International Women's Day 2021 blog series: Lynn McManus
Following on from International Women's Day, we are continuing to shine a light on Women in Banking throughout March.
The first of our Women in Banking blog series focuses on Lynn McManus, Non Executive Director of Leeds Building Society. Lynn shares her experiences and influences within banking and how they have shaped her career.
Overall, how would you describe your experience within banking?
I’ve never been conscious of my career suffering, or benefiting, because of my gender, but then again, that’s the issue with gender bias – it can be so engrained that you stop noticing it. Looking back now, I can see that our sector was amongst the least diverse that there was. The single biggest influence on my career was sponsorship, without doubt the sponsorship from senior male and female colleagues had a major influence; I wonder if as a sector we do enough of this.
Thinking back 15 years or so, I can’t recall there ever being many senior women in the room. It’s different now, but while we talk about the right issues, progress is slow. The sector is willing to challenge and call out bias, but we are still not brave or bold enough to do something about it. For me, unconscious bias is our biggest issue and we still seem to surround ourselves with people “like us.” We often seek comfort and aren’t as tolerant of people who think differently and question our own self-perceptions.
So, while I wouldn’t say that I have experienced much disadvantage in my career, I couldn’t say that everyone around me has had equal opportunities. What I need to do now is identify the ways in which I can use the influence I have now to challenge others, move away from my own comfort zone and call out the ways in which our sector needs to change.
What is the best piece of advice you've been given and by whom?
This would have to be the “life advice” I received from my Dad that, ‘you can be whatever you want to be, apply yourself 100% to everything you do and treat every person you meet with respect’.
That was important for me personally but applies to our sector, as a whole. We need to create the right environment for equal opportunities and for people to reach their full potential. We should respect people for the contribution they make, rather than their gender or personal characteristics, and we can’t leave it to chance to create a truly diverse workplace.
We are all custodians of this sector and I would love our legacy to be when ‘a woman made CEO,’ it was neither newsworthy nor interesting… and one where everyone has the same opportunities. We are still a long way from that but if we continue to challenge the status quo, celebrate achievement, and hold up the right role models, we can continue to make progress.
I remember being very struck by an interview with Shirley Williams, the former Labour and Lib Dem MP, she was widely predicted to be the UKs first woman prime minister and when she was asked why she hadn’t become PM she said, “I didn't think I was good enough." Now she looks back and recognises that she was too much in awe of her male colleagues, despite her having so much potential to be a great leader… again, this demonstrates that we need to create the right environment where everyone who has the potential ‘thinks they are good enough’.
Do you have any female role models that have helped shape your professional / personal life?
Lots of women have helped shape my life but without doubt my mum has been the greatest influence - an incredible spirit through adversity and a quiet strength that amazes me every day. Her encouragement, support and the values and standards she inspired in me, has influenced every part of my life. When decisions at work are hard, I always circle back to those values, the core of who you are should be your driving influence.
What resources are out there, that you would recommend to others?
There are lots of resources that are easy to access. I like ForbesWoman, an online destination and quarterly magazine - which contains varied articles and great insight. But for me, it is more about staying intellectually curious, in general, and reading about different types of leaders in different industries and unusual situations.
However, the most important ‘resource’ for me is keeping connected to people you can learn from. I’ve never had a formal mentor but I have a number of people I have learned from throughout the years (men and women) who I continue to use as sounding boards – I am never afraid to ask for help or a view on something.
What measures should organizations be taking to improve the banking environment for Women?
There is a lot that has and continues to be done – very specific interventions around flexibility, support networks, mentors, more considered sponsorship but I come back to my point on creating the right environment, challenging and being bold in our choices. And when we do spot great female talent, we nurture them to their full potential.
This is hard stuff. If anything, the specific interventions are the easy part - challenging the status quo and creating cultural change are difficult but will create the momentum we need.
How important is it to challenge and call out gender bias and inequity?
I believe it is one of the critical issues for our sector, we need a richness of talent and diverse thinking to build a culture that is relevant – the key factor that will really move the dial is when we all challenge and call out when we see bias and inequality.
If there is anything positive to come out of the coronavirus pandemic, it is the spotlight it has thrown on the most acute inequalities in society. From home schooling appearing to mainly fall on women and higher infection rates amongst BAME and disabled people, to the realisation that our key workers are amongst our lowest paid. People are starting to question why we haven’t chosen to challenge inequality before. Perhaps this terrible virus has pushed us to a turning point where it’s more than just gender bias and inequity that are no longer tolerated.