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DIFF: Picking the right company with astute mentoring vital – Reynolds

  • 25/01/2022
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DIFF: Picking the right company with astute mentoring vital – Reynolds
Identifying, promoting and supporting social mobility in larger orgainsations can be more “challenging” as mentoring schemes can be more “off the cuff”.


Speaking on a panel at the Diversity and Inclusion Finance Forum (DIFF) leadership event on 18 January, chief executive at SimplyBiz Mortgages Martin Reynolds (pictured) said: “I think there’s a different challenge within the corporate world on how they spot talent and that tends to become a little bit more localised.

“It tends to be less regimented and less planned…mentoring tends to be more off the cuff if you’re not careful.”

Reynolds said: “I think for the bigger organisations it’s how you create a structure that’s more group-wide and planned. I think with the smaller ones there’s two sides, you get more of opportunity to shine but the problem is if you don’t shine it’s a lot more obvious and you can be asked to leave quicker because you can’t be dusted down and helped as much as you can in a big corporate.”

He added: “It is picking the right company…and it also depends on your confidence as well. I think confidence is a big thing and I think that can cut across social mobility challenges too. If you’ve got that confidence, you can take those knocks a little bit more.”

Richard Rowntree, Paragon’s managing director for mortgages, added: “I don’t necessarily think it about the size, having spent my early part of my career in the big banks what happens is you get buried in these organisations.

“I think you’ve got more opportunity in a smaller organisation to show what you are capable of, people are going to see it rather than the boss taking the credit for it or whatever it might be.”

This was echoed by Roland McCormack, mortgage distribution director at TSB, who said that being with the “right organisation” was “really important”.

He added that a lot of people who had succeeded, who came from more challenged backgrounds, had come from small companies as there “have to use the best possible talent they have”.

All the panel members cited examples in their career where someone took a chance on them and mentored them, and said it was key to have someone who believed in you and would give you a chance.

Rowntree said: “Speaking personally, when you’re starting off in your career there is fear of failure, and the trick is to try and get that fear to push you rather than being the barrier that blocks you from trying to do things because it’s not always going to work. You may try something and it fall over.

“It comes back to this: have you got somebody that can give you the air cover and protection that says, don’t worry about that you are fine. That comes back to the luck of the sponsor, the mentor, whoever it is, just somebody that can pick you up, dust you down and say whatever happens, don’t worry, rather than feeling like you’ve made a big mistake.”

McCormack added that people who had done well “need to find the best way to put it back in” and added that five out of seven of his direct reports did not go to university like him.

Reverse mentoring, where a more junior team member is partnered with someone more senior to mentor them, is “really useful” according to fellow panel member Sesame Bankhall’s chief executive Michele Golunska.

She explained: “I had no idea what it’s like to face some challenges if you have certain disabilities, or if you are a different ethnicity. Actually, having people that give you their stories or experiences makes you more aware.”

University education should not be barrier

Golunska said she didn’t go university as her father was sick and she stayed home to look after the family, and that she had not discussed it until recently and for a lot of her career felt “slightly ashamed”.

She explained that during the process of being interviewed for the chief executive role of Sesame Bankhall she had a mentor who told her not to write that she didn’t go to university in her biography as it gave the “wrong impression”.

Golunska added: “It’s the right impression, and he stopped being my coach. That was important, because I felt that if I change one person’s life, then that’s brilliant. I just wanted there to be someone that thought, do you know what? That little thing, I don’t need that, and I can still achieve what I want to achieve.”

Rowntree added: “We seem to have lost that a little bit in our big organisations, where we’re not bringing through [people who didn’t have a further education]. It’s almost like if you don’t have a degree, you can’t get through the front door anymore.

“That route, I think, has reduced, but I think there is opportunity and interesting views on how we open that back up again.”

He added that when he was at Halifax the firm supported him in getting a degree, and said it had an “accelerated programme” so it would take people who had come the “traditional route” and would lift them out their day job and get “all the positive that great graduates get”.


Practical tips

Reynolds said that his business had been running apprenticeships for years, including one on the surveying side of the business.

He said: “I think it is important. I think it’s about going into the schools and just talking to them about the mortgage market and say actually, it’s not just about selling mortgages, it’s about IT, accounting, finance and compliance. There’s so many different types of jobs there that an apprenticeship could harness that will pique someone’s interest.”

Rowntree added that this year Paragon was running a programme where it would go to schools and invite people from a variety of backgrounds to come in for three days to get a better understanding of the mortgage industry.

Golunska said that getting employees, and people in leadership, to share their stories was important as it gave a company opportunity to make small practical changes. One example she cited was paying expenses in three days as she remembers when she was starting out not being able to afford to pay for train tickets to go on business trips.

She said: “It’s not hard to implement as a company. It’s not expensive and you can drive it from within, even if it’s a learning lunch, just people coming along and sharing their experiences.”

She added that data gathering was very important as it gives you a starting point for improvement.

She added that one crucial piece of advice she was given was to “dust yourself off quicker”, and not let mistakes get to you.

“I kind of just held it and let it eat into me…and the people that are successful realise that you don’t get it right all the time, it’s okay to make a mistake. It’s learning from that that works, but also don’t immobilise yourself,” Golunska said.

McCormack added that to combat imposter syndrome, which he said everyone had to a greater or lesser extent, was to be an expert on something.

“If I look back, probably the way I overcame it is I made sure there was one thing I was smarter than anyone else on. When I was head of sales, I knew everything about the market, the size of the market, how it all segmented, etc, so I knew that if I was in a situation where I wasn’t feeling confident I could just fall back on that and I knew I was coming across well,” he explained.


Five event takeaways

  • Picking the right organisation with the right mentoring will allow people from different background to progress within a company and encourage social mobility.
  • Mentoring can benefit the mentor and the mentee, but there needs to be a structure and plan in place to ensure it is effective. Reverse mentoring can also be very helpful.
  • Do not solely hire people with a higher education or university education, make sure your organisation is open to people from different backgrounds. Use apprenticeship programmes and the like to encourage a wider cross section of people.
  • Getting employees, and people in leadership especially, to share stories will help companies make “small practical changes” to improve social mobility and the workplace.
  • To combat imposter syndrome, which everyone has, make sure you an expert on something and do not be immobilised by mistakes or fear of failure.

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