Graduating into this summer’s job market may have been tough, especially if you come from an underrepresented group or are a woman in tech and finance.
As the Chief Financial Officer of RVU, a technology company and owner of Uswitch, Confused.com, money.co.uk, Rastreator, LeLynx and more, I have experience of what it means to succeed in the technology and finance industries. I also lead the Women’s ERG, a group designed to support women and the company’s inclusive culture. Here is an insight into my career and some tips for those looking to thrive in these sectors.
Choosing your path for the right reasons
I’ve not had the typical career path, and when I was at university, I didn’t do anything finance-related and spent most of my time reading Roman poetry! I have always found the mechanics of business interesting, though, and knew I wanted to work in a more practical field than classical academia.
After uni, I qualified as an accountant at KPMG but quickly moved into in-house commercial finance roles in fast-moving, consumer-focused, and increasingly digital businesses. The interest for me lies not in the technical accounting but in how financials tell the underlying story of a business.
Be aware of your advantages
I have experienced sexism and inequality over the years. I’ve had my opinion explicitly passed over by senior stakeholders when I was the only senior woman at the meeting table; I’ve voiced my opinion only to have it dismissed, but later paraphrased by a man and then agreed upon by the group… but equally I’m very aware that I have had many advantages in life.
Yes, women are in the minority in finance and tech, but I have not had to deal with the challenges of being a member of an underrepresented ethnic group. I’m cisgender, English, and university and graduate educated. Listening to the experiences of colleagues who have had different experiences and degrees of privilege have made me realise how much I still have to learn and understand about equality.
There is no such thing as a mistake in your career
If you progress through your career, always feeling like you know what you are doing, that is a sign that you are not pushing yourself hard enough or taking enough risks. There is no such thing as a career mistake – there are only lessons you weren’t paying enough attention to learn from.
Don’t compromise on what makes you ‘you’
There’s a difference between flexing your style to work with different people versus flexing your values and underlying character. I’ve always tried to retain the essence of me at work, whether I’m in a meeting with our bank or speaking to the person at reception in the office. You learn to dial up and dial down certain traits to operate in different environments, but if you try to be someone you’re not for too long at work, you will feel the strain and really, what’s the point?
As a woman in finance, this has certainly been something I’ve been aware of over the years – should I try to be more ‘macho’, or should I try to be more ‘corporate’ to fit in? I’ve always resisted this, and I’ve left jobs before where I felt like my character would have to compress too much to work within that culture, and I’ve never regretted it. Find a workplace and culture which allows you to be yourself.
Don’t silo yourself off and don’t assume only women will support you
I’ve almost exclusively had male bosses in my career, but almost without exception, I’ve found them all to be enormously supportive, and I’ve learned a huge amount from each of them. I don’t think it’s the gender that matters, but it’s important to have a selection of supporters and mentors in your life who fulfil different roles in your development.
Check the numbers and make sure they are equitable
I’m in a privileged position as a female leader in finance. Last year I pushed for and led an audit of the year-end pay review process, which was a sensitive and reasonably detailed piece of analysis, essentially reviewing whether men and women had fair and equitable treatment across pay reviews and promotion decisions. I’m pleased to say that the data showed that the process was fair, but it’s the first step in a lot of work we’d like to do in this area. Ultimately, we want to be able to perform the same work for other diversity characteristics and ensure that we’re unpicking any inequity we find. There is unconscious bias in every one of us, so I’m sure there’s work to do on this in every business.
Whatever your core skill set, communication is key
In finance, you’re privileged to be able to oversee all the different areas of business and see how they fit together. I like to know a little bit about a lot of things, getting involved to some extent in marketing, tech, and HR, and everything else that makes the business cogs turn. To do your job well in finance, you also have to be able to simply translate complex financial concepts into layman’s terms. Equally, you need to be able to take broad business challenges and understand the potential financial consequences. So much of the work is about communication, and it’s definitely not just about crunching numbers.
Don’t treat diversity as a female problem
There is a widespread tendency to consider gender inclusivity and diversity purely through the female lens, but that’s really only addressing part of the problem. It is equally as important to enable men to be themselves and not pigeonhole them in outdated boxes – for instance, by supporting mental health challenges for both men and women. Diversity is extremely important to create a great workplace – I’ve worked in predominantly male, female and LGBTQI+ workplaces, and the cultural impact of each of those dynamics was very different. Generally, I’ve found that the more diverse and inclusive a workplace, the better the culture and decisions.
Choose a path of continuous learning
I like to finish every day feeling like I’ve made some sort of progress since I woke up – whether that’s learning something new, creating something, or making an impact on someone or something else. Every role I’ve taken and every company I’ve joined has implemented lessons I learned from the last role. The roles and companies which I enjoyed less or found more difficult, in some ways, were the ones I learned most from, even if that’s just about clarifying what I did and didn’t want from the next one.
Find some Inspirational role models
Finally, if I think about the people who inspire me, they run the gamut from Michelle Obama, David Hockney, Mary Beard, and my own friends and family. The thing that connects them all is that they each have been clear about what they want from life and are determined in pursuing it, regardless of whether that fits with social norms or what other people expect from them.
By Debbie Chandler, Chief Financial Officer of RVU.