‘I am confident, I know my worth and what I bring to the table’

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Emma Roberts Connect

In our latest Women in Finance Interview, Tony Sanchez speaks to Emma Roberts, Relationship Manager at Connect for Intermediaries.

Emma entered the financial services industry in 2006 when she joined the Alliance and Leicester graduate scheme (asset finance) from then she has held various positions and came into specialist finance in 2012 when she joined Fluent Money.

Emma took on her current role at Connect for Intermediaries in May 2020 and is described as vivacious, friendly and caring both in and out of her role and passionate about the industry and people!

What brought you into financial services?

I actually fell into it by chance. I was dead set on starting a career in medical device sales.

A friend of mine and previous colleague had gone into this field a few years previous and I watched her go from strength to strength and saw how much she loved it, not to mention the salary she was earning.

We had been in the same role and were similar in abilities so I thought to myself “I can do that!”

I really threw everything into it, I made contact with lots of head hunters in the industry, found several solid mentors, even handed in my notice at work to focus on my goal.

I decided I was going to focus on orthopaedics and even managed to get some shadowing/observation experience in theatre at Wrightington Hospital, where I watched several hip and knee replacement operations.

I managed not to faint as body tissue flew everywhere and bones were hammered! It is a very competitive industry and as a result out of hundreds of applicants I got down to the final 2/3 candidates half a dozen times and kept missing out to people with experience in the field or with a degree in science.

One day a recruiter that I was working with called to say “I know it isn’t what you are looking for but I have this finance position that I think you’ll love” I was not excited about it but needed to find something as I had now been out of work for 2 months. I agreed to an interview at Fluent Money, who I knew very little about at the time.

I walked into the interview fully prepared but thinking if I get this job I can take it temporarily until I get into a medical device role. I walked out of the interview feeling desperate to be offered the position.

This was a turning point, from walking through the door I wanted to work there, the atmosphere was amazing and it was a great interview with 2 of their directors.

Luckily, I was offered the position that afternoon and the rest is history! Saying yes to that role brought me into an industry that I love and get excited about, and now I work under the leadership of 3 industry heavyweights at Connect, our ceo Liz Syms, sales director Kevin Thomson and Jane Benjamin, director of mortgages.

I have honestly never once looked back and wished I had done things differently.

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

To get to a point where you achieve leader status you have to be driven and tenacious, willing to go above and beyond and adaptable to change.

I believe a good leader listens; to their employees, colleagues and peers. It is important to let others have their opinions and care about the people you work with.

In a once very male dominated industry, especially at senior level there are now so many inspirational women in leadership roles amongst us, which is amazing.

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

Being honest there have definitely been occasions where I have felt overlooked or left out.

Up until now I have mostly always been the only female in a team of males, and at times I have felt I needed to push harder to be heard or included.

I am thick skinned but I can absolutely understand why female equality and inclusion is such a popular topic.

Another barrier I can think of comes from within myself and that is impatience.

I started working in customer service at 13 and did so all through my college and university years and long after, as a result I always want answers for myself and the brokers I look after immediately, which is not always possible!

I have also been impatient with my progression over the years but with hard work and tenacity I progressed and I am now proud of where I am.

I have a solid reputation and I will continue to grow and develop.

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

Be yourself! In my early career I used to try so hard to impress others and as a result I sometimes may not have been myself.

As I have grown older (and wiser) I have come to realise that I actually really like myself as a person.

I am confident, I know my worth and what I bring to the table, therefore now, what you see is what you get. This industry has so many diverse and great personalities so it makes it much easier to be ones self.

I would also say to my younger self, do not be in a position that you do not love, you should be in a role and company that you feel excited about!

What’s your own personal mantra?

Life is too short to be anything but happy, if you don’t like something in your life, change it.

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

I believe this really depends on the individual, what works for one may not work for another.

Before I became a mum in 2019 I was that person who never switched off. I’d work on weekends and still be replying to emails whilst being on the other side of the world on the trip of a lifetime.

Whilst there is now still some of that and I certainly do not work a 9-5 I have learned that it is OK to take time out, in fact it is important.

It’s true what they say that your children grow up so quickly, so my weekends are dedicated to my family.

Now that COVID rules have relaxed I got a little over excited about planning holidays, and as a result have 5 booked!

The other important factor to have a good work-life balance for me is if you are in a relationship choosing your partner wisely.

I have an extremely supportive husband who like me has flourished in his career but equally shares all our parental and household responsibilities.

This makes my life much easier around work especially when I need to stay away from home, which can be fairly frequently at times.

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

I have worked with lots of managers over the years but far less leaders. This has taught me how I want to work and how I do not.

It’s always important to give credit where it is due, never take credit for someone else’s ideas and listen with an open mind.

It is wonderful to see what can be achieved when people with different ideas and different strengths come together.

A leader will always work as hard as the people they work with and lead by example.

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

If you are already aiming for a leadership position then you have ambition and are already half way there.

Work hard, listen to advice, give more than you are asked for, surround yourself with inspiring people and soak up their knowledge and you will inevitably get there.

If you get knocked back, keep pushing. Never let anyone or anything dull your sparkle.

What do you think is holding women back?

Honestly, nothing, not any more. We are in a time now where women can have it all.

Being a mother and having a career is more possible than ever. The only thing holding us back is us, not speaking out or putting ourselves forward.

Do you think there is still a glass ceiling?

Perhaps in certain businesses there is but on the whole I think it is becoming a thing of the past.

At Connect there is no ceiling and I feel I have the same opportunities as any of my male colleagues.

Two of our top leaders are females and inspire me on a regular basis.

What are your thoughts on the Women in Finance Charter? 

I think pushing the awareness around this topic is very important. Equality is key after all.

We have come such a long way, not just in the Finance sector but in many other industries too.

Yes, there is significant growth with female professionals in our industry but the same can be said for engineering, construction, armed forces and I am sure many others.

There are so many amazing women in our industry who raise each other up and encourage one another.

The women in finance charter supports these women in what they are doing and what they set out to achieve, as do the majority of the male professionals in our industry.

How do we encourage more women into financial services? 

I bumped into an old school friend a couple of weeks ago and when I asked her what she was doing these days she said “Oh I work in finance, its really boring you don’t want to hear about it.”

Naturally, I went on to tell her that I too work in finance and it is never boring!

My point is that I believe that the stigma around working in financial services is that it is not an exciting career.

I personally feel the opposite, so I would say there should be more focus in showing women and people in general that this is not just a career to “fall into” and that it is a good career choice.

For women in particular being able to see flexible working can be available if needed as well as support to allow them to balance home/work life. I think Covid has actually helped with this.

I will always encourage my daughter to follow her own path, at just 3 years old she is already a mini BOSS in training, but if she tells me in the future that she wants to be in the financial services industry like her mum I would be very happy.

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

The problem with this is that companies with a gender pay gap will lose talented women to other roles, as they seek a better paid position that matches their worth.

I am not sure of the right answer to overcome this altogether but perhaps if companies were more transparent on basic salaries, similar to in some areas of the public sector this would solve some of the problem.

For example, publishing the salary range on each role, regardless of gender, so it may be a role that has a salary of £35,000 to £40,000 per annum, the employee starts at the bottom of the pay grade and could receive a salary % increase every year based on factors such as performance until they reach the top of the pay grade.

Organisations and employers have a responsibility to look at everyone equally and offer the same opportunities to males and females.

As more talented women come into this industry, rise up and push forward, this will go some way to closing that pay gap.

What is your biggest achievement to date?

Over the years I have achieved many professional highs.

I am extremely proud of the role I am in now, how well thought of I am by my superiors at Connect and being part of the growth that Connect has experienced over the past few years despite all the challenges from Covid.

However, my biggest achievement by far is a personal one, becoming a mum to my 3 year old daughter Isla Rose.

It was not an easy road that lead me to being her mum. For years I thought it would never happen, and I am extremely proud of my determination and positivity that got me there, as well as the mum that I have become.

I can confidently say that I am a really good mum, and that feels wonderful.