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The new game changers
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The new game changers

Women spearhead quiet revolution in financial services

The Bahamas Investor Magazine
July 13, 2014
July 13, 2014
Tosheena Robinson-Blair

In the race for a gender balanced global workforce, women are catching up. Nearly one billion females will enter the workplace for the first time in the coming decade, with ripple effects in business, industry and economies worldwide.

Booz & Company, a global management and strategy consultancy, has labelled this force the “third billion,” referencing the female population of China and India. From 2012 to 2022, this third billion is expected to stream into the global workforce.

Female representation, and success, in once male-centric professions is on the rise and the financial services sector is no exception. “Women have made tremendous strides in this industry,” says Mary Rodland, a financial services provider, who entered the sector in 1976 as a trust officer with Cititrust (Bahamas) Ltd and now heads the fiduciary department at Ansbacher (Bahamas) Ltd. “Some 20 years ago the senior levels would have been entirely male dominated.”

As more women elevate to leadership positions, they are helping to change the face of corporations, speeding the upward mobility of other women in the workforce and driving changes on human resources policies relating to maternity, flexi-time and how companies integrate after school care with their employees, says Rodland. 

In both New Providence and Grand Bahama, the number of females in the employed labour force exceeds that of males, according to a 2012 Labour Force Survey.

Despite these numbers, well-entrenched double standards persist when it comes to gender-acceptable behaviour in the workplace, according to Michele Thompson, country managing partner for EY. “Many of the qualities that are necessary to be an effective leader–being outspoken, taking charge–are still discouraged in women, and that needs to change,” says Thompson.

“There is still a lot of work to be done in enabling women to attain leadership positions. As an industry, we need to make it a priority to help women find pathways to leadership, but it’s a complex problem that has social, financial and talent retention dimensions.”

Still, even small increases in the opportunities available to women can lead to dramatic economic and social benefits, according to research by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), since women are more likely than men to invest a large proportion of their household income in educating their children, thus improving their offspring’s chances of becoming successful, contributing members of society.

Winning women
The EY Entrepreneurial Winning Women programme recently issued a new study on the qualities of successful entrepreneurs which contained insights that may be applied to women in any business, whether it’s financial services, medicine or law. 
“First, think big about your career and don’t be afraid to set high goals for what you can achieve,” lists Thompson. “Second, don’t get bogged down in excessive detail–focus instead on achieving your strategic priorities and drive them forward. Finally, understand the importance of networking. Build and maintain your network of contacts and advisors.”

According to Michelle Degoumois, director of UBS Investment Bank and Honorary Consul for The Bahamas in Switzerland, the initial integration and acceptance of women depends strongly on how they approach the situation when moving into a pre-dominant male area. “Women, as well as men, need to demonstrate confidence, professionalism and knowledge in their business area,” she advises. “Personal likes and dislikes, emotional outbreaks and dealing the gender card is to be avoided at all times.”

Some say women constantly have to prove themselves at each level of advancement. Rodland also believes that women “do not have the benefit of the assumption that they are competent. They have to always prove that they are competent, not only in their current jobs, but also when they elevate to the next level,” she says.

For women hoping to progress further in the industry Rodland offered key advice. First among them is an openness to taking risks. In many cases, women are more averse to taking risks in their careers than their male counterparts. Rodland says stability often diminishes opportunities for growth.

Mentoring success
Another important aspect to professional growth and eventual success is mentorship, whether male or female. “One of the best ways to champion women’s rights in the workplace is to act as a role model to other women,” says Thompson.

When Sharon Stuart-Lafleur entered the field in 1998, she met many females in mid-level managerial and top executive positions. Some of them began their careers in entry level positions just to get a “foot in the door.”

“Although you may work long hours in these positions for several years, if you maintain a strong work ethic, master your area of competence, if you have a willingness to go the extra mile, to give constructive suggestions to management, remain respectful to those in authority, and take on challenging tasks, or even seemingly insignificant tasks, doors will open,” says Stuart-Lafleur.

The team head of independent asset managers at the Bahamas Booking Centre at Julius Baer Bank & Trust (Bahamas) Ltd, Stuart-Lafleur traces her success back to a small window of opportunity which “led to greater things.”

“A few years ago, after several years of being an assistant relationship manager, I was told that I had to make a presentation on our Nassau office to colleagues visiting from Latin America,” recalls Stuart-Lafleur. “I used this open door to make the best presentation that I possibly could and that 15-minute window of opportunity led to other exciting challenges. A few months later my employer sent me to various locations abroad to make the same presentation.”

Small tasks, big opportunities
Words of wisdom for women seeking to climb the corporate ladder: do not despise small tasks. “They can turn out to be a career game changer,” says Stuart-Lafleur. Her latest position bears testimony to that fact.

A few years ago, Stuart-Lafleur served as the back-up to two colleagues. The training afforded to her while one was away provided Stuart-Lafleur with the basic understanding of her colleague’s role within the organization. Now she heads the team at Julius Baer focused on that same business.  

“Back then I could have complained; I could have refused to do the work, but I learned from them and this has helped in my transition to team head,” says Stuart-Lafleur. “See each task–no matter how mundane or insignificant–as an opportunity to learn, an opportunity to sharpen your skill, another opportunity to make yourself
more marketable.”

Still, there’s a fine line between being a team player and being a pushover. The latter happens when a woman does not know her worth, or is afraid to speak up for herself. Both are restrictions that women place on themselves, says Stuart-Lafleur.

“If you continue to allow people to treat you with disrespect, if you remain silent when you see injustice, silent when you can give management a good suggestion that can help the company, then you can inadvertently hinder your own advancement,” she says.

Master jugglers
In a fast-paced environment such as financial services, women, particularly working mothers, must work smartly and efficiently.

Women tend to be more challenged in terms of time, in comparison to men. It is because women are still culturally expected to perform the primary caregiver role in the home. For some, it is a juggling act balancing both home and work obligations.

“Work/life balance attainability depends on so many factors: social, financial and personal,” says Degoumois. “Life situations span from additions to the family to caring for the sick and/or elderly as well as the loss of a partner/spouse. Work/life balance includes being able to engage in personal interests, family and relaxation. Flexible work/life balance models… would allow institutions to provide a more customized approach to the immediate and personal situation of the employee regardless of gender.”

A balanced employee is an effective employee, says Stuart-Lafleur who believes trustworthy, hardworking employees should have some flexibility in their working hours. “Thankfully more and more employers understand the value of providing flexibility in the way their employees work, whether it’s work from home programmes, flexi-time or other creative solutions,” says Thompson. 

This, she says, is critical in helping both men and women to achieve balance in a world where there is anytime access to information.

Women’s ability to multitask, as well as their soft skills make them an asset to any industry, regardless of their rank. Generally speaking, however, Bahamian women have done well in the financial services sector. There are women in all areas of the industry functioning as key decision makers. 

The upward trajectory in women’s careers is expected to continue, according to Rodland. “The industry is well poised for the future growth and expansion of women at higher levels.”

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