Opportunity knocks

Opportunity knocks

We spoke to our female colleagues from across the Quintet network about overcoming obstacles and enriching life experiences.

Rehana Hasan 

Head of Legal, Brown Shipley

I knew that I wanted to study law and was drawn to the financial, commercial and corporate side of things. I qualified in 2007 and had always assumed that I would work at the law firm I trained at. The global crash destroyed that dream and, like a lot of law firms, there were no jobs. I had to go out into the big wide world. I was fortunate and within six months found an in-house role at a private equity firm and that’s where my exposure to the financial services sector really opened up.  

I was working in a spread betting house when I went on maternity leave. The day I was meant to take my six-week-old daughter in to meet everyone, I was given my P45 and the company went into administration. I had to put my practical hat on, update my CV and go out interviewing. But that experience gave me confidence: in intense moments when I was the only woman in the room acting as sole counsel on a deal, I thought to myself, if I could go looking for a job having just had a baby, I can do this. It built resilience and perseverance in me. 

My parents are first-generation immigrants. I was one of seven children and mum stayed at home to look after us. I was the first daughter to go to university and my motivation has always been to make them proud. 

Those women who have come before me have worked hard to break glass ceilings. It’s important to recognise what others have done, and how I can help cultural change to accelerate progress for future generations.  

Voluntary targets to have a third of women at the table have helped improve diversity and keep organisations on track. There is still a lot to be achieved but it has resulted in the realisation that you do need that diversity of thought. 

What really appealed to me about Quintet is that they are on a journey of transformation. The values and vision sit well with how I see my role – working in partnership. I’ve been General Counsel for UK businesses and part of a company’s transformational journey before, but I am excited to work with a pan-European perspective. It’s a good opportunity for me to work collaboratively with others across Europe.  

The momentum of IWD has built up. It’s the little things you remember in the journey of how the day has developed. A couple of years ago at an event, Nicola Horlick shared her story of the struggles she had been through, in spite of being a super successful businesswoman and losing her daughter after being in remission from leukaemia. She said her daughter’s death changed her life in many ways. Her talk touched a chord with me and made me appreciate what my priorities always needed to be: family first and foremost. I found her very inspirational. Many challenges, whether at work or home, help make you the person you are and give you the strength to persevere come what may.

Christine Kennedy 

Chief Compliance Officer, Quintet Switzerland

My professional mentors changed over time. Mentors and door openers give you the opportunity to take on assignments, to have visibility. They support candidacy through promotions and are critically important. Earlier in my career, they were men. This changed once I reached senior positions. Then, other women in C-suite roles, like Maria Leistner, the Chief Legal Officer at Quintet, have been influential. Women who have had significant success in the corporate and public sectors, like Christine Lagarde, President of the European Central Bank, or Janet Yellen, United States Secretary of the Treasury, are key role models. 

Women are still fewer at the table and, if I may say, it is challenging to stay there. This reflects the different challenges for women; it’s not just a matter of breaking through the ranks and having a seat, but also maintaining it on an even playing field and often as a working mum. I see many younger women coming through who are the primary breadwinners, so they are not only assuming a leading role in business but also in their family. 

There are a number of simple things that would make it easier for women to stay at the table: not organising meetings during breakfast, dinner, bed or bath time. It might sound trite but there is a pattern of behaviour among executives to have meetings in windows that don’t really exist for working mums. You have to be disciplined in ensuring that you preserve those slots for your family.

If you take a break to have children and look to come back to a senior role, there is a lag with your peers. This is where career comeback programmes become important to help women refresh their skills. What can happen is that women in middle management take a career break and, unless there’s incredible support, they may not progress which means that the talent pool shrinks.

In general, opportunities for women have changed. If you look at the financial services, you do see a greater number of women in senior roles, and the scarcity also reflects the fewer positions available. There is serious competition at the top of the ladder. There’s a saying: if you can’t go up, then you go out. It’s important for women to look at lateral opportunities that are complementary. Moving laterally can be a positive – it just depends on the benchmark that you want to use. You can look at the C-suite or at the diversity of professions that women have entered. If you look at both, then you get a complete picture.

Being involved in access to justice and legal information early on shaped my view on IWD. Working for the Department of Justice on human rights for women and minorities motivated me to go to law school. At law school, I managed the legal information clinic and helped community members to know and enforce their rights. It still strikes me that looking at women’s rights is a bit like looking at the yellow canary in the coal mine: we have to be very mindful of the progress and regression. IWD is incredibly important because it’s a moment where we can pause and take stock, to think about the issues that impact half of society.

My opportunities for a successful career have been closely linked to my opportunities to study and work abroad. I grew up in Canada, lived in Israel when I was at university; then moved to Europe and Asia for work, so I’ve developed a breadth of knowledge based on different communities, hearing multiple languages and experiencing cultures. This is something that has made my own life richer and that I truly appreciate.

Merlijn de Gruijter 

Head of Financial Intermediaries, InsingerGilissen

I have been in private banking for 23 years but in 2020, I went to work as the Business Director for Teylers Museum, the oldest museum in the Netherlands. I have a love of arts – my mum is an artist, and my dad is in business, so I have an interest in both – and wanted to experience a different world. The opportunity has enriched my life; as a person, I’ve grown, and it helps me in my job now because I have a new perspective on things. It was very strange to work in a museum that was closed for a while due to COVID, but the business side still continued. 

I’ve never ever had one particular role model, but Helena Morrissey inspires me, not only because she’s in finance but also because she likes art, music and fashion too. She combines a serious career with a passion for the arts. 

I think that opportunities for women have increased but we also need to make sure that we seek them out and take chances when we can – which isn’t always easy. Generally, as women we want to ensure that we can do something before we try and sometimes, we just have to go for it.

I was lured back to banking and to Quintet because of the team, the role itself and the challenges that it brings. What I really like is that I am based in Amsterdam and work for the Dutch part of the company but that there is an international element too. 

The good thing about IWD is that because of the attention it gets, it increases opportunities for women - especially in countries where it’s perhaps not as easy as it is in Holland to progress in business.

Elizabeth Weir

Head of London and International, Brown Shipley 

I’ve always had a strong work ethic; that was something that my parents instilled in me.  They showed me the importance of never giving up and to keep going when you hit a problem. I think those are hugely positive traits to nurture in people and I hope I can pass them on to my own children.

I’ve always been attracted to the law and becoming a lawyer, but halfway through university, I realised it wasn’t for me. After temping for a while in various businesses, I ended up doing a two-week assignment on the Russian desk at UBS. As in most organisations, you’re given a job title but there’s no way to know what that really means until you get the opportunity to look under the bonnet – which you do in a temporary role. I realised that private banking would suit me perfectly, a mix of financial acumen and relationship-building.

I’ve been fortunate to have many people provide input at critical junctions of my career. You have to seek them out, rather than wait for them to show up, but I’ve found that most people really enjoy passing on their thoughts and experience. I’ve always tried to take guidance from those who see things differently. New perspectives are very valuable to have, even if you disagree.

I’m a firm believer in merit and progressing on the basis of ability. During the early part of my career, there weren’t many senior female role models in finance and I did feel that absence. Fortunately, that has changed over the years and it’s always good to see women who do things differently. There’s more than one way to be successful.

I don’t recall IWD being celebrated until relatively recently, and it’s great progress that we mark it at work. It’s acknowledged in schools too, which it wasn’t when I was a child. We should remember how far we’ve come and use it as a time to pause and reflect on where we still need to get to. 

I bought into the vision that Jakob Stott and Alan Mathewson had for Brown Shipley. The opportunity to exert influence and help grow and transform a brand like this was really appealing, plus we can leverage on the wider Quintet group in terms of its international presence and capability. For me, it epitomises the benefits of a larger bank but keeps the dynamism of a smaller, more agile business. 

My interpretation of a richer life is about a balance of work, family, friends and time for yourself. By the way, I don’t claim to have mastered this, but I try. If the last year has taught us anything, it’s to step back and appreciate what we have. The pandemic has given people time to think, and I don’t know anybody who hasn’t looked at the world differently.