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International Women’s Day 2024

To celebrate both International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month 2024, the Leasing Foundation is shining a light on some of the inspirational women within the asset finance industry. In keeping with the theme ‘Inspire Inclusion’, throughout the month of March, we spotlight a selection of female individuals who keep on leading the way towards a better inclusive future.

Lauren Rhodes, Corporate Asset Solutions

I am Lauren Rhodes, commercial director for CAS (one of the lending business branches of Close Brothers Commercial division). My role is wide and varied, focusing on the day to day operations but also longer term strategy of the business. I am passionate about inclusion – the biggest thing for me is that everyone should have the option and privilege to make a conscious choice when it comes to opportunities, not be discounted from them in the first place based on who you are or your background.

What impact has mentoring had on you and your career?

I’ve never had an official mentor, but informal ones have no doubt been vital in supporting my career choices and steps, they have provided support and challenge as well as a differing perspective to my own – I believe this is the beauty of diversity.

What advice would you give women starting their career?

Get comfortable being uncomfortable – you don’t grow when you’re in a place of comfort! I think that you need to be brave and take opportunities presented to you, some of them will go your way and some of them won’t, but it’s all about learning. I also think that there have been times when I have felt stuck or stilted in my career and some of this came from a deep sense of loyalty that I think is driven by my background and being a woman – I feel, and am, very lucky to have been afforded opportunities but I sometimes battled with this, thinking that I hadn’t been around long enough or proven myself. Know that you have earned your place to be there if the opportunity presented itself to you!

Who inspires you and why?

There are a lot of people who inspire me… from a personal point of view it would be my mum – she worked incredibly hard to give me the best possible access to opportunities through adversity. From a work point of view, I had the privilege of working for Ylva Oertengren in my first job in the industry and seeing her in action. Ylva was the first female senior leader I’d ever met and she was and still is someone I aspire to be like! Additionally, I was lucky enough to meet Emma Lloyd when she was facilitating an internal leadership development programme and she is a beacon of positivity and pragmatism along with her endless supply of inspirational quotes!

Kirsty McCarroll, Alfa Financial Software

I am Kirsty McCarroll, general counsel at Alfa Financial Software. I’ve been with Alfa for just over three years and I provide legal advice to the business, helping to support strategic decisions.

What advice would you give women starting their career?

  1. Honing the technical skills to do your job is important; but progression is about much more – particularly building and maintaining relationships. Start now.
  2. Factor in time to re-set – for me, that’s being on my bicycle. You’ll be much more effective in your role and make better-quality decisions.
  3. Figure out what your values are and keep sight of these. Sometimes work and life will take over, but checking in with these will keep you aligned with how you want to be as a person.
  4. Remember that the job spec is a description of the dream candidate. They don’t exist. You don’t need to meet 100% of the spec to throw your hat in the ring. The worst they can do is say no.

What can women do to help women?

Support and back the women that aren’t in the room – perhaps that’s putting forward their name for a project that you know they’d love to be involved with, or highlighting their wins to others within your organisation. It’s ultimately about helping to enhance their profile, to set them up for progression and more opportunities. I think this is something that Alfa does really well across the organisation and for all employees.

Who inspires you and why?

I’m so fortunate to be surrounded by some incredible women in my personal life – particularly Feng Taylor-Cai and Desi Tocheva. They’re smart, passionate, values-driven individuals and I constantly learn so much from them. They take action to support women day-to-day in their respective organisations – and it’s the consistency of this that compounds over time to make change.

Nadia Gardner, Simply

My name is Nadia Gardner, and I am a business systems analyst at Simply. My role looks at identifying business needs and helping to improve processes and systems whilst analysing solutions for improving efficiency. I am motivated to be the best that I can be and will always give my best to what I am working on within the business.

What has enabled you to succeed?

I truly believe in anything is possible if you truly put your mind and heart into it.  I am always honest with myself and open to hear constructive criticism. I have had the honour of having great management teams, that have championed my positive attainments and challenged me to learn more and continually grow.  To succeed you have to fail, that is where the true line of growth and success develops.

What can women do to help other women?

Constantly champion each other, and don’t be afraid to nominate another woman for what you believe they are capable of.  Empower each other and build networks to upskill, motivate and share experiences.

Who inspires you and why?

My mother was my biggest inspiration. As a senior clinician from a Windrush generation, the adversity she faced was something unimaginable. She maintained to upskill her knowledge and through all challenges strived to be the best she could and became a senior leader amongst many hurdles.  She carried this out with dignity, grace, and most of all true self-worth to the individual she was and the role she was going to play to ensure clinical services were more inclusive to skilled minority workers. Her motto was always to be true to yourself and continue to let your true worth shine.

Amina El-Marini, Alfa Financial Software

My name is Amina El-Marini, I am the legal and commercial director for Alfa Financial Software. Supporting and guiding young women in finding their place in their career is something that’s important to me.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Take time out every day to reflect on who you are and who you want to be. It’s easy to get caught in the current and to feel overwhelmed by life moving too fast. You have control over the pace you take, and you don’t have to squeeze yourself into moulds that aren’t meant for you. If you know who you are and who you want to be, it’s much easier to stand confidently in your own space.

What advice would you give women starting their career?

You deserve to be here as much as anyone else, so be bold. Don’t be afraid to speak up and use your voice, 99% of the time, other people in the room have the same question ask but are too afraid to ask it.

Who inspires you and why?

There are many women who inspire me for many different reasons, such as Fatima Al-Fahiri who in 859CE established the world’s first university in Morocco for everyone, including women, to study subjects such as maths and music. In modern day, my inspiration is Wendy Martin who is always bold and fearless in her decisions and has achieved so much because of it, she reminds me that there are no excuses for not achieving your goals and that we should be fearless in our ambitions.

Karima Haji, Scania

I am Karima Haji, transformation director at Scania GB. My role is to enable change and help transform our organisation to be ready for today and fit for the future, as we transition towards a fully sustainable transport system.

Why do you think that International Women’s Day is important to celebrate?

For me, International Women’s Day (IWD) provides a platform to not only acknowledge, but honour women who are making positive impacts in society. It also acts as a reminder that whilst we have made significant positive gains since the first IWD celebrated back in 1911, there is still more to do. In our industry in particular, the gender imbalance is very evident, and today allows us to spotlight that as women and girls, we can inspire each other to achieve our full potential.

What can women do to help women?

Put yourself out there and show that you are open to share your experiences and how others can benefit from your experience. In the workplace there are some very practical techniques. For example, mentoring less experienced women, be it on a project or specific initiative or supporting a female colleague in a male dominated meeting, where they otherwise may not speak up. Ultimately, you have to be open about your own trials and tribulations and hope that other women can feel supported through your own journey.

Who inspires you and why?

My female role model is my late mother. My parents arrived in the UK having been expelled from Uganda in 1972 with very little. Growing up, I watched my mother juggle work, extended family commitments whilst raising three daughters. She was a strong, determined and ambitious woman who taught me to always aim high, go after what you believe in and work hard. There was always some tough love in there for good measure, but she was the driving force from day one.

Emma Oglesby, Lombard

I am Emma Oglesby, head of products and journeys at Lombard. I have a passion for technology and enjoy baking at the weekends.

What advice would you give your younger self?

What some people consider bossy, others consider leadership. Don’t let other people’s words and gendered-views shape your own view of yourself.

What one piece of advice would you give the next generation of female leaders?

Surround yourself with people you can learn from, and that give you the support you need. A great line manager can shape your development and open up opportunities.

Who inspires you and why?

I’ve been incredibly fortunate to have a number of inspiring mentors and leaders over my career, but having recently come back to work post maternity leave I have to say working parents are currently my inspiration. Sleepless nights, juggling childcare and the dreaded nursery illnesses – working parents and carers are doing a fantastic job and are truly inspirational.

Kate Clarke, CBC Resourcing Solutions

I am Kate Clarke, senior recruitment consultant at CBC Resourcing Solutions and a working mum of three: 5 year old twins and a 22 year old. I enjoy going to gym when I get chance and the odd glass of wine! 

What advice would you give your younger self?

Don’t take your life too seriously, don’t be too hard on yourself, and live without regret. Tell people you love them and how much they mean to you.

What does success mean to you?

Success is about being happy. Without happiness all the awards, money and things in the world mean nothing.

Who inspires you and why?

Jacqueline Gold inspires me. She started working on the weekends to help her father’s failing business and turned it into a hugely profitable and dynamic business. Hosting parties in her home, she empowered many women to go back to work and to take control of their financial independence.  She made her way in what was a male-dominated business industry to receive a CBE in 2016 for services to women and entrepreneurship. One of the things that Jacqueline said was that we need to stop teaching boys not to cry and girls to stop being perfect. This could not be truer statement in light of the mental health crisis in the UK. Sadly Jacqueline died of cancer but her amazing legacy will live on.

Philippa Pykett, Shawbrook Bank

I am Philippa Pykett, head of growth, digital SME lending at Shawbrook Bank. I’m responsible for driving growth across our intermediated funding options that support businesses with their capital expenditure needs, including asset finance and capital expenditure loans. It’s my job to keep developing a great proposition and competitive pricing, while constantly innovating with new financial products. This empowers our broker partners to deliver an exceptional experience that leaves their customers delighted. 

What impact has mentoring had on you and your career?

I’ve been fortunate to have several incredible mentors throughout my career, many of them colleagues I’ve directly worked under. One piece of advice that stuck with me from the early days was to ditch the “career as a linear path” mentality. It’s easy to fall into that trap, especially with exams, university, and graduate schemes. However, I believe, especially for young professionals, the focus should be on acquiring diverse skills and discovering what truly matters in your work. For me, it’s seeing the tangible impact of my efforts on customer satisfaction and financial performance. Launching our new CAPEX term loan product demonstrates this perfectly, showcasing the direct connection between my work and positive outcomes.

What one piece of advice would you give the next generation of female leaders?

If you think you are ready to step up then go for it, you might fail but chances are that you will succeed.

Who inspires you and why?

Katrin Herrling, Founder and CEO of FundingXchange. Katrin is tackling a traditionally male dominated industry with new ways of thinking and innovative products… all whilst lifting up other women and being a Mum. Any time you spend with Katrin is uplifting and she’s really focused on making positive changes in how data works for customers.

Aysha Ellis-Aziz, Netsol Technologies

I am Aysha Ellis-Aziz, global head of marketing –field and partnerships at NETSOL Technologies Inc. My day job focuses on developing and executing global marketing strategies across four continents. I am also the deputy chairwoman of AFPA Trust and an ambassador for the Leasing Foundation. Beyond that, I’m passionate about empowering others; whether it’s dedicating time to causes I believe in, or actively cheering on the achievements of other women, I’m driven by the desire to see everyone around me reach their full potential.

What can women do to help women?
It’s about creating space for everyone to contribute their unique talents, perspectives and encouraging diversity of thought. When women feel empowered to bring their whole selves to the table, it builds a more creative, innovative, and successful environment for everyone.

What advice would you give women starting their career? 
Believe in yourself and stay true to yourself! This might sound simple, but it’s taken me some time to truly internalise it. There were times early in my career where I hesitated to speak up or take on new challenges because of self-doubt. But as soon as you believe in yourself and your abilities, it’s amazing what you can achieve. So don’t be afraid to take calculated risks and seek out mentors who believe in you and will advocate for your success. Find your voice, be confident in your abilities, build a supportive professional network where you and others can advance together, and don’t be afraid to step outside your comfort zone!

Who inspires you and why?
I’m inspired by so many people. People who embrace their authenticity and use their voice to make a positive impact inspire me. It’s those who are true to themselves even when it’s challenging, who challenge the status quo and fight for what they believe in, and who uplift others by sharing their knowledge and creating opportunities for growth. These are the people who leave a lasting impression and make the world a better place.

Rachael Woods, Ricoh Europe

I am Rachael Woods, vice president leasing, Ricoh Europe. I am responsible for Ricoh’s captive customer finance program across Europe. I am passionate about bringing teams together to deliver success for our customers and employees.  

How do you describe your leadership style?

Warm, engaging, open and honest. I think it is really important that we create a culture which gives our teams the space to deliver and develop.

What has enabled you to succeed?

I have worked with some great leaders both women and men who have given me opportunities to develop and grow over the years. I’m sure working hard with a positive outlook and sunny nature has contributed too!  

Who inspires you and why?  

It is difficult to pick one person as I have had the pleasure of working with many inspirational people.  I would like to recognise all of these women from my early career journey at GE who shaped my career and remain good friends today: Mary McNamara, Jane Hart, Jane Roberts, Roshni Haywood, Julie Henehan, Francesca Rea, and Anne Williams.

Isara Cotton, Lombard

I am Isara Cotton, head of Lombard Direct and Digital Sales as of 1 April. Lombard provides growth solutions and support to businesses of all size.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Throughout my career and life, I’ve realised that my default mode can sometimes be ‘I need to be the one to do it all’. And it’s impossible. Being a martyr is not sustainable, asking for help is not a weakness and actually, you might be pleasantly surprised at how willing people are to share the load.

What do you think will be the key skills for the future?

Curiosity and a willingness to learn from past actions and mistakes. I’m halfway through ‘Black Box Thinking’ by Matthew Syed – wow. Mind blown. How do we counteract ego/cognitive dissonance to make real change in the world?

Who inspires you and why?

𝗠𝘆 𝗺𝘂𝗺. She has been my biggest advocate and builder of self-esteem. Now that I am a parent myself, I understand the power of self-esteem and the power that a positive environment can have in fostering it.

Mel Chell, Shoosmiths

I am Mel Chell, a litigation lawyer, partner of Shoosmiths, director and soon to be CEO.  Giving back to the industry and supporting women to be their authentic selves and flourish is incredibly important to me.

How would you describe your leadership style?

I am an inclusive and authentic leader.  I prefer to involve people in the decision making process and get ideas and input from the team.  I will coach and offer guidance and mentorship but I prefer not to be dictatorial in my approach.  However, despite preferring collaboration, I can switch to more autocratic leadership when the business simply need a quick decision and strong direction.

How do you stay motivated and inspired?

My north star is helping others to flourish.  I stay motivated by creating opportunities for everyone around me to do just that.  I will always listen, coach and mentor and will work as hard as I possibly can to ensure collective success.  I am inspired by anyone who pushes themselves to achieve and pushes themselves out of their comfort zone to pursue their passions both inside and outside of work.

Who inspires you and why?

There are so many people that inspire me!  I am inspired by anyone who can overcome adversity, or fear, or disabilities to succeed at a goal, no matter how small that goal. Many of you will know I am an open water swimmer, I am inspired most weekends by someone who takes the plunge into the cold river despite fear and trepidation.  I am inspired by those same people that then take on swimming challenges like swimming the channel.

Anne Williams, Propel Finance

I am Anne Williams, COO for Propel Finance. I am proud that as an independent lender, Propel has almost an exact equal split between male and female, and in fact within our senior leadership team we have a higher percentage of women. This is an area we are hugely focused on; and by driving diversity and inclusion across our workforce we have seen massive benefits. Huge thanks to the Leasing Foundation for running this focus during March, it’s talking about these things which can help drive positive change.

What does inclusion mean to you?

Simply it means equal opportunity to everyone and the fact that you are given the same opportunities based on your skills and knowledge etc. There is definitely a change with women taking senior board positions, but it’s probably slower in finance than in other industries. I think many expect the CEO to be a man in his fifties; and the exceptions – as per Anne Boden at Starling Bank – are few and far between. At Propel we are truly gender neutral and will always pick the best person for the job.  In many ways covid has made it easier for our female staff to balance work and home lives. Taking the children to school and dentists/doctors is easier for all staff; and it seems to be much better balanced between mothers and fathers these days. I would like a day when we don’t need International Women’s days; and where there is a better division from boards right the way down to the shop floor.

How do you stay motivated and inspired?

Interaction with people; particularly my colleagues. I think that remote / hybrid working has possibly stifled the buzz and motivation you get when you are around like-minded people. I never fail to feel lifted when I set foot in a Propel office, see friendly faces, hear them going about their business and see amazing things taking place. That is why I am in the office with my team every week. They are my motivation and inspiration.  

Who inspires you and why?

In the media, Deborah Meaden, of BBC’s Dragons’ Den. She is a shining example of a businesswoman who has moved with the times, stayed current and champions environmental initiatives. She was good on Strictly too – definitely not afraid to step outside her comfort zone! Closer to home, the women in Propel’s senior leadership team. What a truly remarkable group of women who all bring their individual talents to the table, but never fail to pull together to deliver results: Faye Armitage, Michelle Anderson, Jennifer Bodey, Nicola Evans, Maria Fishlock, Carey Hansford, Vicky Murphy, Catrin Nation, Jan Twomey, Valerie Leah, Julie Warren, and Yvonne Wiseman.

Janice Whittington, KPMG Corporate Markets

I am Janice Whittington, senior manager within KPMG Corporate Markets. I am a  global cross-cultural ‘deal maker’, engaging with multi national and international organisations focussed on UK growth as part of their business portfolio. Passionate in supporting women to achieve their potential in whatever they choose to do!

What can allies do to help advocate women

One that I have loved doing myself is to be a mentor. For those of us who find ourselves in a position of power we MUST give back. Take the time to sponsor women who are themselves trying to advance their careers. You could be the person who makes the difference. Educate yourself on the issues that women face – whilst books are great and we have some great authors, just ask us, we don’t bite! And finally speak up! The rise in sexism and misogyny is worrying but you have the right to say that it’s not acceptable.

What would be the collective noun for a group of strong and capable women?

I loved this question! And came up with a list of great nouns……A Queen of Women, A Brilliance of Women (good eh?) A Powerhouse of Women (too much of a Northern influence perhaps?) A Don’t Mess With Us of Women (No?) A Dynamite of Women… sticking with this one!

Who inspires me and why?

Throughout my life my mother has had the biggest impact on me. Fiercely determined to ensure that as her only daughter I would get the education that she could not. She has been my strongest advocate and ally! The courage of Rosa Parks, the civil rights activist who in her one simple act of just sitting down showed an entire nation the strength of a movement against all that is wrong in the world. And finally my admiration for actress and producer Viola Davis. If you have watched ‘How to get away with murder’ seeing her taking off her wig (listen to ‘I am not my hair’ by India Arie) and make up for all to see is as authentic as it gets!

Laura Roberts. Liberty Leasing

I am Laura Roberts, legal director at Liberty Leasing Limited.  I am keen to help shape our industry so that the next generation will find it an inclusive and diverse place to work in.

How will you celebrate International Women’s Day this year?  

One of the men in the office has organised a pizza lunch, to celebrate all the females at Liberty.  It will be nice to have everyone come together on such an important day.

How do you stay motivated and inspired

My daughter is 11 and I am conscious that when she joins the world of work, I don’t want her to feel that being a woman could be a barrier to success.  To do that, I’m always working towards motivating and helping the women at Liberty to reach their full potential.  In an industry where senior women remain “outnumbered” it’s important to work on reducing the gap.

Who inspires you and why?

Whilst there are many inspirational women, for me, it will always be Carol Roberts.  I believe she paved the way for women within the asset finance industry and I’m so glad I met her in my first job after university.  She showed me that women could hold senior positions, and how important it is to try and help other women achieve this too.  She may not remember those interactions, over 20 years ago, but her presence and style made a massive impact on me.  She is an amazing woman and I feel incredibly lucky to work alongside her at The Leasing Foundation (presuming that she still wants to after this!!).  Thank you, Carol!

Lucy Davies, CBC Resourcing Solutions

I am Lucy Davies, senior consultant at CBC Resourcing Solutions. I use specialist industry knowledge within asset finance to place talented people into great organisations

What does success mean to you?

Success means finding people jobs that evolve into careers that will enhance and enrich their lives; particularly those who are starting out or have faced adversity.

What can women do to help women?

Provide one to one support and create an inclusive environment that enables them to reach their full potential. Be kind, listen, be less-judgmental and more accepting. Be an ally.

Who inspires you and why?

My daughter Katie Davies inspires me. Katie is a teacher in a primary school in Greater Manchester where English is a second language for many pupils. The school also has a high number of students with complex disabilities and challenges. Katie plans and tailors her lessons to meet individual needs, fostering a positive and inclusive environment that nurtures effective learning. Katie achieved a first class honours degree in Primary School Education despite having severe asthma and allergies and the absence of her father, from a young age. I am extremely proud of her strength and determination to succeed in the face of adversity.

Fiona Hoyle, Finance & Leasing Association

I am Fiona Hoyle, director of consumer & mortgage finance and inclusion at the Finance & Leasing Association.  We have recently set up an Equity, Diversity & Inclusion Forum, where members come together to share practical insights on achieving greater diversity and inclusion in the asset and consumer finance markets. 

What advice would you give women starting their career?

Be prepared to try new things, as there’s a good chance you’ll have several different careers over your working life. Try not to stay in your comfort zone too long.  And make the most of any training courses available, so you are regularly expanding your skills toolkit ready for your next role.

What values guide you?   

Kindness.  The writer Henry James said ‘Three things in human life are important. The first is to be kind. The second is to be kind. And the third is to be kind.’  It helps us to be good allies and seek out opportunities to assist colleagues progress and shine. 

Who inspires you and why? 

That’s easy – my mother Jeanne.  She was widowed at aged 40 with six small children growing up in the seaside town of Hastings.  As well as being a full-time teacher, she also ran the local Mencap Society.  She instilled in us a very strong belief that we could do anything with hard work. 

Selma Cavalic, Simply

I am Selma Cavalic, head of credit risk at Simply Asset Finance and mum of three.  I have lived and worked on three continents, which has given me good insight into different customs and cultures and how inclusion works in different countries.

What advice would you give women staring their career/wanting to step into a leadership role?

Believe in yourself. Be proactive. Use every opportunity to learn something new and to develop yourself and those around you.  Our career, just like life, is not a straight line.  It has its ups and downs, its obstacles, but use those moments to build yourself up.  Those experiences will serve you well in the long run. 

What has enabled you to succeed?

It’s important to definite success for oneself rather than trying to achieve what others believe or perceive “success” to be.  Success, to me, means different things on different days and even more so in different periods of my life.  Ability to adapt and know my own goals and boundaries is what has enabled me to succeed.

Who inspires you and why?

I have been very lucky to have travelled through life surrounded by so many inspiring and strong women.  The person that shaped and inspired me the most, however, was my grandma.  She was orphaned in WWII but went through life with so much grace, dignity, and compassion.  She was a true fighter, survivor, and trail blazer.

Helen Lumb, Shire Leasing

I am Helen Lumb, Chief Financial Officer of Shire Leasing Plc, for almost ten years, as well as a recent board member of the FLA and The Leasing Foundation. My key responsibility at Shire is to oversee and drive the strategy of the business. My role encompasses much more than finance and I love the outward-facing nature of my role, as well as ensuring we run an ethical business.

What can women do to help women?

Simple, be role models for others, champion other women, be allies and become mentors and coaches to help other women develop in their roles. I think it is also important to recognise the immense opportunity to make the world a better place for other women and embrace it.

What advice would you give women wanting to step into a leadership role?

Be brave, own your new role and realise you have earned it! The key to success is being confident and having self-belief. Think about the best leaders you have encountered and emulate them and as you develop in your role, become a role model for others.

Who inspires me and why?

Many, many people inspire me, some famous and some ordinary people who have done great things in their lives. One person who stands out is Karren Brady. I particularly love her quote “You can’t determine where you start in life, but you can determine where you end up”. The other inspirational woman in my world is my Mum – in 2008 she was given 3 months to live and this October she celebrates her 82nd birthday!! Grit, resilience and sheer bloody mindedness comes to mind….