International Women's Day 2021 blog series: Sandra Benn

  • Sandra Benn
  • 23 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 third of our Women in Banking blog series focuses on Sandra Benn, Owner of Chiya & Chai.  Sandra shares her experiences and influences within banking and how they have shaped her career. 

Overall, how would you describe your experience within banking?   

I’d describe my banking career as rounded and fulfilling. Living in Edinburgh, where my bank was headquartered, meant that to progress, a move to London was not inevitable.  I committed to the Retail segment and had 14 different jobs over 34 years, so I gained wide and varied experience. That’s helped me a lot now that I’ve set up my own business. The training I received was first class. And I made lifelong friends. 

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

I don’t know who gave me the advice, it might even have been a teacher at school, but it was to always be learning. So, Institute exams and  Continuing Professional Development (CPD), employer workshops and training programmes, personal development plans, conferences, and spending a small fortune on books! These are all things that I’ve committed to, in work and in life, because I see the opportunity to learn something deeper or something new and try something different. I researched, then went off to get a qualification before I started my new business. Having those credentials is important to building trust with my customers. 

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

Well in 1984, there weren’t many women in senior positions in banking. As I finished my exams and started on my career proper, my manager then, also called Sandra, was very supportive and encouraging. Lorraine in the HR department was the person who responded to me sending in my 5-year plan and helped me move on from a job that I wasn’t suited to.
Jacqui was the manager who taught me how to change my perspective on things. “What could be good about it?” she would ask me, when I was struggling. That’s stayed with me even to this day. I admire hard work so in the celebrity world, people like Oprah and Dolly Parton have taught me a lot. Especially to enjoy what you do. I’ve had plenty of good male role models too. Mentors have also featured regularly in my career. And still do, as I’ve moved away from Financial Services (FS). 

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

Mentoring, either in-house programmes or pick up one from another organisation. But be clear on what you want to achieve from a mentoring programme, and be willing to commit the time to it. I’ve seen examples where people think they should have a mentor, get one and then don’t follow through on the commitment. So, it ends up delivering nothing to either party. So be really clear in what you want to achieve. 

Networking. Again, in-house is fine but we don’t have careers for life anymore, so connecting outside of the organisation is important. The Chartered Banker Institute and Women in Banking & Finance were great groups for me to do that. Online works great too, for example, on LinkedIn. Networking outside of FS really helped me grow my understanding of my customers and bring in referrals to help my organisations get things done. Growing and supporting that network over the years meant I had a fantastic resource to ask for help from, when I was setting up my business. 

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

Well, the call for flexibility has been around for a while. Working whilst at home has certainly been revealed to Executives as perfectly possible, due to the pandemic. But that’s not the whole story on flexible working. Flexibility on hours and the option to vary this to meet needs would help women a lot. I see this as I talk to more and more women, who run their own businesses. 
Organisations aren’t flexible enough and women are forced to make choices. And family wins. Which means companies lose out on creativity, entrepreneurial mindsets and diverse thinking. That’s not a good outcome for anyone.

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

Well, even in the midst of a global pandemic, we’ve had huge societal issues come to the fore. Black Lives Matter, domestic violence, divisive politics, the pandemic’s disproportionate impact on women, the Indian Farmers Protests, I could go on. So, it’s more important than ever to challenge. But possibly harder than ever, for one issue to dominate.

Photo Credit: Ema Pruteanu Photography