XLoD London 2023: Breaking Barriers: Senior female leaders across the three lines of defense

This was arguably one of the most insightful sessions at the ‘must attend’ event for surveillance experts on the sellside and buyside.

The advice, honesty and humor offered by the experienced panel was invaluable for anyone trying to succeed in a male-dominated industry. It also revealed the sacrifices that senior executives must juggle and how best to manage these personally and professionally. The panel was expertly led by Sally Clark (ex Audit Committee Chair at Citi) and she was joined by: Jennifer Taylor (CCO at Citi); Laura Padovani (Group CCO at Deutsche Bank); Laura Needham (Group Chief Internal Auditor, Lloyds).

One of the panel did not mince words and confessed she had been very poor at negotiating her compensation on her way up the corporate ladder. Another recommended staying long enough at one institution to establish a solid reputation, good relationships and deep roots – she then confessed she might have overdone this staying in the same place for 23 years and reflected this may have been to her detriment long-term from a personal compensation perspective.

The conversation shifted and one of the panel stated she felt she needed to be bolder. She has seen men around her regularly having what she deems to be uncomfortable requests around compensation and benefits and being properly valued without any hesitation. Another speaker said there are ways to do this that are constructive – much more than a blunt message that you are unhappy and want more money.

The banter barrier

One stated that now she is at the top table (on the board) and has a voice she is nervous about the protocol despite an assumption she knows what that is. It is not clear how to have influence at that table. Is there a need to join the banter about rugby and football that seems to top and tail every meeting? One of the panel said she was the lone woman on the board at a British bank and her strategy was to plan very comprehensively ahead of each meeting. But the process on the day of presenting what you know you want to present is still incredibly daunting.

The key is to present clearly and thoroughly, confident in the information required while offering insights and content that is going to be new to those present. Avoid acronyms and take migraine painkillers before and after the event!

One of the women stressed that to be able to listen and be part of the dialogue is a privilege, especially the exposure to the macro picture and the geopolitics. It represents unparalleled learning as well as working with very accomplished executives that opens a door to being a mentor to those coming up through a firm.

Another speaker added that she had created a virtual umbrella at her firm that represented a safe space for many of the women there and helped shape the culture and environment, noting that women have more recently done well in 2LOD and 3LOD but not in 1LOD. One of the panel commented that this may be structural as many women seemed to have moved from 1LOD to 2 and 3 to take bigger roles. More women are getting non-executive director spots now too so this can expand board experience in an area that is hard to get in to without previous experience.

One speaker questioned whether metrics and targets were healthy as opposed to recognising merit and performance – but she did conclude they might be required to break through the barriers.

Discussion turned to the regulatory moves related to diversity that have been pushed by the PRA and FCA and the panel wondered to what extent these benefit women. One said that this was an inevitable development but questioned whether metrics and targets were healthy as opposed to recognising merit and performance – but she did conclude they might be required to break through the barriers. One added that she was labelled as the ‘token female’ on the board which she found incredibly demotivating and unfair.

Next up was family management. One panel member said she was a mother first (to two girls) and she had told the chairman of the board the same when he asked her to join it. Her husband had questioned this honesty (was she trying to talk herself out of a job?) and she had countered that they needed to know her priorities and boundaries. She stated that she needs that balance and her family is key, her joy, and she knows she has a big impact. She always leaves work at 5pm to fulfil this role. She was roundly applauded by the audience for this stance.

Another of the panellists said it was hard to maintain balance, and all have personal choices to make and different motivations. She added that she is not convinced that she has balance like her peers but she sure knows how to relax! Another stated that she has been messaged by people she manages asking her to ‘please go home!’ as no one feels able to leave until the boss does!


Networking was covered and the panel commented on their general reluctance to hang around in bars talking about football/rugby (though one of the panel piped up that she was passionate about rugby and very happy to hang around in bars discussing the offside rule). Two excellent support groups were mentioned – Women in Risk & Control; Women in Audit. The need to network changes at different times of a career – some feel the pressure to network but it is a personal choice and does require balance.

One of the group said that she is an introvert and does not enjoy networking; she does look to engage with female role models at work to get tips, as well as build strong relationships with people of value of any gender. It is tough to network out of the office due to time constraints – this can be done effectively at work and one to one. People at work and externally can be targeted for this – one woman tries to catch up with two external people each week.

The focus turned to mentorship, sponsors and coaching. One speaker had a fantastic sponsor when she made a move to New York who had high expectations and advised her to be tough but compassionate. She added that she thinks it is essential to pick up the phone to her ex-boss and old colleagues and ask for support whenever she feels isolated.

Another panelist said she has found sponsors and coaches so important for her career – at one of her previous jobs they employed reverse-mentoring and she said it was invaluable to understand what it was like to be in the other person’s shoes. This is particularly relevant for educating those who are women with ambition as well as a family. One of the panel had had to turn down a global role but her firm just did not understand why she had to decline it (her family came first).

The panel finished with each being asked to give one piece of advice to all listening:

  • “Every Sunday I go into my calendar and remove four meetings that have been scheduled by others in my week ahead – I make sure that saved time is used to its best!”
  • “I create white space in my calendar to have time to think – remember to believe in yourself and know you got the role because you can do it – prep, prep and prep again.”
  • “You cannot be Superwoman – be your best and that is enough – we are our worst critics.”
  • “Go back to the office and find the brilliant women and be with them and help them and help yourself.”