‘Don’t worry about the things you can’t change’

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Janine-Alexander

In our latest Women in Finance Interview, Tony Sanchez speaks to Janine Alexander.

Janine is a partner in the banking and financial disputes team at London based law firm, Collyer Bristow. She acts for investors, borrowers and private equity houses typically in disputes against the major retail banks.

What brought you into financial services?

The Global Financial Crisis – most of my work pre-2008 related to disputes regarding property developments and construction and engineering projects but then the world changed completely and my work evolved with that and has since 2009 been focused on financial markets disputes, acting for businesses and financial institutions mainly in litigation and arbitration involving many of the major retail and investment banks in the UK and worldwide.

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

To lead successfully I think requires confidence in decisions on strategy and choice of team, attentive listening above all else and allowing individual team members ownership of their own careers whilst helping them to fulfil their aspirations.

I think the same applies to all leaders, not just women but women, in particular, who are well placed to ensure that any barriers they faced do not face other women developing their careers within the team because they can recognise them.

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

Balancing work and family commitments particularly when applying for partnership and adapting business development and working methods to develop a practice whilst also actively participating in my daughter’s upbringing.

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

Nurture and grow your network from the outset – it’s not just about trying to access decision makers. When you reach partnership level your peers will be the decision makers.

What’s your own personal mantra?

Don’t worry about the things you can’t change.

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

I’m not sure my family would agree if I said I have found it! I think the pandemic has shifted perceptions of how, where and when professionals work and that will hopefully create the shift that this sector has been so resistant to for the sort of fluid work style that enables work and family life to blend rather than fight for space/time.

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

It’s not about treating people the way you would like to be treated yourself, it’s about finding out how they like to be treated themselves.

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

Seek support and ask for help. Don’t accept “mentoring” that talks only about how women can manage the work/family balance and still succeed.

Ask for introductions to contacts and invitations to events from your mentor instead.

What do you think is holding women back?

A combination of many factors – layers of ingrained attitudes throughout society leading to subconscious bias.

I think there is some truth in the generalisations about a tendency to “imposter syndrome” and women seeing reasons why they don’t fit a role where men see the reasons why they do and assume they can fill the gaps.

Things are improving though quite rapidly now as more women see those like them in the “C-Suite”.

I hope for a day when an equal male/female board or majority female board in an investment bank will be unremarkable.

Do you think there is still a glass ceiling?

I am not sure. I will perhaps find out over the next few years! I am hopeful that if there is it is developing spiderish cracks.

What are your thoughts on the Women in Finance Charter? 

It has certainly increased the prominence of gender diversity and created focus upon it but it remains to be seen whether the right barriers are being addressed or if there are other reasons less apparent to us why gender diversity is so difficult to achieve.

How do we encourage more women into financial services? 

Education of young women about the varied types of roles available and why they may find a career in financial services interesting.

It’s hard for a 16-year-old to envisage how many different roles there are and how different they are from each other in an investment bank.

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

Pay women fairly and promote women fairly. The answer is always that there is more to it than that. But there isn’t.

What is your biggest achievement in your career to date?

Successfully developing a banking litigation practice by winning and developing new clients and work to make the case for partnership – a task that when I set out on it seemed impossible but ultimately became (and remains) second nature.