A senior Business Management professional with a Commercial focus, Gillian has experience in Business Management, Resourcing, Financials, Restructuring, Transformation and Risk. Astute at navigating organisations at Executive level with significant experience in the Financial Services sector, she brings a natural aptitude for process restructuring and increasing resource efficiency levels. Recognised for excellent communication skills; managing staff and coordinating initiatives across diverse cultures. Manages, leads and accomplishes goals through others by utilising plans and strategies.
Could you tell us a bit about your career and your progression to date?
I left University wanting to be a programmer and joined Citigroup as a graduate, though I quickly realised that being a developer wasn't for me. I did a few other rotational roles before moving to an internal consultancy role within Citigroup, which was a real game-changer because I was able to apply everything I had learned to date. I saw the bigger picture in a different way, allowing me to really add value. There was a lot of travel involved, which was great before I had a family, but I later wanted to travel less and moved into leadership and managing and growing teams. I was able to develop my skills and my management ability in a safe environment with supportive managers. After that, I moved into the performance and business management space, where I became a more senior manager, contributing to the strategic vision more. After Citigroup, I moved to Clydesdale Bank to do an 18-month transformation of their technology division, which was hands-on in every area as it was a much smaller organisation than Citigroup. Since then, I’ve been contracting at NatWest, moving through a number of different departments and teams focusing on transformation.
Are there any particular challenges that you have faced in your career?
The biggest challenge was the work/life balance when I became a parent. There were a few years after my maternity leave where I was still really wanting to develop my career, but I also had a little child who was entirely dependent upon me. I got a position on the senior management team just three months after going back to work and I had no idea how to juggle that and family life. The solution is different for everyone. For me, it was making sure that there were people I could talk to, informal or formal mentors, and friends that I could get advice from. Ultimately, it’s a balance of selfishness and selflessness and getting that mix right is the biggest obstacle.
Can you identify any themes or personal attributes that have helped you to progress to where you are?
It's very simply a desire to succeed and a wish to always do a job that I enjoy. Pushing yourself out of your comfort zone; taking on new challenges; and always wanting to learn too. When I had a trading floor role at Citi, I was there for five years and in hindsight, I stayed in that job too long. Since then, I've always made myself move, because as soon as a job becomes routine, it becomes boring and you're never giving it your best if it's not challenging. Once I made that first move, every subsequent move became easier, because I was less nervous about it. In some cases, it wasn’t a role change, it might be just adding something into your role, but there was always change. Now, on the Consulting side, I like that fact that I'm moving into entirely new areas and building new relationships every six months or so.
What are your thoughts on diversity when it comes to females in the Financial Services industry?
I think it's constantly improving. When I started in the late ‘90s, there were 20 graduates in my year at Citigroup and only two females. I was involved in the graduate intake for many years after that and saw it steadily and slowly increase. But it takes a generation to shift, nothing changes overnight. I believe that as schools and universities change their mindset, then the workplace will follow, and we are getting there. We’ve still got a situation in secondary schools where girls don’t want to take computing, but the course selections and encouragement is starting at a younger age which will gradually enforce cultural change.
What are some of the biggest areas of improvement regarding recruiting and retaining diverse talent?
Flexible working plays a big part. When I had my first child, I still wanted to develop my career, but I want to work part-time and remotely, which wasn’t the norm then like it is now. I had to really push to get what I wanted and drive that change, with both HR, contractually and with peers. However, I proved that it could work, in a management role, way before video technology was the norm, but it was a real challenge. I did it for more than a decade, and now I’m back five days a week because my children are older. I was lucky that I was with organisations that let me do it, but it’s more acceptable now, so hopefully, there will be positive results in terms of women in those sectors.
I think COVID has driven flexible working and made people realise not only what's important in life, but also that you can still work well without being present 9 to 5 in an office. Flexibility over hours doesn’t just affect females, it enables anyone to merge their work and private lives in a way that suits them. I don't think that the glass ceiling exists in the way it did two decades ago. I think of it more as glass hurdles now, where we've each got our lane that we walk along, and some people have hurdles to overcome that others don't have. They’re not there just for women either, but many groups of people. Unconscious bias is a key focus now to overcoming these obstacles. We need to recognise that these hurdles are there and while we’re never going to get a level playing field any time soon, we need to help people over these hurdles and make it as level as we can.
What other advice would you give to those who want to improve diversity in their organisation?
The key thing is to listen to your team. Your colleagues are the ones who know the problem points and how to fix them. But if you don't actively listen, you're not going to draw that out of them. People need to know that they're being listened to and that their ideas are being put forward. The basic principles of openness, honesty and transparency are key to build into your workplace. If you have a team where those are not just buzzwords, people will know that they can suggest something and that you will think about it as a team and give it true consideration. That way, you get the true diversity of thought that then leads to diversity in the organisation. Remember, just because you're more senior, it doesn't mean that you have all the ideas. A lot of junior team members will have fantastic ideas, but they won't know how to make them happen. Obviously, you can’t act upon every single idea or please everyone all the time, but if you have the right structure for discussing ideas and voting on them independently, the best ones will come through.
How do you ensure an inclusive environment when you're working with remote teams?
I have managed teams in the past that were in multiple different countries and often one person in a country on their own, and it’s vital that you make ways for people to connect. Now, with remote working, we’ve seen a lot of this, and NatWest has dozens of optional opportunities for people to do things over Zoom every day. Some are events like random coffee chats where you are paired with someone and it’s put in your diary; others are sessions run by the NatWest centres of excellence with expert speakers on a range of subjects; and others are run by diverse groups or gender networks. You can attend whatever suits you best, but it’s crucial that these options are there to make people working remotely feel included.
What are your thoughts on mentorship, both being a mentor and being a mentee?
Mentorship, whether it’s formal or informal is one of the absolute essentials of not just a workplace, but your home life as well. Having that person who you can talk to who gives you an independent and impartial view really helps you work through challenges, both as a mentor and a mentee. I've got a number of mentees I've worked with over the years and I am still in touch with them. If a relationship works, you keep it going whether or not you still work in the same place, and then you start to form your own global network. One advantage as a mentor with junior mentees is hearing what is happening in other parts of your organisation in a way that you wouldn’t hear directly from a manager in that space, which can be very valuable. It’s important for mentees to work out what they want to get from the mentoring process and then find someone who is a good fit. I’m always meeting people and mentally making a note if I think they will be a good mentor for the next time I am asked for one. It doesn’t matter if they don’t work in the same area, in fact, it’s often a positive if they don’t because the mentee gets a totally independent perspective from them.
Posted 8 months ago