‘Job satisfaction is key to success, it will keep you motivated and excited’

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Sarah Hartwell Vida Homeloans wif

In our latest Women in Finance Interview, Tony Sanchez speaks to Sarah Hartwell, Corporate Sales Manager at Vida Homeloans.

Sarah has extensive experience in the intermediary sector and has been in the industry for 30 years.

Sarah joined Vida Homeloans in 2018. She has worked for numerous well-known names including The Mortgage Lender, Nationwide Building Society, The Mortgage Works and Portman Building Society.

She has achieved many high performer awards, starting from a rising star award she won right at the start of her career. This was a sign of how her career would start to take shape.

Sarah is known in the industry for having an infectious personality. She is a hands-on, supportive and caring individual which has helped her win the affection of all that have had the pleasure of meeting her.

What brought you into financial services?

I came into it by accident really. Initially, financial services wasn’t even on my radar, my dad was a financial adviser, and when he was looking at retiring he asked if I would consider taking over the business and I wasn’t even remotely interested – in hindsight probably a mistake!

I moved away and needed to find a job, and through my friend’s brother found myself in a Stroud and Swindon Building Society branch working behind the counter.

From there I developed an interest in financial services and have remained in the industry ever since.

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

Perhaps in the past women had to work that extra bit harder to prove themselves, but now I think leadership is about who you are as a person, irrelevant of gender.

You need to be driven and prepared to go that extra mile, but also have confidence and believe in yourself.

Having a family means there are also many moving parts and learning to juggle work alongside home and child care commitments, is definitely key to being a successful leader.

In this industry we are lucky that we have many inspiring successful women to look up to and learn from such as Louisa Sedgwick and Debbie Crosbie, to name just two.

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

I think women, in general, tend to strive to achieve perfection a little bit more than men do, and perhaps lack confidence which can hold us back.

Also, I don’t necessarily see it as a barrier, but I stay in my roles for a long time, I was at Nationwide for 11 years and have been at Vida for almost four, with no intention of leaving – I feel as if I am on the journey with Vida and I am excited to see what’s to come.

But due to this perhaps there are other opportunities I have declined.

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

Don’t be scared to fail. It is not always plain sailing and there will be many ups and downs, but you learn just as much from the mistakes, as you do from your successes.

Also, a career is a long time, and life is meant to be enjoyed. Choose a career that you are passionate about, job satisfaction is key to success, it will keep you motivated and excited.

What’s your own personal mantra?

You get what you give. What you put into things is what you get out of them.

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

Trial and error really, the juggle never ends! I am away from home a fair bit, and for me family time is key, so I ensure my weekends are spent dedicated to my family and I live in the moment.

Lockdown has probably helped with this, but at the end of the day, no one is going to find the balance for you, so you need to be disciplined and put your own happiness and well-being first, so it is important to have designated down time.

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

This stems from a more general outlook I have in life – treat people fairly and with respect.

I would never ask someone to do something I’m not willing to do myself. Managing with empathy fosters a culture of openness and trust, which in turn brings good results.

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

Just go for it! 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.

Also, you don’t have to be ruthless and step on other people’s toes or push them to the side to climb up the corporate ladder.

Hard work and a willingness to keep learning and collaborating will enable you to develop in your career.

What do you think is holding women back?

I think often we hold ourselves back.

I think naturally, men find it easier to ‘put their hand up’ for a promotion and advocate for themselves whilst women can be guilty of talking themselves down or focusing on the aspects they can’t do, rather than the ones we can.

However, the more women we see in senior roles the better and I do think this is improving. We need to ignore preconceptions and focus on what we bring to the table.

Do you think there is still a glass ceiling?

No, not really. Personally, I have always been offered the same opportunities as my male counterparts and never been treated differently.

Debbie Crosbie, Nationwide’s first female CEO, is a great example and shows how far we have come as a society.

I’m hopeful that by the time my daughter enters the workforce, this wont even be a phrase that’s used anymore.

What are your thoughts on the Women in Finance Charter? 

I think it is great to raise awareness and push for change. I recently attended an event which raised some really interesting points around diversity in the work place and issues that affect women such as menopause.

There were some shocking statistics that showed 75% of women take time off work whilst going through the menopause.

Charters such as this now need to begin to champion diversity and support for women at all stages of their life.

IVF is another difficult journey many women have to go through with potentially no support or time off from their employer.

Having training, education and policies in place is absolutely key.

There needs to be a clear policy on how employers will support women going through these life stages, whether that’s through education, awareness training or a flexible working environment.

How do we encourage more women into financial services? 

I think we need to lead by example and be role models.

If young adults can see images of themselves within the financial services sector, then they may be more inspired to look into it as a career path.

There are some great women in this industry with a good media presence which I hope gives confidence to those who aspire to grow their own career.

I also think providing a flexible work environment will encourage more women into the industry, stereotypes of working really long hours and having no work life balance put people off, and in actual fact more often than not aren’t true.

If we work to dispel these myths it will encourage people to consider a role in the sector.

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

I think there needs to more transparency and regular reporting around this to ensure this doesn’t continue.

At Vida they encourage women into senior roles and work to ensure there is an even gender split at all levels, 43% of our senior management pool is now made up of women.

What is your biggest achievement to date?

Being Mercy’s mum. I didn’t have an easy journey to become a mother, there were many hurdles and it was long and difficult journey to go through.

I am very proud of how resilient I was, and of the beautiful daughter I now have the honour of raising.

And despite of the challenges, I am also proud of what I’ve achieved professionally, and the role I am in now.