Women in Finance: Interview with Kate Cowan, Finance Director, Hope Capital

By Tony Sanchez -

Kate Cowan Hope Capital

Kate joined Hope Capital full time as Finance Director in 2019 after more than ten years of working across a range of industries.

Kate’s wide variety of knowledge enables her to provide a rounded approach to both the financial and non-financial information needed to ensure that Hope Capital reaches its strategic goals.

Kate is adaptable and can deliver information in a digestible way to different stakeholders.

The real time support and analysis provided assists the team at Hope Capital and adds value in the decision making process.

What brought you into financial services?

I came into it by accident, really. I had been working with Hope Capital on a consultancy basis for around 12 months, and last September we made it a permanent arrangement.

From day one, I’ve been made to feel part of the Hope family. The support the firm offers at every level is amazing. It’s been a very nice transition into the financial services market.

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

I don’t think there is a differential between men and women in this respect. Leadership is about who you are as a person.

I am a firm believer that you have two ears and one mouth and should use them in that ratio. Leaders need to listen to their teams and support them to be successful.

Ultimately you can only be as good as the team around you, so you need to help them to do the best job they can, by offering guidance and support where needed.

It’s always worth remembering that what might seem relatively unimportant to you, may seem a very big issue to a team member, so it’s important always to take their concerns seriously.

Having the ability to embrace failure as people progress and lead them in a positive way will see continuous improvement in any team or organisation.

Remember, FAIL is just the First Attempt In Learning!

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

When I started my training, accountancy was a very male, very grey profession. It has improved over the last 20 years but to some extent is still very male dominated.

Luckily, I never felt there has been any barriers. I think the biggest obstacles are sometimes ones that people give themselves.

If you are confident in your ability, and know what you want to achieve, you can overcome these.

That said, I have certainly seen sexist attitudes on display, not least the assumption that bringing up children is predominantly a female responsibility.

It is a shared responsibility and employers need to look at it that way.

Hope Capital is the FRWRA Equality Employer of the Year, something that we are very proud of, I think more organisations need to embrace equality and be proud of it.

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

The main thing would be to try and focus on the bigger picture, and what else is going on in the business.

If businesses are too focused on the short-term profit-and-loss and rates of return, they may miss longer-term opportunities and threats.

That applies to your own career, too: you need to focus on where you want to take that, while also showing flexibility within that.

What’s your own personal mantra?

Simply “you can do it”. If you can’t do something right now, that just means you haven’t figured out the way to achieve it yet.

Believing that I can do it – whatever ‘it’ is – has helped me keep pushing myself and not throw in the towel at the first sign of difficulty.

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

Before I had children, it was all about my career for me, and getting where I wanted to be. I think putting in that groundwork when you are younger and don’t have family responsibilities is key.

Then when you are more established and confident in your work and in yourself, it is easier to take that time for yourself and your family. It is about investing the time early on in your career.

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

The biggest lesson for me would be delegation. You need to have confidence in your team to be able to deliver.

It’s very natural to want to take over and make sure everything is being down just the way you would like it, but if your team has the right skills and you have communicated to them what is expected, they should be able to do the job.

Some people in leadership roles feel threatened if their team is too capable, but if they are handling the day-to-day work without any worries, this then enables you to focus on the bigger picture and add more value to the organisation.

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

Just go for it! Don’t give yourself any artificial barriers. You need to believe that you are as good as or better than other candidates.

Employers are looking for people who are confident in what they can deliver – but also honest about what they can’t do.

You don’t have to be able to do everything, as long as you are not afraid to hold your hand up when you need support.

What do you think is holding women back?

There is still stigma around women who focus on their careers. Many people refer to a women’s career as a job and not a career.

I had this when I was pregnant with my daughter: a few people assumed I would give up working to bring up my child. It is a personal choice and you are not a bad parent if you want both.

I personally feel proud that my daughter sees me going to work everyday and enjoying the successes I have had.

If someone has a problem with a woman who has it all – career, family, ambition, whatever they want – I think it reflects their own insecurities and naivety as to what is actually the new norm.

Do you think there is still a glass ceiling?

I think as more and more women step up and act as spokespeople – you think of the likes of Karren Brady and Deborah Meaden – that glass ceiling will eventually shatter.

It’s still there, but it’s cracking, and I hope that by the time my daughter enters the workforce in 10 or 15 years, there will be no barriers, real or imagined.

It’s up to women to work together to give it the final push it needs to break the glass ceiling once and for all.

What are your thoughts on the Women in Finance Charter?

Hope Capital is an enthusiastic signatory to the Charter, and it is great to work in an organisation that takes it seriously.

The firm supports women to succeed – not because they are women, but because they are the right people for the job.

We have a lot of women in senior positions and I think the firm benefits from the diversity of attitudes and viewpoints that gives us.

Our CEO and managing director are both men, and I will often come at an issue from a different angle from them.

Neither is right or wrong, but having competing viewpoints creates a dynamic that can lead to better decisions being made.

How do we encourage more women into financial services?

We all spend a large chunk of our lives at work so it’s important to find something you enjoy doing.

At its heart, financial services is about helping people, so if that is something you want to achieve then financial services is a good way of doing that.

I think we need to start out early, at schools and colleges and get young women to understand what a career in financial services can look like.

We need more education and awareness of the opportunities that exist.

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

For larger organisations, there could be some move towards something like Civil Service pay bands, where a particular ‘grade’ attracts a certain salary.

Ideally pay reviews would be conducted on a ‘blind’ basis using objective criteria to compare performance, so that gender doesn’t come into the equation.

This is less easy to achieve in smaller firms where there are fewer people, and it is difficult to find effective comparators for some roles, however this is something all SMEs can strive for, with a focus being on performance against objective being the determining factor.