Women and the Workplace: Four career profiles

Emer Timmons of BT; Cece Stewart of Citi; Avril Martindale of Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer; and Doreen Rigby of State Street

Emer Timmons is president of BT Global Services UK. Dina Medland asked her: How has being a woman made a difference to your career?

Being a woman has made a difference to my career and I noticed very early on that I was different when surrounded by my male colleagues. But I had to stand out to be noticed as being good as well. I had to be very confident, and I knew that I needed to recognise my strengths but also those areas I needed to develop. A lot of people don’t do that and it is very important – to leverage and capitalise on your strengths.

If you want to make a difference you have to take a negative – being in a minority – and turn it into a positive. As women we need to create a network that men already have.

It’s very important to be confident. I am naturally very competitive, but I had to make sure that if I had to deliver a number it was the biggest number, and I was the fastest to deliver it. If you constantly deliver, then people begin to listen – you shout out in the room and make yourself known.

Women need to challenge themselves. Every time I moved up in my career I asked how I was going to add value and be different.

There are a lot more opportunities now for women than when I started out. I am very fortunate also that I work in the technology business, which has been very good for women, for communication and for social cohesion.

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Cece Stewart is president of US consumer and commercial banking at Citi, which she joined in 2011. Before that, she was president of the retail banking group and chief executive of Morgan Stanley Private Bank. She started at Wachovia in 1978, and worked her way up in a variety of regional banking jobs to head of retail and small business. She told Rebecca Knight:

My first job in financial services was as a file clerk at Wachovia in Raleigh, North Carolina. At the very beginning, I realised I loved this business. I wanted to do more, and expand my responsibility.

My mentor ran the consumer lending department and she sponsored me in the bank’s branch management training programme. On the day I became a branch manager, she took me to lunch and gave me a great piece of advice: “Always hire people who are better than you are.”

She was a great mentor: honest and encouraging. Later in my career, she worked for me. But even then she would coach me.

It’s important to make time to mentor, and to have a mentor. You need someone in your professional world who will tell you things that other people might not.

When I think about the best leaders I’ve known and worked with – men and women – one commonality is that they created an open environment. I try to be accessible and transparent; I want folks to feel comfortable. I want people to feel they can have challenging conversations with me.

The numbers suggest there are not enough women at the top in financial services. The awareness is there and the desire for that to change is there.

Women have got to have the right support mechanisms around them. There are corporate support mechanisms like developmental programmes and coaching, but for women with kids, there needs to be a supportive spouse or sibling, or some other person who will give your kids nurturing loving care when you can’t be there.

You reach a certain level and there are certain demands. I had a wonderful sister who helped me when my kids were very young.

More and more companies are supporting women who want to work, but maybe take a lighter career load for a few years when their kids are little. People have to do what is right for them and that’s different for everybody.

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Avril Martindale is a partner at Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer. Dina Medland asked her: How has being a woman made a difference to your career?

I would have answered that question differently if posed before – rather than after – my children. But one of the biggest differences over the years has been that as a lawyer, as often as not I was the only woman in the room. That tends to mean they remember you. I used to feel incredibly self-conscious but I do think it was an advantage, with the benefit of hindsight – even if it did not feel like it at the time.

If you were able to get through it, you did well. I qualified in the 1980s, the days of big management buy-outs and the work pressure was the same whether male or female.

That has changed, with more women entering the profession, and there are other ways now when being a woman makes a difference. I am often involved in deals that put huge personal pressure on a client, and sometimes they might have been willing to sit down and talk to me because I was a woman with a sympathetic face. Women tend to be a little more empathetic, and to go about things differently, to seek consensus.

But I didn’t have children until I was a partner, and it has really made me think about the pressures on women to be a mother while having a successful career.

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Doreen Rigby is executive vice president of State Street’s global operations, a position she took up last year. She joined the Boston-based investment management company in 1998, and received her MBA at the Ivey School of Business at the University of Western Ontario in 2003. She told Rebecca Knight:

There are two principles I’ve used throughout my career: the first is that every boss needs to have one person in the group who performs at a very high level. If you are that person it creates an opportunity to get recognised.

The second principle has to do with the balance between readiness and opportunity. Unfortunately, they are not always perfectly in sync. Sometimes you have to be patient for the right opportunity. But on the other hand, sometimes even if you’re not totally ready for the next big promotion, you need to take a risk and go for it.

I did not methodically plot out my career. I just took every opportunity to learn something new. I took any job – even if it was a lateral move – if it meant that I could learn more.

It’s important to understand the organisation in which you are trying to move forward. If you do this, at some point you’ve amassed a lot of experiences, you know the company well, and you become valuable. The next doors open quite easily.

Recently I became part of a State Street programme called Leading Women [which provides mentoring, training, and sponsorship by the company’s female executive vice presidents to the company’s female senior vice presidents]. It was instrumental in helping me advance. They embraced me, and I could trust the feedback they gave me. They made sure I was addressing the things that needed to be addressed.

I am now on the other side with mentees of my own. I promised myself that I would always mentor young women because when I was coming up in the organisation I didn’t feel I had role models.

There’s an honesty there, and safety in talking to another woman about certain things. If you’re a mother of small children agonising about the next promotion because of the travel and long hours, it’s helpful to talk it through with another woman. I have two grown children.

To be a woman in financial services you have to have tough skin. Things will not always go your way. You have to have a strong belief in yourself. If you have that belief, it’s very difficult for people to unhinge you.

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