‘Be a team player, take responsibility, listen and be reliable’

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Riana Azam Nucleus Commercial Finance

In our latest Women in Finance Interview, Tony Sanchez speaks to Riana Azam, Regional Sales Director at Nucleus Commercial Finance covering the North of England.

Riana has over 15 years financial services experience currently specialising in asset based lending, but having worked across corporate banking at the large clearing and challenger banks.

Riana actively supports diversity in financial services and is keen to highlight her positive experience of working in the industry in the hope that it encourages more diverse applicants.

What brought you into financial services?

I’ve always been good with finances, I spent my university years budgeting and investing accordingly, not to mention being the total finance guru for my whole family!

So fresh-faced out of university, when I landed the opportunity to work at RBS Group I jumped at it.

My degree taught me the fundamentals, but it wasn’t until I was working in the financial services industry that I got a feel for what a rewarding career it is.

What do you think makes a successful leader? And in particular women leaders?

Be a team player, take responsibility, listen and be reliable. These are traits women have in spades.

What are the biggest barriers you have faced in your career in financial services?

Lack of a mentor, someone senior to me who was similar to myself who I could look up to and learn from – that was a barrier because it would have been good to have someone to talk to about their career journey and how they got there.

This is one of the reasons I am vocal about women in financial services and want us to be visible and approachable for advice, as it would have certainly helped me when I started navigating a career in this challenging, yet wonderful industry.

Secondly finding an employer who champions diversity and actively supports you is also key, this is something my current employer Nucleus does really well – it really helps when someone gives you a voice and listens.

The senior leadership team embrace everyone’s ideas, opinions and thoughts.

Nucleus is a diverse mix of lots of different but equally as valuable employees which makes for a successful and happy team.

If you could tell your younger self one thing you know about business now, what would it be?

You need technical and business acumen to be successful in a role, so you should never stop learning.

New opportunities, innovation and ideas happen all the time and it’s your job to stay informed about them.

I’m fairly sure that the job I will be doing in the future hasn’t even been invented yet.

What’s your own personal mantra?

This is my fave one..

Be impeccable with your word, don’t take anything personally, don’t make assumptions and always do your best.

What do you think is key for finding a successful work-life balance?

If anyone has figured this out, please do let me know!?

On a serious note, it’s about planning and being organised whether that’s at home or work – you always need to have structure.

You need to know what time constraints you’re facing, what deadlines are due when and in the post covid world this means whether you’re able to do it at home or whether you’ve got to venture out – its now all about productivity not location.

What’s one key leadership lesson you’ve learned along the way?

Never ask anyone to do anything you would not be prepared to do yourself.

Too many people see leadership as something which is imposed on others – a true leader is someone who can relate to and is engaged with their colleagues.

An engaged workforce is valued, contributes regularly, and feels respected.

What advice do you have for women aiming for leadership positions?

First and foremost, in your existing role, it’s important to exceed the requirements of your position and do more than what is expected of you.

Ask for feedback, be open to feedback, and act on it as appropriate.

Secondly, make your aspirations known, articulate them and then formulate a shared plan of how to get there.

Thirdly, get a mentor. We all know how important establishing and maintaining relationships with customers and peers is in financial services, however it’s also important to remember that mentoring relationships within our own businesses are key too.

Leaders need to devote significant time to mentoring up-and-coming talent — especially underrepresented individuals, such as women.

Not many leaders mentor their up-and-coming talent directly, which should change as they are the future of the business after all, and the one constant of every business is change – you won’t always be at the helm pass on the knowledge and skills.

To put this into context, how can you really understand your customer demographics if you haven’t seen what you offer them from their point of view?

The same is true of employees – you may think you provide a great, supportive place to work but have you seen it from the point of view of your employees?

What do you think is holding women back?

Two main things are perception and confidence.

Confidence. Don’t ever doubt yourself – women don’t lack the skills, they often lack the confidence to push for more.

In my experience, it’s never been a capability point, but instead more of a “can I do it” question.

Perception. Perception of the financial services industry being rigid and unsupportive, which in my experience isn’t true.

As a business we spend a long time trying to make the customer journey as seamless and flexible as possible and we think of all the ways in which we can improve our interactions with our customers.

How many businesses do this with their employees, focusing on nurturing the relationship between the business and employees?

Do you think there is still a glass ceiling?

A popular misconception is that there are barriers in financial services for women, this so called “glass ceiling” – in my experience, the opposite is true.

I feel the glass ceiling concept is a little outdated, as it is widely recognised that women have many valued transferable skills and are in my experience, actively championed in financial services.

That said, this shouldn’t mean that we are given special treatment due to our gender, but people should be hired based on the best person for the job, regardless of their gender, race or creed.

What are your thoughts on the Women in Finance Charter?

My thoughts are it’s a start, although there is no doubt that it is needed.

Essentially, it’s still just a government “request” to financial services firms to implement 4 key industry changes; which I do support however I don’t think it has gone far enough.

It remains a choice and its unsure how it is measured.

Some people may say it’s another female championing initiative however I challenge this thinking.

I would love to not have a women in finance charter, because it would mean that females aren’t disproportionately underrepresented in the sector.

The women in finance charter, like many initiatives, highlights the changes that need to be made. Why? Because it isn’t representative of the world we live in, and collectively as an industry we are missing out on this diverse talent.

How do we encourage more women into financial services?

Be more open and less rigid. Hiring managers need to look beyond what they consider to be their “ideal” candidate for financial services positions.

Don’t look at candidates based on what your workforce currently looks like, as you will never become more diverse using this approach.

Look forward – what do you want your business to look like in the future? Start hiring for that change now.

Don’t play it safe, take some risks with smart, capable people who may not have the experience you would like, as remember they can learn – and usually quite quickly!

The gender pay gap is only second worst to the construction industry. What can organisations do to address this?

I’m not sure whether this is a trick question, but in essence pay females the same as their male counterparts.

Discrimination takes many forms and not paying the same salary for the same role is doing everyone a huge injustice.

Let’s not shy away from the fact it exists and address it now, ra-ther than just talking about it constantly with little action to follow.