‘It sounds cheesy but I genuinely love what I do’

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Sophie Mitchell Charman LendInvest WOMEN IN FINANC

In our latest Women in Finance Interview, Tony Sanchez speaks to Sophie Mitchell-Charman, sales director at LendInvest.

Sophie heads up Intermediary Sales for LendInvest and has done since May 2020, having been a BDM with the company for the previous 3 years, based in Yorkshire.

Sophie has been in the Financial Services market for the last 16 years, during which time she has worked as a broker, in the pensions and investment market and then back into lending on both short and long-term finance products.

“It sounds cheesy but I genuinely love what I do – despite its challenges – and at LendInvest I’ve found a perfect fit for me in terms of the culture, ambition and its future plans, so I’m excited to see where this can take me.”

What brought you into financial services?

When I went to university I actually did a marketing degree, financial services weren’t really on my mind at all.

By one way or another I found myself in an estate agents and while working there I first interacted with mortgage brokers, the work they did, how they worked with clients and – frankly – how much money they earned!

So I retrained and got my CeMAP qualifications. I wanted to work closer with the customers and deliver for them, and I knew I had to be closer to the deal to make that work.

That is also what took me into the BDM and sales side, to see if I could support both brokers and customers alike with more variety of finance solutions.

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

A successful leader should always be prepared to do something themselves that they ask others to do. Delegating is a natural part of leadership but I find being willing to muck in, learn how to do things better and demonstrate, that inspires people to follow you.

As far as women leaders go, they need to be prepared to help and empower the women around them and who they lead. There’s too few of us in the sector to try and hoard what we have!

Personally I’ve always found women who can break the mould as inspiring, and in a male-dominated industry like this sometimes just by turning up we break the mould.

Conferences, presentations, networking occasions etc – it is rare that women aren’t outnumbered. Don’t underestimate the power being seen can have in that situation.

It is an unfortunate reality at the moment that for women in leadership roles they do have to do more to be seen as equal to their male counterparts who have been in the industry for longer.

The best we can do until things get fairer is throw ourselves into learning and never stop trying to improve ourselves and those around us.

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

A lot of the roles I’ve been in have been a numbers game. You’re constantly competing against people around you to be top of the leaderboard, which is a challenge when you want to do more qualifications to improve yourself.

You need to juggle both because you’ll only get advancement if you hit those numbers and put in the effort around it.

While I would say things are changing, when I joined the world of finance 16 years ago I was very often the only or one of the only women in the room.

Male-dominated environments, often with people who have been in the sector for 30+ years, came with certain attitudes which made everything a bit more challenging as you’re always needing to work outside your comfort zone to push yourself forward.

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

I think I would say “be ready to step outside your comfort zone”. Whether it is to speak up and make your voice heard or chase the knowledge you want to get to where you want to go.

It might sound a bit twee but belief in yourself is really the strongest thing you can have when you start out.

What’s your own personal mantra?

Do the things that can help make your life better.

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

I’m a very firm believer in your work should facilitate your personal life, not hinder it. So you set yourself the goals for what you want to spend your days doing and use work to help you achieve it.

Whether it is the fulfilment that makes your evenings and weekends more relaxed, or reaching the role and salary that can support your hobbies.

All of my free time is spent in the countryside. Walking dogs, riding my horse, running or climbing mountains.

Having this time and enjoying it is the goal and my work helps me do that.

Diego and Bruno

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

Never being too proud to admit and learn from your mistakes. It helps your team respect you if you own up to something, but also it’s only by acknowledging it that we learn something.

I think there’s a lot of pressure when you enter a leadership role – especially at the time I did when we were at the start of a national lockdown and no-one knew what was happening – to think you have to do everything perfectly.

You really don’t. Learning to fail is a good thing because it helps you learn to be better.

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

Never settle for second best. Push yourself out of your comfort zone and always, always go for it.

For me I set myself my target and try to make myself an expert in everything required to do it. It is scary to push yourself forward but ultimately you will feel the benefits.

What do you think is holding women back?

While more women are entering the industry, it is behind men who have been there a lot longer!

A lot of the key decision makers remain male and biases – whether unconscious or not – will always play a part. That’s why it is important for women in these roles to support others to join them.

I think there’s also a view – still – that you can’t have a career and a family life.

It is very Sex and The City to say this and there’s probably a better phrase out there, but “having it all” is possible if you’re willing to make it work.

But importantly it comes down to opportunity, if you don’t feel there is a way to advance your career you become likelier to prioritise your home life and it becomes a circle. Opportunity will be the biggest door.

Do you think there is still a glass ceiling?

Glass ceiling feels like such an old phrase – I think the conversations are there and there’s an awareness about the issues which should make it less of a barrier, but old attitudes do remain and when the industry has been one way for such a long time it is difficult to see changes quickly.

How do we encourage more women into financial services?

Well I got into it when I saw the opportunities it opened, yes including the rewards, but also the many different ways you can be a part of it and places you can go.

I’ve worked in pensions and investments, as a broker, as a BDM, in short-term lending, long-term lending and as a sales director. The opportunities to do different things are vast.

Cultural changes need to happen as well. The ‘doing the deals on the golf course’ mentality needs to shift to one more in tune with the 21st century.

If women can’t see themselves in places traditionally male dominated they will be put off, so we need to shift that.

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

Pay women more? I think promoting and rewarding people based on talent as opposed to length of service will see more women in senior positions.

This was a male dominated sector for so long so for every woman with 10 years of service there are many men with 20 or 30, through no fault of their own other than it didn’t feel like something women were welcome in until more recently.

So making those key decisions based on talent should hopefully see more balance.

What is your biggest achievement to date?

I think becoming a Sales Director is a pretty big achievement. I would say I’m one of few women in the role in our space and just being visible in this position I hope influences other people to try the same.

I became sales director at the height of the first 2020 lockdown, and not only did we come through that, my team has gone from strength-to-strength since, driving record demand for our lending products.

To keep the team together, expand it and develop it to where it is now has been great to be a part of.