International Women's Day 2021 blog series: Marlene Shiels

  • Marlene Shiels OBE
  • 18 March 2021
  • Blog | Professionalism and Ethics | Blog

Following on from International Women's Day, we are continuing to shine a light on Women in Banking throughout March.

The second of our Women in Banking blog series focuses on Marlene Shiels OBE, FCBI (Hon) CEO Credit Capital Union.  Marlene shares her experiences and influences within banking and how they have shaped her career. 

Overall, how would you describe your experience within banking?

My experience in banking and financial services has been very positive. I have been very fortunate to have worked with great people, who are visionary and inclusive. I have been so privileged to have had great people around me, who have been supportive and encouraging.

What is the best piece of advice you've been given and by whom?

My previous Chairman and founder of Capital Credit Union, John Cormack, was an exceptional mentor. He gave me two great pieces of advice. The first was “say yes to everything that feels right and work it out later”. I was not the most confident person when setting out in my career and he encouraged me to say “yes” to opportunities that I would have naturally said “no” to, thinking I wasn’t the best person. His advice was work it out as you go along! It worked! He also taught me the about the power of co-operation and how working together gets things done.

Do you have any female role models that have helped shape your professional / personal life?

I most certainly would not be where I am today without some great guidance and coaching from my role models, all of whom have helped me at different times in my life and career. There are quite a few women that have helped my on my way, and men too, of course.

One of my greatest mentors is a very dear friend Lois Kitsch, who is one of the most respected credit union professionals in the world today. She was one of the first international credit union people I met, way back in 1994, and she continues to be my inspiration for international development. Volunteering my time over the past 6 years, working with Lois developing credit unions in Africa, has been one of the most rewarding experiences in my life.

More recently, I became the first female Chair of the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) Smaller Business Practitioner Panel. This has brought me into regular contact with the current Chair of the FCA Consumer Panel, Wanda Goldwag, and the outgoing chair of the FCA Practitioner Panel, Tulsi Naido, both of whom are inspirational leaders and very supportive. When I see them in action, it makes me want to be the best Chair I can be.

In credit unions, there are many inspirational women doing amazing things. One that stands out for me is Karen Bennett, CEO of Enterprise Credit Union in Liverpool. She has done amazing things for the people her credit union serves, many of whom are financially under-served, and her story of growing the credit union (CU) from being handed the CU (literally) in a black plastic bag, to one of the most successful CUs in the UK today, is inspirational.

I would love to mention one other woman that I do not see often, but when I do, she makes me want to be a better version of myself. Her name is Margaret Anne Clark, and she is the new Head of HR for Scotmid. I have known Margaret Anne in a professional capacity for many years, most of which was in her role as Head of Legal for Law at Work who provide employment law advice. She has this gift of making you feel good about yourself; she is one

of the most caring people I know and will go out of her way to help anyone. She is a real champion for justice, and she makes you want to go above and beyond in everything you do.

Having worked with the Duchess of Cornwall in recent years, I have great admiration for her willingness to champion causes, which includes credit unions. She really had done a lot to promote credit unions as community banks for everyone.

What resources are out there, that you would recommend to others?

I know it is hard, especially in a pandemic, but do not under-estimate what networking can do for you. It does not come easy to some people, especially to walk into a room where you don’t know anyone. A lot more networking is online at the moment and it is just a little harder to find opportunities, but they are out there. Find out what is going on in your area, check out what professional institutes like the Chartered Banker Institute are doing, are they running any events you can tap into? I guarantee you will learn something; you might make a new friend or contact, and you just never know what opportunity might present itself.

What measures should organizations be taking to improve the banking environment for Women?

I am a great believer in an organisations having flexible HR policies, I think this is critical for advancement, but particularly so for women, who are more likely to be care providers. The second most important thing, which we sometimes under-estimate, is the training and development budget, but alongside a budget there needs to be a real culture of supporting advancement. Too often employees are required to study in their own time, and you can lose out this way. Creating study groups, is something that we tried in CCU when we had staff studying for the Credit Union Module offered by the Chartered Banker Institute and it was successful. Bouncing ideas off each other, learning from each other, coaching each other, was a great way for staff to move forward to gaining additional qualifications.

How important is it to challenge and call out gender bias and inequity?

It is not only important to call out gender bias and inequality, but perhaps more so, it is critically important to do something about it. Not everyone is in a position to change policy, to change culture, to call out bad behaviour, but we all have a role to play, regardless of our position, to stamp out poor behaviour, to provide opportunities, to speak up and to make change happen.