Managing risk 

Veronica [Ronni] Lazenby talks to about her senior role in risk management at Barclays.

Veronica Lazenby [Ronni] went back to work five months ago to a new role. She is now the Operational Risk Director, UK & Europe, for Barclays Retail and Business Banking.

She says that since the 2008 crash, risk management has acquired new importance in the banking industry. “It has brought home the importance of risk management as a function in helping us achieve our financial strategies,” she says. “Risk managers are getting more recognition now.”

Although banking is still fairly male-dominated at the upper levels – Ronni says she has regularly been the only woman in management meetings – she says risk management has no fewer women than other areas. Research released at the time of the crash suggested that women are less likely to take risky decisions than men, something that was cited recently by Cherie Blair in an essay about the potential business benefits of hiring working mums. That may make them more suited to risk management since it involves providing advice and support, challenging businesses to understand the risks they are taking and suggesting controls to mitigate them.

Ronni has worked at Barclays for seven years and has been in risk management for around 12 years. Before Barclays, she was at Royal Bank of Scotland, Schroder Investment Management and Andersen Consulting.

She has two sons, one aged five and another aged 18 months, both born while she was at Barclays. She took nine months’ maternity leave for her first son and a year for the second.

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She was told about the new role while she was on maternity leave from her post as Group Head of Risk Assessment & Measurement and asked if she was interested as she had mentioned beforehand that she wanted to move back into the business side of risk management. “It was a career move I wanted to make,” she says.

Full time but flexible

She works full time, but after her first maternity leave she worked out a flexible arrangement whereby she comes in early and leaves just after 4pm so she can get home to do pick-ups and bedtime. She then logs on in the evening for as long as is needed. She also tries to work from home one day a week. “The key to making it work is flexibility,” she says.

There are days she cannot leave at 4pm and has to stay late, but she tries to ensure that she never does two late days in a row. 

Her role covers Europe as well as the UK so she has to travel every six weeks or so, but, as a senior manager, she has some control over her schedule so can, to some degree, make sure she doesn’t miss important family commitments. 

If she is not there, her husband, who does morning drop-offs, is generally around to help and her mother in law is nearby. She says she plans nursery and school and after school club pick-ups “with military precision”. “We make it work between us, “ she says.  She and her husband sit down once a week and go through their diaries to see if either is at a late meeting so the other can cover.

Ronni’s working day starts very early. She is at the office by 6.30am and often goes for a run before meetings start around 8am. That makes for a long day since she logs back on around 7pm. She says it works well because if her team has been working on something after meetings earlier in the day she can look at that in the evening or first thing in the morning ready for the next day.

Given her heavy work schedule, Ronni is “pretty strict” about keeping weekends work-free unless there is something urgent happening. “I don’t generally check my Blackberry at the weekend. Most things, unless they are urgent, can wait until 5am on Monday," she says. She feels it is important to set personal boundaries and keep them so when she is on family time she likes to be totally committed to that, just as she is when she is on work time she is wholly focused on work. “You have to be very disciplined to make it work,” she says. 

Ronni is keen to help other women in the finance industry climb the career ladder. She mentors a number of women both formally and informally and is a member of Barclays initiatives for working mums. She says “the best way to lead is by example”, although she recognises that different forms of flexibility work for different people. Several members of her team are working mums and work flexibly, whether that is part time or one day a week working from home. She believes it is also important for dads to work flexibly.  

Gender equality

Barclays has recently begun a determined campaign on gender equality and has reviewed its policies to encourage more women up the career ladder. For instance, it is aiming for a 50/50 gender split on shortlists at Vice President and Director level and every role is being opened up for job share so two people can share it. It has set up a Diversity Council to drive forward improvements, which includes the introduction of a values session for women on maternity leave who could bring their babies along to talk about their time off and keep in touch with the business. It is also promoting case studies of successful women in Barclays, like Ronni.

Ronni recognises that she works long days, but says she chooses to do so. “It is important to me to have a career. I am very proud that I made Managing Director when I was pregnant with my second child," she says. "I’m proud of Barclays that they put their trust in me too. I get to do a job that I love and find fulfilling. I get to have a career that is progressing, but still get home to see my children most nights. It’s a pretty good balance. I’m flexible and Barclays is flexible back. There’s a lot of give and take involved. They trust that the job will get done and I trust that they will give me the support I need to get the job done.”

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