Quick fire Q&A with Cynthia Sweeney Barnes, E2W Advisory Board member
Katie.Dix / 17 Dec 2019
Cynthia Sweeney Barnes, E2W Advisory Board Member.
An energetic, versatile and impactful head of global financial services sales, service, product and operations teams with a demonstrable track record of success in the development and implementation of strategies leading to thriving organisations, enduring client relationships and the winning teams who support them. Effective in complex business models, across cultures and at all organizational levels up to and including C-Suite and Ministerial. Strong experience across asset classes, client and investor types and in the management of vendor relationships (banking, rating agencies, IT) and P&Ls.
1. What makes our mission meaningful to you?
A vibrant financial services sector is at the heart of the UK’s ongoing economic strength and is critical to so many individuals and businesses across the country. Women, at all levels, are an essential part of this success. E2W’s focus is to support women at every stage in their financial services careers and to help financial institutions recruit and retain more women in senior management. We often hear “where are all the senior women?” yet, as demonstrated by the E2W’s “Alpha Candidates” portal, there is a genuine abundance of proven, female, leadership talent out there actively seeking their next senior role.
2. What motivates you?
I relish a challenge and the opportunity to build, transform and otherwise make a difference. I also enjoy being surrounded by like-minded colleagues and management that values, enables and supports those who strive to learn, grow and succeed.
3. What does "success" mean to you in terms of your work as a board member?
If I can contribute to E2W management and staff achieving, and expanding on, their mission to support more women in financial services and help organisations in their aims to support the success of women in financial services, I would feel it’s been a job well done.
4. What do we need to do today to pull the future toward us and beat our competition to the future?
The fact that there are more organisations seeking to address the challenges women face in building (and maintaining) their careers in the financial services industry supports the idea that there is a genuine problem. While it may be tempting to see these other entrants as competitors, perhaps they could also be seen as collaborators and enablers. What role could E2W play in leading this collaboration and, possibly, consolidation? The risk we have when there are too many players vying for a voice in the debate is that the messages, players and way forward can become fragmented and less clear. Is there a role for E2W to play in pulling these many voices together?
5. What are people thinking, but afraid to express?
There are, demonstrably, many senior women seeking a route back to challenging and fulfilling roles after taking a career pause, such as for raising children. Recruiters often put these women forward, even if only to meet a quota, but employers typically won’t make what they see as a “high risk” hire, despite acknowledging that the female returner has the requisite skills and experience to do the job. Instead, they prefer to take the perceived “safer” option of transferring an existing staff member or bringing in an external hire, usually male, currently in employment at a competitor firm. While it may feel “safer” to bypass the woman returner, it can deprive the company of a proven senior leader and help perpetuate gender imbalance at senior levels both in their organisation and in the financial services industry. Returner programmes have been on the rise but, while laudable, they do not, in practice, provide senior roles. Presumably, this is for the same reason, i.e. that despite having proven they have the right stuff to be effective leaders, returners are seen as too risky an option by employers. Until leaders in these firms recognise the opportunity for return versus the perception of risk in these hiring practices, there is likely to be a continued disconnect between the aspiration to have more senior female leaders and the incorrect perception that there aren’t enough out there.
6. During your career, has there been a time when you thought “Yes, I’ve made it!”?
I’ve been fortunate to have had some amazing opportunities in my career and to serve and support the ambitions of clients from all parts of the World. At one point, the Head of Middle East Business Development at my then employer resigned and I put myself forward to replace him. At the time, I was told that the reason I wasn’t considered was the belief of senior management that a woman couldn’t be as successful as a man in developing business from Middle Eastern clients. A couple of years later, after I was appointed to a global head of business development role, my team and I exponentially grew the company’s book of business from the Middle East. As it turned out, my gender wasn’t an impeding factor at all and the services we provided to our clients there, old and new, helped underpin the growth of our global book of business.
7. What has been the biggest challenge during your career and why? It could be one incident in particular, something more common in the industry, or even something to do with you and your development.
Without a doubt, the biggest challenge I have experienced in my career to date is coming back after a career break looking after my, at the time, young family. When I left the City, I did so at MD level with a strong track record of delivery in building and managing business lines. Despite maintaining my learning and keeping professionally active during my “break”, the discontinuity in steady, permanent, employment during this period became a key impediment in securing a return to a senior financial services role, even with employers who were happy I could do the job. What I have found striking is the number of senior women who have found themselves in a similar situation. They had climbed the corporate ladder in financial services on the back of strong and repeated delivery, thereby proving themselves as senior leaders, only to find there are few bridges back to being senior leaders again, at least in financial services. For my part, I’m keen to continue a journey of lifelong learning and to apply my energies in areas where I believe I can make a difference. I have focused on building a small non-exec portfolio and taken on consultancy roles in areas of personal interest, such as in helping to grow and otherwise transform businesses. I have also sought to keep up-to-date with the myriad of technological changes in the financial services industry and to better understand the role the financial services industry can play in tackling climate change and other environmental challenges.
8. When you retire, what would you like to be remembered for?
The Financial Services industry supports the hopes and dreams of people the world over; ranging from saving for a future life event such as retirement to the sustainability of their employer and thus their employment. I hope I have helped in the achievement of these aspirations along the way, as well as changed perceptions of the sort of roles women can undertake and successfully deliver.
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