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Women with Ambition: Up Close with Sigrid Rouam

Women in leadership positions often have to deal with issues such as imposter syndrome, feelings of doubt and lack of confidence. This can be a significant barrier for women when they want to convince, influence and inspire people. How can we support women in this aspect to empower them and enable them to advance further in their career?

In this Women with Ambition feature, Sigrid Rouam, Global Director Data Science & Analytics, Transaction Banking at Standard Chartered Bank shares her personal leadership journey and her advice for other aspiring female leaders. Read on to find out more about her perspectives and thoughts as a strong female leader in the tech space:

1. JP Morgan Chase, Citibank Inc. and Mastercard are just some of the companies who have adjusted the gender pay gap to close to one percent. Can you share examples of equality practices that your firm looks closely at?

Standard Chartered Bank is a strong supporter of equality in the workplace and has a number of policies and commitments that support women.

Standard Chartered Bank has a strong women’s network that provides an international platform to inspire and encourage women to contribute and share best practices. It also has global flexible working practices in place and increased benefits for new parents. The bank trains staff on unconscious bias and has safety initiatives in countries with a history of heightened violence against women. Additionally, the 2019 Gender Pay Gap disclosure sets out details of the pay gap in major markets and actions taken to address it.

Standard Chartered Bank has received public recognition for its commitment to women. Our CEO, Bill Winters, signed a statement of support for the United Nations Women Empowerment Principles, in April 2018. These seven principles underpin the work we are already committed to which supports women in the workplace, marketplace, and community. The bank signed the UK HM Treasury Women in Finance Charter, in 2016, to further progress the gender agenda and work together to build a more balanced and fair industry. It has been recognised on the Bloomberg Gender-Equality Index 2019, for the fourth year in a row.


2. If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self, what would that be?

Ask more questions. Don’t be afraid to admit that you don’t know something. When I was younger, I used to believe that asking questions will make me look ignorant. Asking questions doesn’t mean that you are stupid, but shows that you are interested in the conversation or topic and keen to learn more. Asking questions can unlock difficult situations by clarifying expectations, it encourages learning and exchange of ideas, and it allows you to build good relationships with your co-workers by showing that you are interested in them. Of course, not all questions are equal. But asking good questions can also show that you understand the situation and you are trying to trigger reflection to the other party.

I would also add another - get a mentor early in your career. Develop and nurture the relationship with your mentors. A mentor will act as a sounding board and allow you to understand how people perceive you. It also forces you to reflect on yourself, which is something we often neglect as we get distracted by a million other things. A mentor also gives you different perspectives in difficult times. It allows you to take a step back and consider other ways to react and solve the issues at hand.

3. Who inspires you and why?

Different people inspire me for different reasons, but if I had to cite one exemplary French leader, it would be Christine Lagarde.

Christine Lagarde is a great source of inspiration for female leaders around the world.
She holds a lot of “firsts” for women. She was the first female head of an international law firm, Baker and McKenzie, she was the first female French Finance Minister, she was the first female leader of International Monetary Fund (IMF), and she is now the first woman to become head of European Central Bank (ECB).

She is a strong advocate of women. She believes that empowered women should empower other women. I agree with her when she says that “we need to make it politically incorrect not to have women on boards, not to have women CEOs, not to have women in the boardroom”.

Christine Lagarde is influential, confident, powerful, elegant, genuine, and smart. She is always direct and to the point, yet she is able to do it in a diplomatic way. She is also able to be successful in her career and have a family with 2 children.

4. What are some strategies that can help women achieve a more prominent role in their organisations?

I get asked this often. Working in a male dominated environment can be very intimidating for some women and they want to know how I deal with it. Being in technology, especially in the finance sector, I have always been one of the few women (this has been so since I was taking my Masters in Statistics). It is not just about knowing your domain very well; I think the main issue is related to self-confidence. Being self-confident is key if you want to convince, influence and inspire people. People naturally tend to listen to people they respect or who inspire them.

Here are a few tips I often share with other females I mentor. First, act like you belong and use body language to reflect it. Always get a seat at the table; don't try to hide at the back of the room where no one can see you. In meetings, don't hesitate to speak up and join the conversation. People can’t read minds but understand words. Market yourself. For example, if you build the best analytical tool, what is the point if nobody knows about it? Think about yourself a bit more and don’t be afraid to say no. Finally, get mentors (both male and female) to understand where your blind spots are.

5. As a female leader, what has been the most significant barrier in your career?

I think one of the most significant barriers for women in their careers is self-confidence.
Walking into a meeting and being the only woman can make you feel uncomfortable. This could result in a lack of self-confidence and the tendency for women to try to blend in rather than to stand out.

This lack of self-confidence can be wrongly interpreted by others as a lack of skills and knowledge. As a result, women with the same qualifications as men (sometimes even higher) will not be given the same opportunities in their professional lives.

I do believe that women have to work harder than men to convince others of their worth.
Being seen as self-confident is important to gain trust and respect from your male counterparts, and to be seen as a competent leader.

6. With most teams working virtually, how have you adjusted to this change and ensure there is transparent and effective communication with your team?

The pandemic has completely disrupted the way we operate as a team. The first thing that leaders should do is acknowledge the changes, reset their expectations on how to get things done, and adapt their approach to the new situation. In this ‘new normal’, leaders should pay particular attention to three aspects: communication, empowerment, and transparency.

Communication can be improved by using the Agile methodology and supporting tools. For example, we have daily scrum calls with the project team and use JIRA to understand the progress of projects, identify any potential roadblocks, and adjust dynamically. Sharing between members is also encouraged by having weekly meetings dedicated to exchanging ideas and showcasing use cases. Virtual drinks help us to get to know each other better on a more personal level.

Empowering the team members is very important when you don’t meet them on a daily basis. It is also beneficial for the organisation as empowered employees perform better and are more committed to their jobs. I empower my team by focusing on the outcomes rather than specific tasks, and letting each of them decide how they will achieve them. However, this doesn’t mean that I don’t provide any guidance or suggestions when needed. Thus, I make sure I dedicate time to answer any questions either through our online messaging or over calls.

Trust and transparency are critical for teams to function well. Leaders should share information openly as much as possible and encourage their teams to do the same.
It is important to ensure that team members have the necessary information to complete their work, otherwise they can easily feel disconnected especially when working from home.

7. How do you see businesses evolving after the pandemic subsides and what role should female leaders play during this period of transition?

During the COVID-19 crisis, a few female leaders have been recognised for their exemplary job in handling the crisis, from Angela Merkel in Germany to Sanna Marin in Finland, from Jacinda Ardern in New Zealand to Tsai Ing-Wen in Taiwan.

Three qualities are particularly useful to female leaders in times of crisis: empathy, humility, and collaboration.

Compassionate leadership is essential when going through difficult times. Women tend to listen and empathise with people around them. The stress resulting from the pandemic can result in health problems. Managers should be more supportive and attentive to employees, and help them to alleviate stress.

Humility is another great characteristic of female leaders. In a world of uncertainty, it is important to stay humble, admit we don’t know everything, and focus on solving the problem at hand rather than wanting to be in the spotlight. Female leaders are able to set their ego aside and work as a team.

Collaboration is key in times of crises. It is impossible to solve the crisis alone and we need to work together to solve this. Female leaders like working in teams and are able to create a climate of collaboration.

We are all in this crisis together. So, let’s find a way to fight it together.

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