In celebration of today being International Women’s Day, IFA Magazine is shining the spotlight on the role of women working in financial services by bringing you personal stories from just some of the many influential women working in financial services in the UK today.
In this article for IFA Magazine, we thank Kerry Burgess (pictured), Practice Manager at Chartered Financial Planning firm of the year First Wealth for sharing this retrospective look at her own 25 year career in financial services. In it, Kerry highlights not only how encouraging diversity and inclusion within First Wealth is all part of the firm’s exciting development plan but also how and why varied thinking across business teams is crucial
My career in financial services commenced 25 years ago when I gained my first ‘proper’ (full-time) job with Woolwich Life. Looking back now, I realise, that pretty much everybody in the admin roles were female, the underwriters and middle managers were a mix of males and females (but still mostly male), but all senior director roles and above were held by men. At the time I never questioned it and I certainly didn’t know any different.
Fast forward 6 years and I’m now working on the adviser side of the profession rather than provider, and I am beginning to attend seminars and events, where looking around the room full of middle-aged white men, I may or may not see another female in attendance, I was often the only one. For me, it wasn’t an issue in that I’d felt out of place, (I will start a conversation with anybody), but it started to dawn on me that it would be great to have more representation in the profession.
I left college with the desire to earn more of my own money and a promise to myself, to never sit another exam as long as I lived…! Financial services was definitely not the smartest move if I thought I’d not have to study again. I’ve sat over 17 exams, including having the financial planning diploma, gained a coaching and mentoring qualification and I’m now currently studying for a diploma in human resources. I am not going to lie and tell you that studying has become a passion, but I will be honest and say how much of a difference it makes to study a subject which you are both passionate and motivated by.
I remember having our careers day at school, I was probably around 15 and they had us sit one at a time in front of this PC in the library (probably because we only had the one!) and we had to answer these really basic questions such as – Do you like working outdoors? Do you like wearing a uniform? Would you prefer to work structured hours?… anyhow you catch my drift, it was an awful system from which to instigate any real, unbiased, inspiring career decisions upon. The system was so heavily male/female biased with job roles, and again at the time, I didn’t question it as I didn’t know any different. This is where representation is so important, actually being able to see people like you in a variety of roles. I’d have liked to see a female scientist working for NASA, a mechanic, or business owner, somebody to inspire me to see that there was more to life and my career than what was represented to me by the people I was surrounded by.
As my career progressed and I moved into more senior roles, I began to have more influence in discussions and more input with business decision making and strategy, I learnt to find my voice and to start championing for change in diversity and inclusion, not just in women, but in having the ability to encourage more people from different walks of life into the profession, to encourage women into more senior roles, putting myself forward to speak at events, or to write blogs and articles actively trying to encourage people to see financial services as a hugely rewarding career.
I’ve been at First Wealth now for 5 years and I work with two business owners who are both male (and dare I say middle aged, but then so am I now!), but the difference is you could not meet two people who are more supportive of bringing other people on the journey with them, for us to manage a business for good, whether that’s helping to inspire and improve the wealth management for our clients, or the wellbeing, wellness and career progression of our team members.
We signed up to the Women in Finance Charter back in 2018, our first target was to reach 50/50, male/female split in senior management roles, and now we are striving for the same in our financial planner position. To reach this target, we are looking at ways in which we can encourage more women to join the business in our more technical roles, to then progress into the adviser role. It will be steady growth, but we have some very exciting plans on the go this year, which will certainly help to boost this. Yes, I champion women into the profession and in their progression, but not at the detriment of anybody else. I look for ways to actively involve everybody to work together to get a better balance of experience, beliefs, knowledge, and values.
A while back, I started attending a working group aimed at encouraging women within the profession to progress into management and senior roles. It was awful… not because of the people or the topic, but because it was so badly organised that I felt for 2 hours I would sit there listening to the obviously very upset women, most working within large corporates sharing their stories about how they’d been overlooked for a promotion, or had been ignored when they wanted to be a part of projects or activities within their teams in favour of male colleagues, who may or may not have been more qualified or experienced, but how do you gain this without being able to get involved. Anyhow, I digress – the issue here at this working group was that the whole time I was sitting there waiting for one of the organisers to start offering these ladies some words of encouragement, or give them some advice as to how they may tackle these issues, but that was by-the-by, the issue was that none of the senior business leaders from any of these corporates had been involved in the session and therefore how can things change, if we don’t start bringing people together across the various roles within organisations to encourage conversation.
A room full of white, middle-aged men can look around a room of other white, middle-aged men and be happy that there is diversity in the room, because maybe they carry out a different function within the business.
Being a B Corp certified business is important to us, it ensures we continuously look for ways to improve our business and its practices for the benefit of our employees, our clients, and our environment. All our projects have a balanced representation from within the team to ensure we have more varied thinking and are challenged from those who participate. LTAM – our Instagram Let’s Talk About Money page, is fully represented and managed by the team to tackle the financial and wealth issues currently being faced by our younger generations. This is our free educational channel for being able to help those who would not have otherwise been able to afford or have access to this valuable wealth guidance.
I’ve spoken at STEM events, also with the PFS, I held their Educational Officer role for a few years, I’ve also encouraged the team to get involved with holdings sessions with university students for them to learn more about our profession. It is important for us as leaders within the profession to champion people regardless of their age, disability, gender, marriage status, race, beliefs or sexual orientation to start asking more questions about how they can enter into the profession, and also what their options are once they have commenced their first position, because financial services is massively diverse in roles and it can be difficult to know where to start.
The great thing is, I can walk into a seminar now and there are a mixed sea of faces, different ages, and different sex, but what I want to strive for now, is reaching younger people in those early years of them contemplating what career might be for them and to help influence more diversity into the profession. This International Women’s Day I want everybody to know, regardless of whether you grew up on a council estate and your mum was a nursery helper and your dad was an engineer, you can do anything you choose to, you just need to take those initial first steps in making conversation.