‘Success is about the family and friends you keep’

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Emma Burke Maslow Capital

In our latest Women in Finance Interview, Tony Sanchez speaks to Emma Burke, Senior Originator at Maslow Capital

Emma is a residential & commercial development finance specialist with a proven track record in building business relationships over the last 16 years, in both the UK and Ireland.

Prior to joining Maslow Capital, Emma was the Head of Origination for Octopus Property’s Development Finance Team, responsible for originating & structuring over £400m of development debt facilities and managing a team of 5 development finance specialists.

Before that, Emma was part of the Structured Property Finance team at Investec Private Bank and was responsible for deal origination and the management of an existing portfolio.

The construction industry is one Emma was born into, having been involved in her family’s Irish based construction business from an early age, meaning she’s equally at home on a development site in a hard hat as she is in the office.

What brought you into financial services?

In 2005, on finishing my Business degree I joined the Allied Irish Bank Graduate Programme in Dublin as part of their healthcare and services team.

Joining the Graduate Programme followed a failed attempt at setting up a family car sales business in Galway.

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

I do not think you can differentiate the requirements for successful male/female leaders. I think the exact same principles apply in each case.

I think every leader needs to have the ability to manage their own expectations in line with people’s experience, to have the patience to guide your team when required.

You must always lead by example and encourage a team culture. Successful leadership involves identifying each person’s strengths (and limitations) and maximising each team member’s potential.

I have been very fortunate to have worked with some excellent business leaders, but equally as fortunate to have had bad ones.

There is no better way to learn how “not” to do something, than to observe first-hand the mistakes others make.

However, I always say you must take the “very best bits” of those whom you admire and use them…. that is how we learn.

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

The biggest barrier has been me. My over analysis on what I “perceived” certain situations were at the time. If I had got out of my own way and asked the hard questions, I would have found the correct answer.

The second biggest barrier was being an “adult female of a certain age” when going for interviews.

I have been asked the most inappropriate questions such as, “Am I planning to have more children?” “Who will mind my kids when I am at work?” “Why am I returning to work so quickly after maternity leave?” One interviewer even said, “don’t expect to leave on time for reading bedtime stories”.

I must clarify I never brought up the fact I was a parent in any interview. These are all questions and comments, I am very sure my male counterpart would NOT have been asked.

I do feel though that over time the industry has improved, for instance in my last ever interview I was 7 months pregnant (a fact known by the person interviewing me before inviting me along).

I am pleased to say that was not the main topic of conversation and I got the job part due to the fact I had established myself in the industry as someone who could deliver strong numbers and work well within the team.

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

Keep it simple.

It never ceases to amaze me how over complicating the simplest of things can totally eradicate a potential transaction.

What’s your own personal mantra?

“Never say can’t.”

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

It does not exist!!  Understanding and accepting this is key.

Learning to not give yourself a hard time about the fact that you cannot get the balance exactly right and make peace with the fact that you “do your best” is enough for all working parents, regardless of whether you are male or female.

Most of my colleagues at Maslow are “working parents” and we all share the same struggles for work life balance.

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

You need to hold your hand up when you have made a mistake, own the situation, and make it right.

I have a huge amount of respect for people who are confident enough in themselves to own up to a situation. It shows honesty, integrity and respect for their team and themselves.

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

Do not hold back and go for it. If you are rejected for that role, ask for clear feedback to allow you to put in place a plan of action to ensure that next time you succeed.

Do not be deterred from a setback, learn from it. Always have a plan with agreed milestones to enable you to strive to become the best version of yourself in your role.

Have a mentor or have several mentors. I have wonderful mentors in the industry both male and female that I call upon all the time for advice.

They know who they are! Their advice has proven to be invaluable to me at times in my career where I have really needed a more experienced ear and sometimes tough advice I may not have wanted to hear.

What do you think is holding women back?

This is a hard question to answer, I do not think there is any one specific thing holding us back, it is a combination of factors that are numerous, and wont all be answered in one article, but if I were to pick two, they are as follows:

1. In the workplace the ratio of men to women is mainly unbalanced, especially prevalent in the construction industry.

The very fact that there are more men than women means that women have less of a chance of being promoted into the more senior roles, this is a statistical point.

But if you have a company with a diverse workforce, boasting a good percentage of women and minorities throughout the ranks, the chances are that more women would be promoted into senior roles.

The focus/effort needs to be on recruiting a diverse workforce at both entry level roles and throughout all ranks, not just at management level.

The more women overall in a company, the more chances we have of women entering board level positions.

2. Another issue is the cost of “quality” childcare. An issue which affects families in the UK across all sectors, but if you consider this cost for a woman in the financial services industry where (a) there are less women being promoted into the more senior roles where salary is higher and (b) the sector having a significant gender pay gap.

These factors hinder the ability to afford quality childcare dramatically and women leave the workplace to work in the home, sometimes for a longer than intended timeframe and often returning to jobs which are on a lower pay scale then where they left.

More needs to be done by companies to facilitate women returning to the workplace in tandem with addressing the gender pay gap.

Do you think there is still a glass ceiling?

Is there an invisible barrier preventing women from rising beyond a certain level? I think ten years ago I certainly felt this was the case, but now, I look around me at the excellent and talented women in my industry and I think that barrier is not as obvious. That feels encouraging and progressive.

What are your thoughts on the Women in Finance Charter? 

It has been 4 years since the UK Government launched the Women in Finance charter and I think its mainly having a positive impact in relation to firms having a gender balance and being encouraged to have a diverse workforce.

It certainly helps in addressing part of the issue; however, I do not agree with getting firms to commit to progression of women into “senior roles” in the financial services sector.

I believe that women should be promoted into these roles due to that person being the best for that role, otherwise I fear we are diluting gender equality in some respects.

It is a hot topic of conversation and there are many aspects/opinions to consider. I had a situation in the past where I was told that I was offered a role over a male counterpart since I was female, and the company had hiring targets to meet that year.

I asked the interviewer if they thought I was the “best person” for the job, and they did not answer. I turned the role down. The funny thing is the interviewer thought they were being progressive!

Personally, I want the job if I am the best person to do that role, otherwise I feel I am letting myself down.

How do we encourage more women into financial services? 

I think companies need to motivate, interest, and inspire women to join and remain in financial services by going beyond the pay packet, companies need to up their game by understanding what women want from their careers.

They need to create a diverse and inclusive work culture, flexible working, and a supportive re-entry path for those who have taken time away from the workplace.

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

The financial services industry is very fast paced, hiring is mostly done to meet the demands of the business as it grows and very often on a reactive rather than proactive basis.

I think every organisation needs take the time to undertake a salary review of each department and look at the results and consider whether it fits within the overall culture and brand.

This is a very serious issue, and we need organisations to take ownership of the situation, acknowledge if there are gaps and put a plan in place to close them.

What is your biggest achievement to date?

I consider my family to be my biggest success in life. For me, success is about the family and friends you keep; the people around you that you share your life with.

Supporting one another in our achievements means our possibilities are endless.