Author: Kylie Poole

How four female fund managers broke the glass ceiling

I knew when I made the decision to study for an MBA, I’d be required to take on challenges that would feel uncomfortable. I expected that the structured path on the course would guide me through, and over, certain obstacles. I wanted to face barriers head on, and improve upon them.

Kylie Poole

In my role as a sales and marketing executive I was used to speaking in front of small groups of people when giving product demonstrations, or meeting new customers for the first time at one-on-one events. I felt relaxed and in control in those types of engagements. But I wasn’t regularly required to speak to much larger groups of people.

My sister, who’s an excellent public speaker, told me that preparation and practise were the keys to success. With that in mind, I was both excited and extremely nervous about the prospect of running an event for the Cass Global Women’s Leadership Programme which would require me to mediate a panel, in front of a large audience.

On the one hand, it was a huge honour. I’m so proud to be involved in a programme that’s asking tough questions and looking to improve female involvement at all professional levels. On the other, I knew it was unchartered territory – what if I lost track of time or struggled to help conversation flow amongst the panellists?

The good thing about hosting a panel is that actually, the stars of the show are your panellists. They do most of the talking and it’s their insights that make the event special. The difficult thing is that you can’t over-practise – you don’t know which direction the conversation is going to go in, and you have to stay flexible.

On the night, I got to the premises quite early – I wanted to see the space in the room and get in a few more run-throughs. By that point, I’d practised my introduction and questions many times over. I was trying to concentrate on the pace and tone of my voice when speaking – I naturally speak quite quickly and knew I had to deliberately slow that down.

Kylie Poole hosting the Global Women’s Leadership panel

I met the fantastic panellists for the first time about 15 minutes before the event began. I was lucky enough to be hosting four seasoned and highly experienced women from the fund management industry, who’d also grown together in their careers, becoming great friends. Their warmth, obvious rapport and intellect had a very calming effect – we were already talking amongst ourselves about some of the topics I was due to bring up and I could see how engaging and knowledgeable they were.

Once the crowd had arrived, there were about 50 people in the room. Some of my friends and my partner had come to support me. When I gave the introductory speech, I tried to picture speaking to them. The rehearsals I’d done in preparation paid off – I was familiar with the script and was able therefore to devote my concentration to remembering to speak in a deliberate, relaxed manner.

The panellists were as I’d expected them to be – absolutely brilliant. The chemistry between them was fabulous – one of my friends after the event commented that it was like being a fly on the wall as four friends from a fund-management version of Sex and the City talked to each other at dinner. It felt intimate, and genuine.

Time seemed to fly by and on reflection, I can remember four messages the most clearly – I’m sure for people in the audience there’d be other topics that resonated. Each point I think is inspiring and helpful to both men and women.

Dagmara Fijalkowski emphasised the importance of practise and preparation for workplace engagements. After she said this, her friends on the panel described her as the most prepared person in the room, despite her vast knowledge and many years of experience. Dagmara explained that she still puts hours of thorough research and rehearsal into all of her presentations. This may at first sound like common sense, but I found it reaffirming to hear how hard work and determination can still often be a differentiator.

The second point I remember highlighted was the importance of following and choosing paths in your career that lead towards what you’re passionate about. This was raised by Jane Lesslie who’s had a fascinating journey into fund management from journalism, through government service and economics. She pointed out how hard it is to lack confidence when talking about a topic you love, or lack motivation in an area that invigorates you.

This discussion of how careers can grow, develop, and flourish over time lead us to talk about the multi-career life. The panel challenged the audience to put less pressure on themselves about whether or not they were exactly where they wanted to be in their careers at this exact moment. They highlighted how every step contributes unique learning, and that it’s all part of a longer career journey.

Global Women’s Leadership scholars

Lastly, the panel described that despite fund management’s reputation as a male oriented career (backed up with a consistent under-representation of female talent applying at entry levels), it doesn’t at all live up to the image of shouting and bravado on trading floors. Instead, it’s a measured, calculated, research-oriented environment where everyone’s performance tends to be measured in a meritocratic fashion (long term returns).

Once I’d brought the panel to a close, I went out into the reception area and could see pockets of people energised by the event, expanding on the conversation amongst themselves over drinks. I knew I’d achieved a personal milestone with the type of public speaking I’d just done, but I was almost happier to see the inspiring effect the event had had on the audience. For that mostly, we and Cass have the star panellists to thank.

Discovering the ‘new busy’ on my MBA

I’d been thinking about doing an Executive MBA (EMBA) for years, scanning prospectus’ and attending open days here and there but always questioning deep down if I could realistically make the considerable commitment.

I tried to picture if I was one of ‘those’ collated people, managing their busy lives whilst also carving out space to study for a Master’s degree.

And then, when looking over the Cass website, I noticed an advertised scholarship which really spoke to me. It was the Coca-Cola Global Women’s Leadership Scholarship.

The scholarship is linked to a Cass initiative aimed at supporting and nurturing promising women to further their own growth and ambitions. I hadn’t seen any other top MBA school in London with a programme as focused as this one.

As the economic and societal benefits of increased female professional participation garner increased levels of publicity and validity, I saw Cass’s deliberate move to connect female leaders of the future with their extensive network of corporate contacts as responsible, forward thinking and opportune. It was like a sign! I had to apply and I told myself that if I was successful, I would bite the EMBA bullet. And here I am.

EMBA’s & Time

Rapidly approaching Christmas, having somehow managed to hand in three assignments and looking forward to a much deserved two week break, I can reflect on my EMBA experience thus far and notice that many notions link back to one topic – time.

When I speak of time, I’m mainly referring to a perceived acute lack of it! But I’m also thinking of the passing of time and what I hope to get out at the end of this endeavour, the relative concept of time and how much faster the last two months have felt compared to the months prior.

‘The new ‘busy’’

It’s a vaguely famous anecdote amongst my cohort that a previous EMBA class walked into their induction to a welcome of ‘you’re going to discover a whole new version of busy’ sprawled across the white-board rather intimidatingly in bright red marker pen.

Before this year’s course started, I remember reading a Cass EMBA student profile where the line ‘you quickly learn that you can manage on much less sleep than you previously thought necessary’ threw me into a mini-panic mode only shaken off with a cold glass of Chenin Blanc.

Luckily, I can confirm that I’m now so busy that I don’t have time to worry about being stressed about being busy! Once you kick off, you do naturally adapt.

Everyone’s in the same boat and everyone still wants to have some form of a social life – you learn to incorporate your extra workload whilst still fitting in going to the pub by finding new and efficient ways to utilise your time.

Moments in my day that I hadn’t noticed really existed, are now valuable time pockets not to be wasted. When my Uber audaciously skips from three minutes to eight minutes away – that’s enough time to scroll through my Cass inbox and see if there’s anything new in there that I need to be aware of.

Wistfully day-dreaming of blue skies, white sands and the sun’s warmth whilst half freezing to death waiting for the 158 bus to work in the morning is actually the perfect time to quickly take stock and make a mental plan of what I need to achieve and tick off by the end of the day.

Strangely, I’m somehow managing to do better at ‘fitting in’ aspects of my week that require a certain level of dedication and discipline – like going to the gym or doing my physio routine. I can only conclude that my enhanced time management skills are spilling over into other parts of my life!

Time flies when you’re having fun

In agreement with my grandparents who’ve been lamenting it for years, I’ve recently noticed that time does in fact start to move quicker as you get older. Every year Christmas shocks me all over again by appearing on the horizon despite only having occurred what feels like a couple of months ago.

Starting an EMBA is a sure fire way to accelerate this phenomena. Weeks absolutely shoot by and even though it’s nice that Friday re-appears much quicker than anticipated, I’m also trying to consciously remind myself to enjoy the moments as I’m in them.

So far, the nicest part for me has been the satisfaction of learning new things, and the mind-opening effect of garnering fresh perspectives from lecturers and EMBA colleagues.

Looking to the future

In two and a half short months I’ve already learnt time management skills to rival the Tsukaba Express, and completed courses in Accounting (a totally new language for me), Organisational Behaviour, and Financial Markets.

Despite the pace, I also feel content that I’m utilising my time so productively – every night I go to sleep knowing there’s not much more I could have been doing in the day to further myself or give myself the best chances for the future.

At the moment, I’m mainly focusing on looking ahead to the next two assignments we have due in after Christmas and our first half exams at the end of January, which I know will come around in a heartbeat.

But whilst I’m concentrating on these immediate challenges I’m pacified in the knowledge that I’m simultaneously working towards a longer term goal which has the potential to open up any number of exciting doors.

Kylie Poole
Executive MBA (2019)

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