‘Never feel like you don’t deserve a seat at the table – you do!’
By Tony Sanchez
In our latest Women in Finance Interview, Tony Sanchez speaks to Zahira Fayyaz at Market Financial Solutions.
Zahira Fayyaz is a Regional Sales Manager at MFS. Zahira covers the key markets of London and the Southeast, and she brings several years of banking experience to the role.
Prior to joining MFS, Zahira worked in the commercial and real estate banking sectors, honing her relationship building skills with borrowers and investors alike.
Zahira is always willing to expand MFS’ reach in any way she can, whether that be representing the company at large events such as the NACFB Expo, the Asian Jewish Business Network events, or discussing the latest market trends to provide brokers with CPD hours.
What brought you into financial services?
My degree primed me for the financial services industry. I studied Business Management & Economics at Imperial College London, which I thoroughly enjoyed.
I was lucky enough to be surrounded by some of the most amazing minds internationally, and I quickly realised the financial sector offers a global passport to the world’s opportunities. I wanted to focus my career on this from the outset.
But as I pursued the opportunities, I came to realise that challenges would be just as prevalent. I entered the banking world in the immediate aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis.
Unfortunate timing, but I decided to consider adversity my “new best friend”. I enjoy overcoming any challenge put in front of me, and have built a foundation of resilience into my career.
What do you think makes a successful leader? And in particular women leaders?
I believe integrity, communication, and influence are key components for success. Without these core values you cannot render your message effectively, or build relationships within organisations.
Without influence, you’re unlikely to make a lasting impression. I think this is particularly important for women who need high amounts of courage and self-awareness in the finance industry.
As women leaders, it needs to be part of our DNA to have the confidence in knowing we can deliver with conviction, while demanding just as much respect as our male counterparts.
These values will uphold your reputation. As you deliver more, and lead by example, people will inevitably be drawn to you as a leader.
If you project confidence as an individual, it’ll inspire people on a deeper level to follow the collective vision.
What are the biggest barriers you have faced in your career in financial services?
Dealing with egos. Many people are not self-aware and the lack of self-regulation comes through as a result of that.
It can be difficult to come up against these issues when you are a young woman, and a person of colour. Especially when you’re not from the upper echelons of society, and the South London in you often emerges!
You can end up walking into an environment where people have internal prejudices held against you. But, I’ve been able to break down some of these barriers, by just embracing who I am.
Also, the external economic environment has presented its own challenges for me personally. Tough economic climates and negative outlooks dominated financial services when I entered the workforce.
I’ve built a resilience to negative sentiment, but I’ve had to learn the hard way that I’ll win some, but lose some too.
I always try to remember that tomorrow is another day, and we have to keep moving forward.
If you could tell your younger self one thing you know about business now, what would it be?
Don’t be afraid to ask questions and if you need to be outspoken – go for it. Push boundaries if needs be, as your success will be driven by being better than yesterday. By being vocal, people will respect you.
It will show you’re capable of handling the due diligence from the outset, while also being able to cut through the “fluff” where needed. Never feel like you don’t deserve a seat at the table – you do!
What’s your own personal mantra?
Opportunity looks a lot like hard work! If it’s meant to be, it will be – do the work and the rest will follow. If you have given it your all, then there is nothing more you can do.
What do you think is key for finding a successful work-life balance?
Learn to switch off when it’s your own time. You can’t be 100% work focused, as not only will it drain you, it will also make you ineffective in the long run.
Find hobbies that keep you centred and are completely independent from work. Be it fitness, clubs, spending time with family or friends, or just a good book – make time for yourself, even if you have to schedule it in!
What’s one key leadership lesson you’ve learned along the way?
Being a critical thinker and concisely challenging the status quo is always a good thing. By doing so, I have created common targets for various stakeholders, so that everyone is working towards the same goal.
In an environment where deliverability is fundamental to our business, it’s crucial to be empathetic.
What advice do you have for women aiming for leadership positions?
Don’t be afraid to utilise your emotional intelligence. It will take you further than you know. Being empathetic with people will get you more results than trying to fit in with everybody else.
Also, accountability and delegation are crucial tools. They’ll instill confidence in your teams and help them grow to be the best versions of themselves – which in turn makes everybody a winner!
What do you think is holding women back?
Imposter syndrome. They may feel like they don’t belong, but the truth is they probably worked 10 times harder than some of their male peers.
Women need to remember confidence isn’t derived from where you come from, or what you look like.
They need to be reminded that they’re exceptional and have demonstrable strengths they should own.
Do you think there is still a glass ceiling?
10 years ago – yes – but now we are levelling the playing field. I’m hoping the next generation of women in the workplace will laugh off the notion of a glass ceiling.
What are your thoughts on the Women in Finance Charter?
It’s crucial, as representation is key in allowing women to feel more comfortable in the world of finance. It’ll help them reach opportunities they may not have felt they could have done previously.
How do we encourage more women into financial services?
Through representation and exposure. By seeing more women in leadership positions, and having networks to access other likeminded women, we can create a more comfortable industry for everyone.
The gender pay gap is only second worst to the construction industry. What can organisations do to address this?
Pay women accordingly – its not rocket science! If you have quality talent – honour that talent and don’t be afraid to have uncomfortable conversations at the board level.
Women can bring just as much to the table as men can – why wouldn’t you want to invest in them?
What is your biggest achievement to date?
I’m particularly proud of the fact that I wrote the largest volume of loans as a BDM for MFS in 2022.
Even in the face of the challenges that followed the September mini-budget. Generally, I’m so glad that I’ve been able to bring all the perspectives I’ve honed in my personal life into the lending industry.
I travelled the world alone, visiting 3 different continents with just a backpack and a sense of adventure.
This provided me with a true perspective on how many variables there are in life. It instilled in me the core values I use to progress my career – empathy, and appreciation.