Inspiring the women of the future

One hundred and twenty schoolgirls went to the Bank of England on Tuesday for a speed mentoring session with 45 of the top women in the financial services sector.

It’s not often that the Bank of England is taken over by a group of schoolgirls, but on Tuesday 120 visited the famous Threadneedle Street building for a speed mentoring session with 45 of the UK’s most high profile women working in the financial services sector.

The girls, aged 14-17, were from six state secondary schools across London and the aim of the session, which was organised by the Inspiring Women campaign, was to showcase the wide range of roles in the financial sector to which young girls can aspire, and in which many talented women already excel.

The mentors include directors of international banks, top financial journalists and leading members of the Treasury.

Mark Carney, Governor of the Bank of England, said that diversity was good for business and that the Bank was “not as diverse as it could be”, especially on gender. In the last 18 months, there had been improvements. There are now two women on the board of governors – deputy governor Nemat Shafik and COO Charlotte Hogg, the number of women in senior management has risen from a seventh to a third and the number of female recruits has risen from a quarter to 40%. “We could do a lot better and we need your help to do that,” he told the students. He emphasised that his own career progression was driven by doing something he was interested in. “Good things follow if you can work in areas that interest you,” he said

Lionel Barber, editor of the Financial Times which sponsored the event, said he believed profoundly in the need for diversity and said it was vital for leaders of organisations to work on diversity. At the British Press Awards this year the FT had had its best year since 2008 and all its winners had been female journalists. “You are the next generation in waiting,” he said.

Charlotte Hogg told the students they owed it to themselves to make “full use of your potential”. The Bank of England has a target of 50/50 male female and 15% for employees from ethnic minority backgrounds. “We need to look like the population we serve,” she said, citing research on the wisdom of crowds which shows when diverse groups come together they make better decisions.

Miriam Gonzalez, a partner at law firm Dechert LLP and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg’s wife, has supported the Inspiring Women campaign from the beginning. She emphasised to the students that people would pay thousands of pounds to have access to the female mentors in the room. Inspiring Women had so many women in the finance sector who wanted to be mentors that they had to turn some away. “They have fought to come here,” she said. “They have come here because they care about you. We want you to do well. We need you to do well. All our volunteers want you to do well. The price you have to pay is that you have to make an effort. Revise a bit more, ask more questions, engage more. All these mentors have made an effort. Nothing happens in your life unless you make an effort.”

Gonzalez emphasised that it was the mentors’ positive attitude that should inspire the girls. “They were all girls like you not so long ago. You can be one of them,” she said.

Speed mentoring

Groups of three or four students were arranged around 40 small tables and the mentors moved around them. Each group had around seven minutes to question each mentor. This was the first Inspiring Women event about women in the finance sector. Previous subjects areas have included technology and fashion where only one mentor was a model. The aim was to show the range of jobs within a profession. In addition to the speed mentoring events, Inspiring Women has a database of volunteers who register that they are willing to give an hour of their time per year to talk about their career in a primary or secondary school near their home or office. It currently has 12,300 volunteers and is aiming for 15,000 by March.

One of the mentors was Jennifer Taylor, Chief Operating Officer, EMEA at Bank of America Merrill Lynch. She is a veteran of Inspiring the Future events, having taken part in four, and has seen a progression in the kind of questions students are asking. “The questions are becoming increasingly concrete and the students are thinking more about what they want to do in the future. They want to understand what they need to do to get to where they want to be.  They can see that they have to drive their own future,” she said.

In her role as the COO, Jennifer has responsibility for developing and implementing operating plans across the firm’s business with a particular emphasis on strategic planning and execution, governance and controls, and infrastructure efficiency. During her 18 years at Bank of America Merrill Lynch, she has worked in Sydney, Singapore and Hong Kong as well as London.

One of the key pieces of advice she gives students is to find their passion. “It is easier to work harder and do better if you do something you love,” she said, adding that this includes developing a broader understanding of subjects rather than just focusing on passing exams. She was also asked about skills students could develop outside of their academic work and highlighted the importance of developing a global awareness and an understanding of how what is happening in other countries might be relevant to their own future.

Jennifer says one of the most important skills she has honed over the course of her career is the ability to communicate clearly, whether orally, in emails or documents. “The ability to synthesise a vast quantity of information and articulate the important points clearly will be increasingly important in the future,” she adds.

Many of the students asked about the importance of maths for a career in finance. Jennifer said it was vital to have an understanding of numbers, even if it was not a student’s strongest subject. Since Jennifer mentioned that she has two children [aged 15 and 11], she was asked how she combined this with such a senior job and whether she worked a very long day. “I told them that if you find your passion the whole family benefits,” she says, adding that she advises young girls to go for what they want to do and to never assume there will be barriers to their progress. “Sometimes the barriers are self imposed,” she stated.

Jennifer, who studied law, is a mentor to young men and women at Bank of America Merrill Lynch and is involved in its Returning Talent programme for people who have taken a career break. She says she believes very passionately in inclusion and that diversity benefits her organisation. She is a member of the bank’s Global Diversity and Inclusion Council, Co-Chair of the EMEA Diversity and Inclusion Council and a Trustee of the Education and Employers Taskforce who are behind the Inspiring Women campaign.

Teachers taking part in the event complained of poor careers advice for young people and welcomed the initiative. One spoke of how important positive role models were for girls. They had prepared the girls beforehand on careers in economics and the kind of questions they might want to ask.

Among the students taking part were Nadine Tetteh, Mira Vainio-Doiseul, Kesiena Aphia and Jade Barnett from Deptford Green School in south east London.  They said the session had been very motivational. Mira said it showed it was important to socialise with people who encouraged her in her ambitions. The girls asked the mentors what their biggest challenge had been and were impressed to find out that at least one had not been to university, but had worked her way up. They had also assumed that even at the age of 14 the women would have had a clear plan of where they wanted to go and were surprised that they didn’t have to know what they wanted to do yet and had time to explore and find something they felt passionate about. Kesiena said: “It has given me more ideas about what I might want to do and showed me that if you try to do your best in everything you do good things can happen.”

*If you want to be a mentor or give an hour of your time to talking about your job to local schoolgirls, you can find out more information here.

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