Lizzie has 15 years’ experience in financial services, eight of which have been spent with the specialist lender Masthaven where she runs the bank’s short-term underwriting team. An expert in bridging and development finance, Lizzie joined Masthaven as an underwriter in its early beginnings and has seen it grow into the lender it is today. Before Masthaven, Lizzie was an underwriter for a packager covering bridging, development and commercial products catering for a panel of lenders and high street banks.
What brought you into financial services?
Like a lot of people, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to be when I grew up, but I was always ambitious and wanted to get started on my career journey straightaway. So, after my A-levels, I took a junior role in a small brokerage firm in Bromley and steadily worked my way up to becoming an underwriter. But after seven years in the firm, I wanted to try something different, so I decided to pursue a role with Masthaven Bank, the specialist lender, based in London.
What do you think makes a successful leader? And in particular women leaders?
There are many different factors that make a great leader, but you need to start by earning the respect and support of your team. To achieve that, you really need to take the time to understand what drives and inspires them. The key here is communication. I want to be seen as an approachable manager who is always willing to have a chat, as that is the best way to encourage mutual and respectful understanding, regardless of whether you’re a man or a woman. The qualities that are needed to be a good leader are universal and really transcend gender. Strong managers need to make sure that their team is aware of exactly what is expected of them, and also what motivates them. Last but not least, it’s essential to lead by example. A skilled leader should never shy away from getting their hands dirty.
What are the biggest barriers you have faced in your career in financial services?
I’m very lucky, in that I can’t actually think of many barriers I’ve faced personally. I am currently expecting my first child, and I did wonder whether that could have an impact on my career. But there are a lot of successful working mothers at Masthaven, and the bank is committed to supporting working parents, so I feel confident that my career here won’t suffer.
If you could tell your younger self one thing you know about business now, what would it be?
I’d definitely tell myself to be more open to feedback. When I first entered the business, I found it really difficult to receive negative feedback, even in the shape of constructive criticism. My automatic response was to feel defensive. However, I have learnt that feedback can help me develop in my role if I am willing to take it on board and commit to making some changes.
What's your own personal mantra?
I actually have two. The first is that great things never happen in your comfort zone. It’s really important to push yourself, even if you find a new task or challenge difficult. The sense of achievement you get afterwards far outweighs the initial nerves.
Second, teamwork is vital. I wouldn’t be where I am today without the inspiring people I work with every day at Masthaven. Having the opportunity to share knowledge and promote best practice across the team makes a huge difference to the results we can achieve.
What do you think is key for finding a successful work-life balance?
I think the first step is recognising just how important it is. I’ve been trying to work more realistic working hours and find more time to rest, and I am just as productive as I’ve ever been. Giving your body time to rest is incredibly important, especially when your job is fast-paced and involves a lot of decision making.
What’s one key leadership lesson you’ve learned along the way?
Again, I have two. First, it is impossible to be good at everything. Knowing when to put your hand up and ask for help is crucial. As a leader, this is especially important; if your team sees you asking for help, they are for more likely to do the same, which will create an open culture where nobody suffers in silence.
Second, don’t micromanage. This is a lesson that took me a while to learn. Handing over tasks that I had previously been responsible for used to be extremely difficult for me. In the short term, it can obviously be easier or quicker to do a task yourself in some cases, but this isn’t productive in the long term and will actually hamper your team’s development.
What advice do you have for women aiming for leadership positions?
Don’t doubt your abilities. The financial sector is still male-dominated and it’s easy to feel intimidated by being in a minority, but knowing your worth and being willing to challenge ideas can help build others’ confidence in you. Learning to be assertive is also essential, as men are (usually) not afraid to assert themselves, so unless you put yourself out there, you are unlikely to be heard.
What do you think is holding women back?
I think it’s fair to say that some outdated perceptions of women still exist, but this is already changing as more and more smash these stereotypes. At Masthaven we have several female head of departments; our head of long-term lending, head of customer services, head of savings and head of marketing are all very successful women.
Do you think there is still a glass ceiling?
Maybe in some firms, but not all. That’s why it’s so important to choose the right company for you and your career goals. It would be incredibly naïve to think that the glass ceiling has disappeared completely, but I think that definite progress is being made.
What are your thoughts on the Women in Finance Charter?
I think the Women in Finance Charter is an important step for women in finance and gets us closer to achieving a more diverse workforce and more inclusive environment. Women bring a unique perspective to the finance industry and a multitude of skills to the business. Research has proven that the more diverse a company is, the more profitable it will be, so it’s a win-win situation.
The gender pay gap is only second worst to the construction industry. What can organisations do to address this?/ How do we encourage more women into financial services?
At Masthaven, each employee’s pay is linked to their performance and experience, using a very fair grading system. It’s that simple. I know this isn’t the case at all companies, which is incredibly disappointing. Gender pay should not even be an issue.
There are thousands of bright and tenacious women who want to get started in finance and we need to encourage that talent into our sector. Firms need to do their part by employing and promoting more women into senior roles. This will have a domino effect, as it will not only inspire more women to join the industry but will also remove the perceived bottlenecks to progression that lingers in financial services.
At the moment, there are still more men than women in the top positions in our sector. This won’t change overnight, but we need to ensure that women have the same opportunities to gain the right experience to enable them to climb the career ladder. As an industry, we should be encouraging women to go all the way to the top. I do believe we are heading in the right direction, and there are already some great success stories we can point to, but more still needs to be done.