Dr Miranda Brawn spoke on a recent Forward Ladies webinar about her career path from investment banking to diversity leadership and about the importance of giving back.
For Dr Miranda Brawn networks have been a vital part of her career success. Miranda spoke on a Forward Ladies webinar last week about her career journey from being one of the first women of colour on the trading floor of an investment bank in the 1990s to becoming a multi-award winning barrister and diversity leader. She emphasised the power of networks, but said it was important to use them to develop personal relationships with others that are about helping each other.
Miranda is now writing a book on leadership which will be published by HarperCollins and aims to help women help each other to succeed. She says the book came about after she was listed by the FT as one of the most influential global business executives and spoke to Harper Collins black network where she mentioned she was writing a book – another example of the power of building relationships.
She spoke of her career path which included a lot of hard work, for instance, she mentioned the difficulties of studying for her master’s and working in an investment bank in her 30s. She said when she was in her 20s she had more energy and drive and wanted to get ahead so she found studying and working less onerous, even though she had very little sleep. “It has been a struggle,” she says. “Now my well being is the most important thing.”
It has been worth it, though. Her career has turned out “better than she could have dreamt”.
She puts her success in the City down to being herself and says when she decided to be herself in banking is when she started to enjoy her work and to get promoted. That is not to say that she has not had doubts. Although she doesn’t normally suffer from imposter syndrome, she says that two years after starting to work in the City she did start thinking she might be “found out”. She was younger than her peers and they were more at home in the social clubs they frequented. She had been raised in Leytonstone – it was a different world. Nevertheless, she had been brought up to be confident and to value her own voice.
In her first years in the workplace, Miranda worked very hard to move from the operations department of the investment bank to the front office. It took her 10 years, but she didn’t give up. She puts that down to her sense of resilience and determination as well as her recognition of the importance of networking – and to positive thinking. “I eliminated negativity and focused purely on how to achieve my goal. I surrounded myself with like-minded individuals.”
She adds that she was brought up to be thick-skinned and to take no nonsense. Also, as a tomboy growing up and having attended a school which was predominantly white when she was very young, going to work in a male-dominated environment where she was in the minority did not phase her.
Networks have been a constant of Miranda’s life. She says her mum was her first mentor. As one of the first black woman lawyers in the City she helped open the door to the power of networking.
Her mum also encouraged her to apply to be on the board of organisations around 10 years ago. She had left her job after gaining her legal qualifications and wanted to take time out to think about what direction she wanted to go in and about launching her own legal consultancy. On her mum’s suggestion, she found a role in a charity and the rest is history. Her charity work snowballed from there too and she has worked with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation among others and has been on the board of Cancer Research UK and other cancer charities where ethnic minorities are underrepresented.
Other positions of influence followed, often once again through building relationships. She spoke of how she became Vice Chair of the Black Cultural Archives, which celebrate the contribution of black people to the UK, as a result of having been chair of the black networking group at one of the investment banks she worked at and also through having gone to a meeting where she talked to a woman who turned out to be Chair of the Archives. She kept in touch with her for two years and was invited to be Deputy Chair.
For Miranda, networking is not just about getting ahead. It is about giving back.
Her positivity and focus on making the world a better place was clear in the webinar and this is what lies behind her current work on diversity.
After years working in investment banks, Miranda decided to move towards a more portfolio career around seven years ago, including legal and board work. Through her MBA at the University of Westminster she was asked to speak about diversity at their business school, drawing on her work with women and black networks. From there she decided to launch her Miranda Brawn Diversity Leadership Foundation.
Miranda had been receiving hundreds of emails from people from diverse backgrounds wanting her to mentor them. In 2016, she set up the foundation to focus on mentoring and other support. Through her old alma mater, the University of Law, it delivers annual diversity leadership lectures and it also offers a scholarship for people aged 14 to 21 to address pipeline issues. “It is important to be a leader, but being a leader is not just about managing a team; it is about giving back,” says Miranda.
She adds that she hopes that people will use the time in lockdown to reflect about what we can do to make the world a better place and about the importance of looking after each other.