Roxana is Chief Strategy Officer and Board Member at Blend Network, a UK-based fintech company selected as one of the UK's top-ten fintech by the Mayor of London's TechInvest. She is responsible for the platform’s growth and strategic partnership alliances. Prior to Blend Network, Roxana spent eight years in the City as a Vice President of commodities at Morgan Stanley and Barclays responsible for the design and implementation of fundamental-based and tactical trade ideas advising institutional investors and pension funds.
Most recently, Roxana founded leading Beauty-Tech platform Zeebba, dubbed the ‘Uber of Beauty’ which she successfully sold to Urban Massage. Roxana holds an MSc in Financial Economics and Econometrics and a BSc in Quantitative Economics. Roxana was selected on Innovate Finance's Women in Fintech Powerlist 2019 and 2020, and in May 2020 was shortlisted as Specialist Investor of the Year at the Women In Finance Awards 2020.
What brought you into financial services?
I worked as a commodities strategist in investment banking at Barclays and Morgan Stanley for eight years before being wooed into the FinTech industry and alternative lending. I studied financial economics and econometrics and frankly was attracted by the financial rewards of banking, as well as being surrounded by very smart brains.
What do you think makes a successful leader? And in particular women leaders?
That is a very interesting question because I have often met people who are extremely good at what they do, technically speaking, tremendously switched on and remarkably intelligent, yet they are awful leaders. I love the saying ‘management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.’ I believe that a successful leader must have social intelligence to grasp the mood and the pulse of his or her team to ensure they feel motivated to deliver their best. I also love the saying ‘the greatest leader is not necessarily the one who does the greatest things. He/she is the one that gets the people to do the greatest things.’
To me, there are three characteristics that define a successful leader, either man or woman:
Technical competence is not what defines a successful leader to me, because a successful leader can hire the best people in the field. The leader’s job is to provide the adequate environment for everyone in the team to deliver the best they can. The Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of having a good leader, especially when it comes to communication.
What are the biggest barriers you have faced in your career in financial services?
I may sound boring but to be completely honest, I have not faced any barriers and I think that is simply because of my personality. I don’t believe in barriers; I believe that we can all achieve anything we want (within reason) and I don’t see anything as being too difficult to achieve. I grew up in a war-torn Iran in the 1980s and my early memories are of hiding against air strikes, so when you put things into context, everything seems fairly achievable. I believe barriers are often self-constructed by ourselves in our minds, and I encourage people to break them down themselves.
If you could tell your younger self one thing you know about business now, what would it be?
‘This too shall pass’. Everything always works out, worry only to the extent that you can act to fix something, improve something or do something. But if there is no solution then let it go.
What's your own personal mantra?
‘You don’t ask, you don’t get’. I swear by this mantra and it has helped me attain everything I have achieved so far. It’s very simple, no one will ever come knocking at your door asking you whether you want a better job, more money or a promotion. If that’s what you want, then go ask for it.
What do you think is key for finding a successful work-life balance?
I’m really not the best person to advice anyone on work-life balance really haha. I think when you love what you do, which is my case, work-life balance essentially does not exist. Yet I do recognise it is very important to switch off sometimes, which for me is the time spent with my family. So, I guess the key for finding a successful work-life balance is finding what you really enjoy doing outside work, what you are passionate about and what allows you to switch off.
What’s one key leadership lesson you’ve learned along the way?
Look after your team, make sure they are looked after by you personally and by the company. When you start by taking care of your people, your people will then take care of their families and loved ones. That is how communities get taken care of and that is how your team can perform at its best. To me, as simple as it may sound, that is the single most import job of a leader.
What advice do you have for women aiming for leadership positions?
My advice would be the same for women and men really – I don’t really like to draw that line. My advice for anyone aiming at leadership positions is to avoid falling into the trap of only focusing on technical competence for the job. I know that in many organisations – in fact in most organisations – people are promoted to leadership positions when they attain a certain level of technical skills. But leadership requires much more than that, as mentioned before.
What do you think is holding women back?
I think confidence in themselves is holding many women back. Women tend to think things a lot more than men do, ask themselves questions like ‘can I do this?’, ‘can I achieve that?’, ‘what if I’m not good enough?’, ‘what if they tell me no?’. My advice is, don’t think too much, just go for it (obviously do it appropriately). After all, what is the worst that can happen? You don’t get the job, the promotion or the pay rise that you wanted? So what? At least you tried; you’ll get it next time.
Do you think there is still a glass ceiling?
I have been lucky enough to have never experienced either sexist discrimination - even though banking and finance is a highly male-dominated industry - nor racist discrimination, and I have never felt that there was anything in my way to achieve what I wanted. But I do recognise that my experience cannot be extrapolated to everyone else that that many women feel a glass ceiling still exists. Of course, I also speak with many women who tell me about their experiences being discriminated. So, I think we should continue to speak out about those cases and call out the people and organisations responsible for allowing or encouraging those behaviours.
What are your thoughts on the Women in Finance Charter?
I think it is a great pledge for gender balance across the financial services industry and I welcome the commitment from firms to support the progression of women into senior roles within the sector. But I want to see additional concrete results while also maintaining my strong belief in the principle of meritocracy. I believe everyone, women and men, must be given equal opportunities to progress based on their skill sets, but I would not want to be a company’s way to tick a box. I want my company to have me because I am the best possible person to do that job.
How do we encourage more women into financial services?
I generally think that women, as well as men, must do whatever they want to do in life in terms of career. So, if a woman wants to get into financial services, they must not let stereotypes such as the image of a male-dominated and aggressive sector impact their decision making. Just go for it. Of course, the financial institutions themselves also have a great deal of work to do in terms of smashing those stereotypes and making the industry look friendlier and more open to women.
The gender pay gap is only second worst to the construction industry. What can organisations do to address this?
I get asked about this a lot because I said in an interview that I was called a bulldog in a meeting discussing money haha. I think this is a two-way street. Of course, organisations need to address this issue by increasing the level of transparency around employee salaries and clearly disclosing how decisions around payments are made. But I also believe that women themselves need to feel empowered and confident enough to call out pay discrimination behaviours and demand equal pay. As mentioned before, my personal mantra is ‘you don’t ask, you don’t get’, and while no organisation should be allowed to pay women less than men for the same job, this still sadly happens and I personally am not going to wait until the Government comes and fixes this. I demand being paid the same as men. If I’m called a bulldog for it, I frankly don’t care – I even take it as a compliment because it means I am fighting for what I believe to be the right thing.