Vicki Harris has 20 years of experience working in challenger financial services brands, working across asset management, banking and specialist lending. She is currently Chief Commercial Officer of Kensington Mortgages, the UK’s leading non-bank specialist mortgage lender.
What brought you into financial services?
The earlier stages of my career were spent as a consultant across several larger financial services corporations. These combined experiences led me to move permanently into the financial services industry. Finance is such an integral part of everybody’s lives and is somewhere I thought I could make a difference and impact, which is also largely driven by the people I worked with.
What do you think makes a successful leader? And in particular, women leaders?
Women are great leaders as we’re able to balance both our professional and personal leadership skills. We take the time to listen instead of reacting right away and are natural multitaskers.
What are the biggest barriers you have faced in your career in financial services?
Large corporations often take longer to make business decisions, sometimes making it a frustrating process for implementing change that takes shape and makes an impact. Later in my career, I transitioned to working for smaller, mid-sized companies, which I’ve found has presented me with more opportunity to instigate this change. It is an easier environment to get to know everyone better in comparison to larger companies, which means you build closer relationships and in turn, have more of a positive influence on decision-making. With smaller companies, I’ve enjoyed the exposure to see a customer’s journey from start to finish.
If you could tell your younger self one thing you know about business now, what would it be?
You must work with people and take them on the journey with you. By work, I mean being in tandem with your team, and in other words, not telling people what the answer is, but working in unity to come up with the solution together. This process does not necessarily happen in quick succession, but I find the results are more successful. And by the journey, I mean the journey with the company; ensuring people have a clear understanding of why they do what they do and knowing where they stand within the business and the impact they make.
What's your mantra?
Be honest and authentic.
What do you think is key for finding a successful work-life balance?
Not being afraid to say no and knowing when to. Empowering your team to take opportunities and responsibility into their own hands, and if you don’t know the answer, you’re not failing.
What’s one key leadership lesson you’ve learned along the way?
Everybody is different and you need to play to their strengths.
What advice do you have for women aiming for leadership positions?
Leaders require people skills, organisational skills and the ability to ask good questions even when they don’t always have the answers. Stop worrying about what the future holds and start delivering today.
What do you think is holding women back?
Knowledge and self-confidence. Sometimes women are afraid to have a voice in the industry or feel under-confident in their views. It’s always best to have the confidence in yourself and recognise your capabilities without self-doubt interfering. Remember there’s a strong chance that people will support and agree with your views.
Lifestyle “at the top” is not necessarily all it’s made out to be – it can be hectic and lonely. It’s not women holding back, but it might rather be a conscious, positive choice due to work-life balance, and I would stress the importance of this!
Do you think there is still a glass ceiling?
While there are more women than ever breaking the glass ceiling, which is fantastic, it is still very much a work in progress and the industry should always encourage women to achieve their best potential.
What are your thoughts on the Women in Finance Charter?
Great initiative but it takes time to get what you want.
How do we encourage more women into financial services?
The industry needs to get better at explaining, it’s not only about the numbers, but it’s also about proposition, creativity and people.
The gender pay gap is only second worst to the construction industry. What can organisations do to address this?
We must accept that there is still a long way to go for most industries. However, it’s about continuing to address and monitor the gender pay, while being transparent and acting on the output rather than assessing what to do in the future.