‘You are the entrepreneur of your career, even if you are employed by others’

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Tanya Elmaz Together

In our latest Women in Finance Interview, Tony Sanchez speaks to Tanya Elmaz.

Tanya is Intermediary Sales Manager (South) for Together and she’s responsible for four account managers working across the south of England.

Tanya confesses to having an abnormal fondness for music “to elevate your mood and really lift your spirit like nothing else.”

She’s been known to display a bit of mum dancing in the house (which is a true sight to behold!).

The mum-of-one also enjoys spending time with her family, attending stand-up comedy gigs, reading Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) books (and still prefers paper to digital reads) and taking part in the occasional fitness class.

What brought you into financial services?

My first job was working part-time for a direct sales company while I was still at school and kept this on through college and university.

I had to learn how to sell and really started enjoying it. Fast forward a few years and I joined a specialist bank as a contact centre manager, enjoying the prestige and stability that brought.

I then moved back into sales. I’ve always enjoyed selling and, if you like the job and believe in what you sell, it’s almost not like working at all. Here I am 20 years later, leading an amazing sales team at Together.

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

Gender shouldn’t be a factor in whether or not an individual person can be a great leader- what is important is their strength, confidence and personality.

A successful leader is able to balance professional and personal skills and understand the difference. A good leader focuses on working with – and empowering – their team.

I’ve seen leaders make bold and wise decisions while relying on others to be part of their team.

Successful leaders are empathetic with high emotional intelligence as this enables understanding of what drives and motivates people.

Of course multi-tasking is a must – leaders need to spin various plates simultaneously at any given time.

I will say, though, that in my experience women leaders often have to climb the ladder and experience a wide variety of roles before they get to the leadership one, and I believe experience is key in order to lead by example.

Women are pragmatic, resilient and usually able to manoeuvre tricky situations with grace. I think women leaders defy the odds, because it takes an extra push to get to the top.

That’s why the women who emerge on top are extraordinarily strong, decisive and capable.

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

I’ve witnessed old-fashioned mind sets and stereotyping in my career; it has certainly felt like men are judged by a more forgiving set of standards than women.

I have worked with male managers who’ve had their own goals as priorities and sometimes displayed gender bias, perhaps unconsciously, when working in team made up of men and women.

The key to breaking down those barriers has been to carry on executing my personal goals and continuing to have confidence in my achievements, ability and convictions.

Over time people and organisations have started to shift their mindsets and become better at evaluating people on their work and the value they can add.

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

Have the confidence to plan big, leave your comfort zone as often as possible and try new things.

What’s your own personal mantra?

You are the entrepreneur of your career, even if you are employed by others.

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

The key element for a successful work-life balance for me is to play to my strengths, rather than trying to be all things to all people.

I endeavour to maintain hobbies and an active personal life, prioritising enjoyment with my family and friends. It isn’t easy so it needs regular focus.

As colleagues and leaders it’s important that we look out for each other’s well-being.

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

Foster teamwork and always encourage growth and self-esteem in others.

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

Be bold. Manage your career proactively. Don’t wait to be seen – present yourself and have the confidence to speak your mind.

There’s never going to be an exact right moment to speak, so share your ideas.

Don’t be stifled by negative thoughts like ‘I don’t feel like I’m ready’, and don’t let total perfection get in the way when ‘really brilliant’ will do.

What do you think is holding women back?

I think fear of being judged sometimes prevents women from speaking up and making their ambitions known.

I think not wanting to appear arrogant or over-confident plays a part here too as women tend to avoid self-promotion and so are sometimes overlooked.

There are not enough role models or mentors at a senior leadership level, which can be a problem because you cannot be what you cannot see.

It could be argued that leadership roles are more inflexible and require more time commitment. It is also argued that women have a harder time with this inflexibility because they remain disproportionally responsible for taking care of the home and children.

Ultimately what is holding women back is the unconscious bias that exists in the workplace. These old stereotypes creep in and directly impact diversity.

Do you think there is still a glass ceiling?

We are starting, very slowly, to see cracks in the glass ceiling. However there is a long way to go.

Senior leaders need to embrace diversity and treat people according to their value and contribution, not gender.

Sadly, the glass ceiling still exists, not only for women, but for those with a different sexuality or race, or older employees.

What are your thoughts on the Women in Finance Charter? 

I think the Women in Finance Charter is great for recognising women in our industry. It is a positive step in removing unconscious bias from within financial services.

A balanced and diverse workforce is good for business and helps create a fairer and more inclusive working environment.

How do we encourage more women into financial services? 

We shouldn’t be doing things like setting targets to encourage more women into financial services; we should be developing and advancing women in financial services so they act as role models for others.

Young women need to be presented with financial services as a career option and, once we have more women in our sector, we need to work on keeping them!

Women are well represented in financial services as a whole, but this doesn’t necessarily translate into leadership positions.

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

Organisations are making moves in the right direction but there is a lot that can be done.

Financial services firms can increase their awareness and acceptance that there is a pay gap and be transparent about pay – a woman will never be able to ask for an equitable pay rise if she has no idea what her male counterparts are earning.

This needs to be supported by pay equality audits to look for discrepancies.

There should also be more diversity when recruiting, so that the same people don’t recruit the same kinds of people over and over again.

They need to invest in nurturing female leadership and start ensuring that high achieving women are recognised in succession planning . And if that isn’t enough they should make diversity part of their core values.

What is your biggest achievement to date?

Eight years ago this would have been a career-related success but no matter what, nothing I do will ever be as big as being a mum so my biggest achievement has to be my gorgeous eight-year-old son.