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Emma’s story


As a history graduate, Emma didn’t have a life-long ambition to work in finance; like many, her career path was a happy accident. A glimpse into the sector showed her that the ‘stuffy old men’ reputation of finance wasn’t at all reality – in fact, her co-workers were warm, funny and inclusive. Her positive experience took a turn when she was pitted against a colleague during an unfeeling redundancy process. The lessons she took from this has shaped her own leadership style.

This is Emma’s story:

“How did I get into finance? It’s a bit of a random story actually. A big accountancy firm were paying local students £30 and offering free lunch if they would be guinea pigs to management trainees who were practising interview skills. I went along and was really inspired by my conversations with the people I met. When I graduated, I applied to join that company and the rest, as they say, is history.

I think many people would be surprised by my assessment of the finance industry. The idea that it is full of boring people, who just sit staring at spreadsheets all day, is just not what I have experienced. My career path has been interesting, inspiring and has given me opportunities to work on some incredibly challenging projects. That said, many of the big companies I have worked for did not, and still do not, have much female representation at the top of the food chain. That’s a mistake that all too many businesses are making; I helped to lead the sale of a company I worked for, achieving a higher price than expected. There are hundreds of examples like this, from women in finance, that evidence equal capability.

“I have enjoyed a long career in finance and my experience is that mixed teams are the most efficient, creative and resilient.”

I can’t say for sure, but perhaps the reason for this is that there are elements of the sector that sit less well with women. Finance, particularly since the crash of ’08, has undergone many restructures and lots of companies have had to make some big decisions. How those are handled can be pretty unpalatable. I found myself in a situation where I felt I was forced into competition with a colleague who deserved the job that we were going for as much as anyone. It was a horribly stressful time, that was handled by male colleagues in a very male-focussed, tough way. Though I got the job, I found mentally difficult to recover from it all – the whole situation lacked compassion. The human element wasn’t there – people’s jobs are also their mortgage payments, food on the table, care costs for older parents or spouses. This understanding wasn’t anywhere in the process.

Of course, I have learned from the experience. I definitely feel that I have a greater sense of empathy for my colleagues and would never handle a redundancy situation like that – there are many other ways that could have been sensitively managed.

I have enjoyed a long career in finance and my experience is that mixed teams are the most efficient, creative and resilient. Bringing more women into the industry is the future but as a sector we have a long way to go to make that happen. Equality policies and increased flexibility are two areas that can help improve the situation drastically. Embracing diversity is absolutely the key to getting the best out of a business.”