International Women’s Day: Leadership Team Q&A

8 March 2021

Mike Russell

With a world pandemic in play, this year’s International Women’s Day is like no other.  As organisations begin to recover, there is a real opportunity for business strategies to develop in order for women to take up leadership positions to enable them to play a full role in the decision making process.  MV are all too aware of the male bias that occurs within tech companies and are proactively looking to balance this through strategic partnerships, diversity and inclusion based recruitment processes as well as upskilling internally.

We sat down with Alison Halsall, Chief Finance Officer and Sara Parker, Chief Product Officer who make up 40% of the MV Leadership team and who both joined during the Covid-19 pandemic.

MV: What was your experience like joining the MV leadership team during a pandemic?

AH: I was fortunate enough to meet the majority of the leadership team just before we went into our first lockdown in 2020 so the joining process wasn’t too daunting.  The ethos of the leadership team is extremely welcoming and inclusive, so I was immediately put at ease.  Our daily leadership team stand-ups have been a great way to get face time with the team and I quickly learnt who people were, what role they play and what makes them tick.  I would be lying if I didn’t say that there were times the virtual aspect of working made it more challenging to interact, but I think this helps you develop skills to adapt and approach situations in a different way.  I’d like to think that anyone joining MV now is starting in a really good position with all the tools they need to succeed.

SP: The MV leadership team are a really open and inclusive team which made my induction to the business very easy.  When joining any leadership team, you consider the value you can add and the impact you can make and I found the positive culture at MV provided the environment where I could discuss my views and felt respected by the other members of the team.  Like many organisations, MV has taken positive steps forward with virtual collaboration which has helped me a great deal in building relationships through a screen.

One thing that struck me from day one, is that MV is full of happy and helpful people and they are very keen to support people’s mental health and wellbeing.  There has been a great deal of consideration about the impact of remote working and there are regular, welcome reminders about balance from the leadership team.

MV: As a female in a leadership position, what are some of the biggest challenges and lessons you have learned?

AH: I am fortunate to have working in environments where I’ve always felt included and a respected member of the team, so the biggest challenges I have faced are those I have placed on myself.  Specifically, I have found the stigma I have assumed for being a working mum has manifested itself internally and actually, this has not caused problems for my previous employers or MV.  Once I balanced my roles, I realised that others valued me regardless and if anything, I think it has made me even more efficient at my job.

SP: The current financial services workplace is substantially different from when I first started my career, where there was a definite divide. Women were faced with a prescriptive view as to what job roles they should adopt, what their job titles should be, even down to the clothes they should wear.  Happily, nowadays none of that is relevant or tolerated.  I do think one area that is still an issue and has been exacerbated by Covid, is that in society as a whole, women take on caring roles which has been particularly challenging during this period as children have been at home so much.

The best advice I could give women in leadership positions is to bring your whole self to work.  Bring the authentic you, that is the person others want to see and believe in.  Demonstrating how you can balance caring responsibilities and be successful is key to bringing other women through the ranks to leadership positions.  Ultimately, if an organisation doesn’t accept the authentic ‘you’ then you should probably question whether you should stay in that business anyway.

MV: What do you think Covid has taught us in the boardroom?

AH: I think that in a ‘normal’ working environment it’s easy to forget the circumstances of each individual employee.  The shift to remote working gives leadership teams a glimpse into lives outside of work and helps us understand the other demands on people’s time and emotions.  I am hoping there will be more emphasis on empathy, enabling MV to support the team in different and more appropriate ways.  For MV, the transition to remote working has proved to be a great success and therefore we have learned that we can be more flexible and judge performances on outcomes rather than time spent in the office.

SP: Although there had been significant steps forward already, I do think the pandemic has heightened the awareness for mental health.  The excess pressure the pandemic has forced upon people has resulted in leadership teams becoming much more aware and keener to combat issues before they arise.

We have all seen that opportunities can arise as a consequence of not having to be a certain place at a certain time and moving forward, performance will be assessed on outcomes and will no longer be judged on time spent at your desk.

My final thought on this is that there is a real desire for people to have contact with each other so the next significant challenge will be for leadership teams to find a balance between office and remote working.

MV: What do you think are the biggest challenges ahead for females in tech pursuing a leadership position?

AH: As my role Chief Finance Officer, I see the team growing at pace which is fantastic.  The bias to males fulfilling tech roles is pretty obvious but I am pleased to say that due to our recruitment process and strategic partnerships, we have young and female talent joining the team regularly.  In our support functions and product team, women are represented well and I think it is important to highlight the careers within tech companies that are equally important.

SP: For me, it’s all about role models and expectations set in school.  Girls need to be inspired to explore STEM subject matter and fortunately, there are now a number of support organisations that have been established with that key objective.  There is a responsibility for women in tech to be role models for the younger generations and we also need to get the message out that working within a STEM organisation can offer a broad range of exciting roles, with more or less technical focus.

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