Novia’s Helen Austin chooses to challenge in support of International Women’s Day 2021

  • Author : Helen Austin
  • Date : 8 Mar 2021

Helen Austin reflects on International Women’s Day and its 2021 theme, in recognition of those who have gone before and paved the way.

Helen is Regional Sales Manager for Novia Financial.

Today, I am celebrating International Women’s Day in recognition of the brave women who have gone before me and paved the way, sometimes with their lives, to enable me to ‘Choose to Challenge’, the theme of today’s IWD.

When I first heard about IWD and its 2021 theme, I wondered what there was to challenge in my chosen profession and my career in the UK Financial Services.  I am privileged to live and work in the UK, within a company that treats everyone equally on merit and welcomes positive challenge from all sexes equally.

Looking back

Taking the time to look back though, I know there have been instances where my identity, my femininity, rather than my skill as a sales person has hindered or enhanced my role.

I will admit, before anyone else objects, that there have been times where my femininity has undoubtedly helped me start a conversation.  But, in those instances, the meeting was usually a waste of time for both parties. Occasionally, scary too.

Meeting clients, mostly men, as a lone female often travelling far from home poses challenges that not many men in my industry have had to deal with (obviously, I’m talking pre Covid, it’s difficult to find yourself in a tricky situation sitting on a zoom meeting!).

Some of my tricky situations comprise of; a refusal to speak to me because I was ‘wearing a dress’ (oh, how I wish I had kept that email!), unsolicited inappropriate pictures (very inappropriate!) and even a promise of a large amount of business on the basis that I went away on a secret weekend (I definitely did not take this person up on this offer, but I would have loved to see the resulting reasons why letter!).  Even recently, I received an email from an adviser stating that he was not interested in anything offered by Novia or Copia, but he was definitely interested in me personally and would I like to go and visit him (in case anyone is wondering, the answer was an emphatic NO).

None of these situations physically harmed me, but I did find it demeaning and, each time, they definitely impacted on my confidence to deal with others for a while.  I tried to adapt my style and hide my femininity.  I also hid my experiences from my manager for fear of being branded a ‘weak woman who could not cope in a Man’s World’.

Of course, there are two sides to every story.  I also know of females within my industry who have actively exploited their sexuality to garner more business or attain promotions.  The age old casting couch has definitely seen some action at times!  Thankfully, this behaviour is as rare as the bad behaviour I experienced, the springs are beginning to show through and I would like to believe it won’t be long before it is taken away to the tip and becomes landfill.

Embracing the talent and diversity

And that is my challenge to the Financial Services Profession (IFA world) and the Industry in which I work.  I can see that both sides of the fence have started to realise that they must accommodate and embrace the talent and diversity that is shown by the women that inhabit them.  I would like to see our working worlds continue to build on the good progress that they have made.  There is more to be done.

On International Women’s Day 2021, the progress is to be celebrated.  But I also choose to challenge those who could give more support to female colleagues, and our aspiring successors.  Women must have the confidence to rely on their professional abilities and to be sure that they will be seen and heard as a valued, professional person.  Gender must not be a used as a tool to help or hinder attainment.  I also challenge those in authority to encourage women and men to speak out against those who refuse to change their behaviour and diminish the achievements of so many inspirational women who have fought so hard for equality today.

The statements and opinions expressed in the Guest Spot are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Novia Financial plc or any of its employees. The company does not take any responsibility for the views of the author. Any links, web pages and documentation within the Guest Spot are provided by pages maintained by independent third parties and Novia accepts no responsibility for the availability, content or use of the information contained within them.

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