‘Be bold, be proactive and do things on your own initiative’

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Laura Carr Hope Capital WIF

In our latest Women in Finance Interview, Tony Sanchez speaks to Laura Carr, Head of Underwriting at Hope Capital.

Laura joined Hope Capital in 2014, was promoted to Head of Underwriting in 2018 and now leads a team of six Underwriters in the business.

In her role, Laura is responsible for managing the growing Underwriting team to progress and complete case volumes in line with business objectives and risk appetite, while also managing key stakeholder relationships.

What brought you into financial services?

Funnily enough, my original plan was to actually work in the hospitality sector, as I studied languages in school and really enjoyed it.

However, as a result of meeting my husband (who is a BDM), not enjoying the unsociable hours, and having a friend who worked in banking, I ended up falling into the financial services instead.

I guess life had a different plan for me, but like they say, everything happens for a reason!

From managing my first branch at The Royal Bank of Scotland at the age of 21, I haven’t looked back since.

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

There are many traits, but I think some of the key characteristics are to be hardworking, determined and not to be afraid of having a voice.

Ultimately, your gender has nothing to do with how good a leader you are. Instead, it is about having a strong passion for what you do and motivating your team to ensure they continue to grow and reach their full potential.

Also, a great leader is someone who listens to their team and doesn’t ask someone to do something which they wouldn’t do themselves.

My view is if you ask something of someone you aren’t willing to do yourself, your respect factor decreases significantly.

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

When I first joined the financial services industry, I definitely think my age, coupled with being a woman, resulted in some people not being particularly confident in my ability.

However, and rightfully so, I think age and gender is less of a barrier these days when it comes to how you are perceived by others.

Luckily, I work for one of the most recognised companies for gender diversity, not only in the bridging market but also across the wider financial services arena.

Currently, 62% of Hope Capital’s senior management roles are held by women, with the Finance Director, Head of Underwriting, Head of Marketing, Head of Portfolio Management and Director of Sales all being female.

I therefore don’t face any challenges in my role as a result of being a woman, but it’s a sad state of affairs that some women still do.

What’s your own personal mantra?

If something doesn’t go according to plan then acknowledge, learn from it and pick yourself back up.

Continuous learning is a critical element to success, where without continuing to learn, we can’t grow or make any progress.

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

The key to a successful work-life balance is ensuring you switch off from work in the evenings and weekends. Work hard but realise it is impossible to do everything yourself.

This is why building a dynamic team around you, where you have each other’s back and always support each other when needed, is key.

The majority of us are guilty of overworking, however not having a work-life balance and scrambling to stay afloat just results in being stressed, exhausted and overwhelmed. Being in that position benefits no one.

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

No matter how much progress you make in your career, you still don’t know everything and there are always new things to learn.

Utilise the support available and never stop absorbing knowledge from the people around you, as ultimately, what you learn from other people can then be passed on to others to help them.

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

My best advice would be not to be afraid of putting yourself forward. The worst thing you can do is wait around for someone to offer you something on a plate, because it just doesn’t work like that in business.

Be bold, be proactive and do things on your own initiative. The greatest risk is doing nothing.

What do you think is holding women back?

I would say the main obstacles are the lack of opportunities available for women to develop their careers and the underrepresentation of women in business in general.

Some of the most powerful people of today’s world are women and yet in some companies, it is still hard to access the top jobs available.

There’s also the issue of companies not recognising and offering what women actually want.

For example, having flexible work schedules, which enables working parents to maintain their performance at work, while also ensure they can balance other responsibilities, cannot be undervalued.

Without having flexibility, it makes it very difficult for women to achieve their business aspirations.

Do you think there is still a glass ceiling?

While I can confidently say there isn’t a glass ceiling at Hope Capital, there’s certainly still an element of that in the wider industry and we still have a long way to go before it can be erased entirely.

The only way to completely remove the glass ceiling is for every sector, company and individual to recognise there is still an equality issue at present.

Actions speak louder than words, which is why everyone should see it as their responsibility to ensure equality is achieved and preserved.

What are your thoughts on the Women in Finance Charter? 

Having a charter in place, which aims to build a more balanced and fair industry, is instrumental in helping the equality movement strive forward.

I do think it’s a shame something like this has to exist, but without awareness and education there can’t be change.

How do we encourage more women into financial services? 

There are many things we can do, such as shining a light on the achievements of females in the industry.

Certainly, having suitable role models to look up to, will inspire others to follow in their footsteps.

As someone who has a significant amount of experience in the finance sector, I see it as my responsibility to act as a mentor, pass on knowledge and educate candidates about all the things I have learned.

In turn, I hope this helps those who are looking to work in the financial services, as well as create more representation of women in the industry.

If there is anything I have learned throughout my career, it’s not just what you know, but it’s also who you know.

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

In order to achieve an equal, diverse workplace, you must reward people at the same level with the same level of renumeration – it’s that simple.

The fact this is still something we are discussing is mind-blowing, but without pressure being put on organisations who are failing to pay equally, it is essential we continue to raise awareness of this issue. This is the only way we can tackle unfair pay systems.

Internally, employers need to continue showing their team how valued they are and highlight their achievements, so they feel appreciated for the work they do. This helps to build a strong workplace culture and happy employees.

I am very grateful to be part of a team, where gender isn’t a factor and the management strongly believe in and are dedicated to creating a diverse workforce.

What is your biggest achievement to date?

My greatest achievement are my two daughters. It makes me very proud to see both of them have their own identities and be so passionate and hardworking.

Watching them grow and achieve so many things is amazing, and I hope my work ethic has set a foundation to continue to encourage them to go after what they want and obtain success in their chosen fields.