ethic, but rather on preconceived ideas based on how I looked.
At Quintet, individuality is embraced for the benefits it brings and being ‘different’, ‘diverse’ – whatever you want to call it – is recognised as an asset. My job is essentially to ensure that our clients, who are by default discerning global citizens, receive the best in service and hospitality from us. What better way to do that than having trained as a chef? What better way to organise complex global logistics than having learned military precision? Or to understand a range of different cultures than having lived in them myself? Other corporates I’ve worked at tick boxes when they look at skills and experience, but at Quintet it is me, Tess, the exact person I am, that is the reason I do what I do and why I succeed.
Some would say IWD is ‘just a day among 365 days’, which on the surface it is. But it is more than that: it is a day that gives us a reason to have discussions and talk about progress. And it is not a day about women. It is a day about everyone who has worked tirelessly to create equality for women, to celebrate all those great men who have stood up against bad behaviour. I’ve had times in my life when it has been other women who have stopped me from progressing, and it takes a strong and just man to take the risk of stepping up in support. Men now understandably live in fear of being able to genuinely support a woman who deserves it on merit. Will we ever get to a place in which this can truly happen without recrimination? I don’t know but we are at least moving in the right direction at Quintet.
A richer life means freedom, not only to be who you are without apology, but to be celebrated for what you bring to the table. It means being able to be successful not despite being categorised (and I do mean categorised as most people don’t label themselves diverse, it’s given to them) but because of having a different story, skillset or image. American politician Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez recently said: “Mentors of mine were under a big pressure to minimise their femininity to make it. I am not going to do that. It takes away my power. I am not going to compromise who I am”. That spoke to me – as a richer life for me is being exactly who I am and succeeding because of it!
COO and Deputy Country Head, Merck Finck
I went to a private university in Germany where I chose finance as a major. As a young woman, I was an exception there. It was the same when I worked in investment banking in London around 12 years ago. Then I moved to a startup, Fidor Bank, where there was an equal male/female balance in team leaders and more women than men working in areas such as product development and compliance. I think opportunities for women depend on the organisation. I prefer a welcoming culture that embraces diversity and open dialogue.
Since my very first internship at Lehman Brothers, curiosity has always been my driving force. I’ve always questioned how things work and why they are done a certain way. I haven’t had a particular role model, but I have always respected traits in my sponsors. These people have a very high degree of integrity, empathy and reliability which I would also like to represent in myself. That’s what I aspire to. When I think about management style, I always want to be approachable, both for the good of the team and the organisation.
Merck Finck has a very good reputation in Germany, but it was those in my network who encouraged me to apply when the bank was looking for a new head of risk management. As women, we need to dare to stand out and step up. We have to be confident enough to say, I can do that and bring ourselves into play, whether it’s managing a project, taking a head of department or COO position. It has a lot to do with bravery. I am grateful that I have had people nudging me to take opportunities. I try to do the same in my environment.
IWD is a moment to recognise how easy my journey has been. As women, we are allowed to choose our profession and earn our own money, but I recognise that not every culture has this degree of freedom. And I really value the freedom I have every day. To be able to have an open dialogue and exchange thoughts, whether in a profession or a family setting, without fearing the consequences – that is a richer life for me.
Head of Transformation and Business Risk Management, Quintet Private Bank
I did most of my studies on autopilot, but I always took decisions based on what I was good at and where I could learn something new. My passions were travelling and working abroad: that’s how I started in consulting, which was a perfect fit, and led me to join a private bank.
I attach great importance to being self-driven. In the early stages of my career, my role models were women who were partners with family, which was quite rare at the time. I was impressed to see women who seemed like they were making it all work.
I’ve been working for the last 15 years and things are slowly evolving. There are still too few women at the top, and pay equality is still a topic of conversation. I think it’s important that we support each other and rise together.
It’s an individual’s responsibility to make a shift happen and create the environment we want to see. I strive to identify younger women to mentor and coach, whether it’s privately or professionally, on things like how to ask for a promotion, how to negotiate a pay rise and how to create opportunities in meetings. That’s my contribution to helping things change a bit faster.
I joined Quintet for a six-month project because I was inspired by the woman I was going to work for – and that was six years ago. I’ve had the chance to grow, both professionally and personally, and worked across different topics that challenge me.
International Women’s Day began from something very important – going out onto the streets to secure women’s right to vote – and of course, we have come a long way, but it also reminds me how much there is still to do. I don’t like the commercial aspects, such as discounts on make-up and lingerie. I don’t want these things: I would rather have equal pay.
Having a richer life is when you can be yourself every day and be recognised for who you are. On a more personal level, in 2019, I went travelling for four months with my daughter and I thought afterwards: there can’t be a richer moment than that.
Group Head of Lending, Brown Shipley
When I started as a private banker, I soon realised that I felt uncomfortable when clients talked about lending. So, I decided to take the bull by the horns by going to work in the credit part of wealth management; now my CV straddles both the investment and the lending side. I embraced those feelings of awkwardness and turned them into a positive.
What motivates me most is seeing someone succeed. It encourages me to take the next step, to want to do better. I’m inspired by seeing people leave their comfort zone and grow in themselves. As I’ve become more senior, I try to give back and be a role model, both to those I work with and my children.
I’m a member of several women’s networks such as WomenExecs on Boards and it’s amazing to have that support structure. We just need to make sure that we avoid creating a perception that a woman will get a role or be considered purely on the basis of gender. There’s been such hard work done up to now by women to prove that there is equality and many positives to having a diverse workforce. I’m worried that if more regulations are put in place and they are not communicated in the right way, it could come across negatively.
Women have come on leaps and bounds in terms of opportunities and now we’re seeing the right audiences in the room when these matters are discussed. Today, more male colleagues are supportive of opportunities for women. For change to happen, it needs to be embraced by the whole workforce.
Quintet stands for something very honest. As a bank, we want to sit with clients and be their trusted advisors. Being part of an organisation where you have the client at the centre of everything, there’s transparency of management and the ability to contribute to change is extremely exciting. It’s refreshing to be able to contact the CEO when you have an idea. The main reason I joined was because I wanted to be part of an organisation that speaks the truth and lives that truth.
There is still room for improvement in the industry, especially when it comes to gender bias. It’s still very much the case that a man and woman can say the same thing, but a man is called assertive while a woman is labelled aggressive. It’s about breaking down those preconceptions that have been instilled for years
For me, three things make a richer life: travelling, being lucky enough to be able to be active and healthy and continually striving to learn.