‘I’m a strong and powerful, successful woman’

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Irene Thomas Assetz Capital

In our latest Women in Finance Interview, Tony Sanchez speaks to Irene Thomas, Director of Lending Operations at Assetz Capital.

Irene has over 32 years of operational management experience in the financial services sector. Having recently joined Assetz Capital as Director of Lending Operations – a new role within the business – Irene will lead the transformation and modernisation of all areas of the customer journey.

Prior to her move to Assetz Capital Irene held the position of Commercial Operations Director at Together Money. In this role, Irene managed and led the operation from application to redemption for all commercial lending for 14 years.

What brought you into financial services?

I was a young mum of two babies when I first saw an opportunity to get into Financial Services.

Balancing parenthood and work, I took an evening telesales role for a business known then as NWS Bank whilst my husband worked during the day.

Focusing initially on unsecured loans, I quickly got the lending bug and moved into their mortgage department and 15 years later left the business as a senior manager leading the operations.

I’ve always loved working with people and processes and the financial services sector has been a fantastic environment to thrive and develop.

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

For me, leadership is not about gender. I believe we can all become successful leaders as long as we have the passion and desire to grow colleagues and processes to ensure delivery of the common goal.

A successful leader is someone who drives the purpose with enthusiasm, trust, transparency, motivation and asks for support when they need it.

We are all human, so it’s essential to keep the human touch, listen and work collaboratively with all stakeholders. Plus, it’s important not to forget to celebrate and learn from every milestone.

As a leader you have to adapt your skills to the matter you are leading with.

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

It’s in my nature to look at every barrier as an opportunity and focus on working through it. For me, it’s about taking baby steps rather than knocking people out the way to achieve goals.

Working in operations and change, I always aim to bring people on the journey. The key is to break down their concerns and make them feel part of the process, no matter how big or small.

It’s also important to know your audience and work on their push/pull needs and behaviours, something we should all continue to learn to do.

Some of the biggest barriers I’ve faced is when I’ve made changes to established processes.

Although most people know modernisation and change is needed, it can sometimes be difficult to get the required support and participation in the planning and implementation stages.

I had to start with some very honest conversations and feedback, as well as prioritising what the needs and wants of the colleague and customer are.

Resistance to change is often to be expected, however it’s important to overcome these early barriers, manage through the push and pull process to reach a common ground and get the best outcome for the business.

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

We can’t change the past, so I like to stay focused on the here and now. However, when I speak with younger colleagues starting out in their careers, I always say be yourself, adapt only when you need to and always respect everyone around you, as a leader you’re only as good as your team around you.

What’s your own personal mantra?

I’m a strong and powerful, successful woman.

I’ve had this mantra for many years as I am extremely proud of what I have achieved in my career.

As a woman in a male dominated industry you sometimes have to remind yourself of how far you have come.

It’s important to always stand strong when making a statement and use your voice and actions to back it up.

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

I’d love to say I know the answer to this however I am still finding out!

After the last 18 months or so in this crazy pandemic-altered world we have all learnt that time is precious, and we have to make adjustments.

I’ve always found that if you’re loyal and flexible and your business will do the same. Work hard but play hard too.

I’m also a big believer in switching off in the evening and at the weekend. If you send an email, I can guarantee that people will feel obliged to respond, which isn’t healthy.

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

Always have a great, loyal and trusted team around you, remember where you came from and how you got to where you are today, keep it real!

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

Be you, listen and learn and most importantly get a good mentor to support you and take on the feedback to grow.

What do you think is holding women back?

It’s great to see the progress women are making with each new generation that enters the workforce, but we need to keep up the momentum, keep building awareness and support to build confidence and break down the barriers.

It’s the responsibility of my generation to keep on supporting, leading and coaching to help more women feel empowered to take on leadership positions.

Do you think there is still a glass ceiling?

It’s well documented that women face many challenges in the road to success in their careers, but I truly believe that we can all achieve success if we stay focused on our goals, work hard and support each other.

I hope that my experience and recent appointment as a board director of a rapidly growing fin-tech proves that with passion and hard work our opportunities are limitless.

What are your thoughts on the Women in Finance Charter? 

I think it’s important to keep up the conversation about equality in our workforces and although I’ve had little involvement in the charter, I support all initiatives that give a collective voice in support of equality.

I’m also a big believer in leading by example and using your voice and influence within your organisation to effect change.

How do we encourage more women into financial services? 

I think representation in leadership position is key to encouraging more women into careers in financial services.

In my position as a strong leader and mentor, I’ve always encouraged both women and men to progress and grow their careers.

In the past I have interviewed, recruited and managed colleagues at all ages from apprentice, graduates or from the school of life and what’s clear to me is that with the correct encouragement and support we can all succeed.

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

I think that transparency is key in addressing the gender pay gap in financial services.

Whilst the industry is making steps to improve the gender pay gap, we should always be conducting market research and have a better awareness of how we can improve.

There’s still a lot of catching up to do but if we are all transparent on the benchmark for the value of the role as the driving factor, followed by the experience of the person, I believe this will improve things even more.