Media: Leasing Life, Issue 168
Date: Sep 2007
Article: The open topped ceiling - Women in Leasing
Author: Brian Rogerson, on behalf of Leasing Life
A recruiter’s viewpoint
Current sector: Leasing recruitment
Progression to current position:
Following university I worked for Barclays Mercantile and later De Lage Landen. This provided me with a great introduction to leasing. I then moved into leasing recruitment, working for a couple of established agencies.
In 2004, in conjunction with my co-founders, I recognised a distinct gap in the leasing recruitment market for providing excellence in service, coupled with professionalism and integrity – so decided to bridge that gap by establishing New Leaf Search, which is flourishing and achieving year-on-year growth.
My biggest challenge
There are no particular challenges that I have faced that I would attribute to being a woman. The biggest challenge so far, however, was plucking up the courage to leave a secure job to establish a new business venture. However, it must be said that this was just as exciting as it was a challenge.
Brian Rogerson talks to women in leasing and discovers a positive trend in favour of the fairer sex
In the UK the two generally accepted key levers for improving economic performance are: improving productivity, and increasing the number of units that are economically active. The second of these actions requires people to operate businesses successfully – and it appears that the greatest potential resource to achieve such an aim is the female section of society. Given that women are at least as capable as men in business, there should be no reason why this potential cannot be unlocked easily – but the facts seem to show a different picture.
This July, a National Business Awards (NBA) “White Paper” revealed that businesses run by women contribute some £70bn to the UK economy, and employ more than one million people. From the perspective of the NBA report, only around 7.5 per cent of the finalists are businesses operated or led by women. Yet in the economy women represent almost half the workforce, around 25 per cent is self employed, but only 15 per cent of businesses are led by women.
The corporate world has traditionally been the preserve of the male – and it is still today predominantly a male world. Women constitute 41 per cent of the workforce, yet occupy only 10 per cent of the management positions, and make up a mere 1 per cent of board members. The higher the level of management, the more glaring is the gender gap. In spite of this, the UK has the highest number of women in management (33 per cent), according to a Grant Thornton survey, and the lowest number of businesses with no women in management (37 per cent) – but is still a long way behind the US and Australia, where some 43 per cent of the managers are women.
A study by Catalyst of successful director-level women in large organisations in Europe and the US found that 53 per cent of the European sample of 500 cited lack of desire as a success barrier compared to only 30 per cent in the US. The study identified that among the barriers to success, “stereotypes of women’s role models” and “lack of management experience” were among the top three reasons on both sides of the Atlantic.
There are no specific published figures for the number of women employed in UK or continental European leasing companies. However, since leasing’s importation from the US in the 1970s, it has customarily been something of a gentleman’s club and, undoubtedly, traditional barriers to entry still remain significant for many women. We have evidence, however, that things are starting to change.
One interesting point to emerge from Leasing Life’s survey is that those women that have succeeded in the sector do not well much on past difficulties. One women lessor said: “Although leasing in general is still a relatively male-dominated environment, this is gradually changing and I do not see this as a problem or a limitation.” Another said: “Women have struggled to reach the glass ceiling. But equal opportunities in training and career development now mean that there is a structured career path in place in most accredited companies.”
For women with positive attitudes few negative perceptions exist. One woman lessor said: “If you have the feeling that you won’t succeed – then you probably won’t. If you believe in yourself – and you are backed by a good skill set and experience – then you probably will.”
Women have definite advantages in several aspects of the leasing process. When setting up appointments, for example, it is harder for a man to say “no” to a female than a man. One said: “It is easier to get my foot in the door. Then, post appointment, people begin to trust me and want to deal with me again and again. Most of my customers are men.”
Katherine Amin - Recruitment Director, New Leaf Search told us: “The perception still remains that women have to work harder to achieve the same level of pay and status as their male counterparts. This, I feel, is a misconception, as from my leasing recruitment experience I can confirm that both genders have equal chance of securing a new job or promotion.”
Furthermore, women are organising themselves in mutual support and help groups. Women in Banking and Finance (WIBF) was formed in the UK 1980 by five women with the primary aim of addressing recruitment and retention issues in the industry.
Today, with over 700 members, the group provides a forum for women in the financial services industry to share experiences, develop themselves and, equally important, develop others.
So, women in leasing are changing. Today, they are far less likely to segregate themselves as different because they are female. Although, undoubtedly, men and women lessors for the most part have different styles of management and communication, and different interests when they are chatting around the photocopier, in business their goals are the same – to produce. Those women who are willing to adapt their style slightly, and for example learn to talk about sport, won’t have to compromise their goals.
Problems facing female lessors
“The age-old problem that women in all industries face,” said Anne Revell, business development and integration director at Fortis Lease, “is juggling career with family. Perhaps, however, leasing itself does not attract too many women as it is not a tangible product or service. It is more a range of financial possibilities to assist customers to optimise their asset management. Perhaps some women find this so ‘abstract’ when they view it from outside the sector that it does not appeal.”
Victoria Eccles, education sales consultant at Syscap, believes that the sales aspect of leasing may deter some women from becoming involved. “Like any sales industry,” she said, “it is male dominated – but it comes down to the sort of person you are, rather than your gender. You need to be able to carry on after knock backs. Perhaps women don’t go after sales jobs as much as men because they don’t think they will succeed. So when a female does enter the industry there is a certain expectation that they will fail. So you do have to prove them wrong – and at the same time hit your target.”
Melissa Carter, senior vice president of global corporate development at Key Equipment Finance (Key), pointed out that differences exist between attitudes in the US and Europe.
“In the US, as a working mother, I think that balancing family needs with work needs is the most daunting challenge in most women’s careers. Europe is far more generous in providing a working environment that makes this easier to manage – at least while the baby is very young.
“In the US most women who are serious about ‘making it’ in the corporate world do not take time off from working after the usual six to 12-week family leave. That is physically and emotionally very difficult – and many women feel guilty about the baby when they are at work and guilty about work when they are at home.”
She added that Key is currently actively exploring ways to make work situations for women with families more flexible.
The Highgate Partnership, however, has a broader recruiters-view of the sector. Lucy Garrard, its managing director, stressed: “It is still not an equal market in every regard – but it is a lot better than it was. Many employers still worry that women will leave and have children, and that this will therefore make them less employable as a long-term option.
“Whilst most employers nowadays have an excellent attitude at the top level to diversity, and understand that a diverse workforce is actually a stronger one, it doesn’t always reach down to all the line managers who make the hiring decisions and this is something that needs to change.”
Garrard added: “Many of the (continental) European banks are much better at managing this process than those in the UK – and we can learn from them in many instances.”
A shrinking pool of employees
The recent Leasing Life recruitment survey showed a significant lack of good staff in the leasing sector. This begs the question whether women can benefit from this skills shortage in some way.
Simone Wecht, European business development director at Key Equipment Finance certainly believes it can. She stressed: “It should – and I can only encourage women who are looking for a new position to take the lead and speak pro-actively to the industry leaders.”
Carol Roberts, MD of Bibby Leasing, believes that the opportunity is therefore provided for women to “compete for sales roles instead of roles in operations”.
She added: “They should learn to be more competitive, strive to do a better job and, more than anything, be professional in all aspects.”
This is echoed by Victoria Eccles, who said: “It’s an even playing field, but maybe more women should take up the challenge. Syscap sales support and finance staff are almost all women – but on the sales floor women are still a minority.”
Anne Revell argues that, as the leasing industry becomes increasingly less domestic and more international, there are “fantastic” opportunities to draw in talented staff from non-leasing organisations who are seeking to develop their careers in a global environment. She said: “Maybe, however, leasing doesn’t always appear to be a very ‘sexy’ industry from the outside.”
“Women can benefit from the skills shortage,” Denise Canvin, marketing manager at the White Clarke Group, said. She added: “As long as they remember that knowledge is power, and remember to speak out using that knowledge to gain respect. Over the last five years, more and more women have been moving up in the sector, but the top positions remain elusive.”
Summing up, Garrard said: “There is always a lack of good people in the leasing sector – both men and women. Women, in my view, cannot benefit from this any more than men can. If they have the right skills and experience then they are employable in the same way. Perhaps the only significant difference is confidence – women are often less willing to put themselves forward in the same way men are and will often put up with a difficult work environment where, in a similar situation, men may seek to change by looking at alternatives quicker.”
Points of action – but don’t be a twerp
Most women in leasing agree upon the requirements for success in the sector. These include: obtaining a good knowledge and understanding of the industry; building a diverse internal and external network to see and understand different views and communicate with people in the industry; learn the business, and don’t try to run before you can walk; look for advancement and progression and think about diversifying away from what you are doing today; identify a mentor with whom you can discus issues and from whom you can bounce ideas; do the job well, and don’t spend valuable time and effort complaining about the lack of opportunities for women.
In addition: act with integrity and be true to yourself. Have a can-do attitude (Katherine Amin, of New Leaf Search); don’t be afraid to ask questions and listen and observe the leaders in their sphere of expertise. If you see the position you want just go for it (Suki Gallagher, of smartfundit.com); and remember that a leader isn’t always the one with the title. Don’t be obnoxious, but if you see a power vacuum, and something needs to be done, act like a leader. Pretty soon that’s how folks will define you (Melissa Carter, of Key).
Some criteria for success, however, are more challenging. Garrard, of Highgate Partnership, said that it is important for women in leasing to learn from their mistakes, and not to take things personally. “Women will often feel personally aggrieved in a situation where men would not and this is not an asset in leasing or banking,” she said.
She added: “I encourage them to find opportunities and spend time in other departments within their company. For example, if they are in a customer support role - and this is often where women are to be found - they should volunteer and assist in a sales and marketing campaign. The visibility and awareness will pay off.”
Carter, meanwhile, stressed: “Believe in yourself and show it. This isn’t permission to be a twerp. Part of being successful is getting along with other folks you work with. Love what you are doing and enjoy the industry you are in. And if you have the chance to reach out and help someone else to climb the ladder – do it regardless of their gender.”
Changing attitudesOn a lighter note, several women have stories regarding attitudes in the workplace. “Well,” Gallagher said, “many men in the leasing industry still enjoy a good lunch at the RAC Club and at long last women are welcomed – even though it is an extraordinary long walk to the ‘facilities’.
“Some 20 years ago lunch was the focal point for all important meetings – but women try to shy away from this today. In my experience, for those of us who do take the rare lunch hour, it’s normally spent multi-tasking with domestic chores.”
Daulby gets annoyed when mail is addressed to her fellow (male) director on the assumption that he is the senior partner, while Revell frequently jokes with colleagues “about each others’ nationalities and cultural differences far more than about gender differences”.
Garrard said: “In my role as a head hunter I see attitudes improving constantly. In the past, as a lessor, I have been in situations where I was actually told by a male client that he did not want me working on his deal, but wanted a man there as there would less likely be mistakes.
“I persuaded him to let me continue, and at the end of the deal he actually apologised to me and accepted that he couldn’t have had a better person working on his lease – and that he wanted me for all future deals.”
It’s a tough business
Individually, women in leasing’s experience varies, partly depending on how they entered the sector. The majority of women that Harrower works with in the asset finance industry have worked their way up through a variety of roles. “Project managers, however” she said, “are often from other finance areas, and do not necessarily have an asset-finance background.”
Revell knows women who have been active in leasing and asset finance all their careers, progressing to different roles on their way to the top. “I also,” she added, “have colleagues who have come in from other sectors. Leasing is a great opportunity to host a great blend of skill sets. A group such as Fortis accommodates an exceptional bank of talent from both inside and outside the industry.”
Eccles started at the bottom as a graduate. “One colleague,” she said, “left Syscap, worked for another finance company and then came back to Syscap. Others have joined the company from other finance companies or were recruited through agencies – so it’s a real mixture. I don’t know of anyone who has joined from a completely different sector.” Canvin, at the White Clarke Group, said that most women lessors have worked their way up. “The main exception,” she said, “is in IT where a woman with requisite technical or implementation skills could move into the sector from outside.” Similarly, Garrard argues that for certain roles, such as legal of human resources, skills are far more transferable – and this is as true for men as for women.
“Historically,” Kramer said, “I believe that women worked their way up from customer support and administrative roles. Today, fortunately, I see some change in that trend. For instance, the number of women in the UK who have obtained their plant and machinery appraiser qualification through several international appraisal organisations is encouraging. They may begin work with a valuation company but are very much in demand in leasing as well. I think they will be well placed to take on leadership roles in leasing risk management going forward.”
“Most successful women in leasing have worked their way up from the bottom,” said Amin. “Which is why when they get to the top they are well known, highly regarded and respected individuals. The asset-finance industry, being specialist generally, tends to recruit from within, and rarely entertains recruits from other sectors.”
Gallagher agrees: “Most women have worked their way up over many, many years. This is a tough business and you need to be strong and determined to survive. But if you get it right it’s as exciting and fast moving as it has always been.”
“With a shrinking employment pool,” Carter said, “working one’s way up will not be the only way asset-finance positions will be filled in the future. We will need to encourage folks to make the leap into our industry.”