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To mark International Women’s Day 2021, the Head of UK Corporate Banking, Tasnim Ghiawadwala, sat down for a (virtual) fireside chat with Ebru Köksal, Chair of Women in Football, to discuss female leadership and challenging inequality.
So hello and welcome to this special Barclays corporate bank fireside chat for international women’s day. My name is Tasnim Ghiawadwala, I’m the Head of the UK corporate bank at Barclays and it is my sincere privilege and pleasure to talk to Ebru Koksal, who is the chair of women in football about female leadership, challenging inequality and our careers in what could we described as male dominated arenas. But before we jump into the conversation, I just want to quickly note that this is a virtual conversation that is coming directly from both of our homes. I’m in London and Ebru is in my favourite city in the world, Istanbul. So welcome Ebru.
Thank you Tasnim, I’m really looking forward to our discussion today.
No thank you once again for joining us. So Ebru, I know you’ve had a really interesting career journey that started initially in banking, in corporate finance at Morgan Stanley and now you are in the world of football, professional football. So can you maybe give a little bit of insight into how that happened?
Of course, it’s an interesting story and turn of events actually. So I studied economics and International relations at Brown university and always dreamed of becoming an investment banker, and when I landed that wonderful corporate finance analyst job at Morgan Stanley or on Wall Street, I was so delighted and so excited.
And we had 140 people starting the program and two week training before we start at work. And after the first week, I was absolutely terrified because everything was going over my head and I was really finding out that the education that I have had was nowhere near becoming this really you know important analyst who could do this kind of cash flow analysis and prepare all these reports. But in a few weeks obviously learned the trade and the task and worked on some of the largest transactions that Morgan Stanley had done in the early 90s.
As I was applying to Harvard business school, my boyfriend at the time was living in Turkey, he proposed, I was so much in love that I dropped everything and moved back to Turkey. And continued working in investment banking with some other multinationals. And in 99 after having delivered my first child, I moved to a private equity fund. And first day on the job I was sent to a meeting with the president of Galatasary.
And couple months later we started talking about purchasing a minority stake in the club, and around the same time I found out that I was pregnant with my second child. And look at the coincidence, my daughter was born on the same day as the shareholders agreement was signed, and three weeks later I got a call from my boss at the PE fund and I thought it was going to be a catching up day or something. I went to the office and he told me that he was terminating my contract because I had two very young kids and he didn’t think that I could keep up with the pace of the fund anymore. So I literally had two options, to open a court case or you know work at Galatasaray as an interim CFO to follow the investment.
I thought about it and I said why not? I’m a big fan of Galatasaray, my brother used to play basketball for the youth team of Galatasaray, and I said why not get out of your comfort zone and try something new. So I started working at Galatasaray on January 1st, 2001 and embarked on this 20-year journey in the football industry. I immediately became the managing director, took the company public. We had several capital markets transactions in between to raise financing and then in 2008, I was given the responsibility to build the new stadium of the club.
We also did a very complicated reverse merger where the marketing company took over and merged with it’s parent football company. So all of that landed me the executive of the year award, I was also elected to the European club association, executive committee in 2010. First woman at the time to be elected. So I then became the general secretary of the Turkish football federation for a short while, worked with FIFA and UEFA as a consultant, and for about 15 years I was always the only woman in the room. And having lots of difficulties while I was going through these intricacies of the football industry.
And I came across women in football in 2015, and what a wonderful group of women who were supporting each other, challenging discrimination and trying to celebrate the successes of their colleagues in the workplace, working in and around football. I joined as a board director and two years ago took over as chair.
But let me turn back to you Tasnim, you’re also a female leader in a somewhat male dominated world as the Head of UK corporate bank at Barclays, how did you get to where you are today?
Yeah, actually listening to your story Ebru, before I actually answer your question, there’s so many similarities actually between our backgrounds. I also had my first child in 1999, as well so yeah what a coincidence. That we have there. And I think you also worked in one of the banks that I also worked in, Citibank as well in my past life. So I think you know I’ve been in banking for around 25 years now, and I initially trained as a chartered accountant because actually when I left university, I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do, and I got advice from one of my father’s friends to, go and get an accountancy qualification, it’ll always be there for you a bit like a driving licence. It doesn’t mean that you have to be an accountant, and so that’s what I did.
And then I’m kind of I’m gonna say stumbled into banking because at the end of getting you know getting qualified as an accountant I figured out that accounting really wasn’t for me as a full time career. And I was looking, I also did a degree in computer science, so I was looking for something that would kind of utilise both those skills and I got a job offer from JP Morgan to work in their finance division sitting in between kind of IT and finance. And it was my sort of first entry into banking, I had no idea at the time what an investment bank was.
And I remember, when I got the job offer from JP Morgan, a bank that actually I’d never heard of and neither had any of my family, my father was quite concerned that I was leaving a job at Commercial Union, a very large insurance company at the time to go to this kind of unknown company that none of us really knew about. And so he actually phoned his brother, my uncle, to say oh you know, Tasnim has got this job offer from JP Morgan, we’re not really sure if she could take it or not. And my uncle just said just let her decide and leave it up to her, she’s still young and will always have choices. And that was my entry into banking, into this unknown company called JP Morgan.
And you know I stayed there for a couple of years and then I moved to Solomon Brothers. Also sort of staying in this kind of finance / IT kind of role. And so I sort of joined Solomon brothers initially in that kind of role, and then I moved into investment banking and I was in investment banking for about seven years and in during that process, Solomon brothers was bought by Citibank or merged with Citibank and became part of the whole Citi group of companies. And so that was how I entered Citi.
I spent a total of 21 years at Citi, and the way I would characterise my career, the 21 career was really in three parts. The first seven years were in investment banking. The next seven years I did kind of various regional management roles all with either a global or a wider EMEA kind of lens and then the last seven eight years I spent as the head of the EMEA commercial bank. and the reason I know Istanbul so well is because I used to travel to Istanbul quite a lot as part of my EMEA role because there was a commercial banking team that I used to manage in Istanbul.
And I know how passionate Turkish people are about football, because I remember one night I was returning after dinner with a client and it was about 11.30 at night and I think it was Galatasaray I think they had just won a match, and all the traffic had stopped in Istanbul and I was stuck in the traffic at 11 12 o’clock at night and none of the cars moved, everybody had got out of their cars and was celebrating in the streets. And I couldn’t get back to my hotel. And I have really close memories of how passionate Turkish people are about football and supporting the local team.
So Ebru, as you sort of think about some of your experiences, how have you been sort of involved in promoting women in leadership? Because I think football even more than you know kind of banking, is very much a male dominated environment? So how have you gone about, particularly if you can talk a little bit about the work you’re doing around women in football.
Sure. I certainly will but your story about Solomon Smith Barney merger with Citibank just reminded me of this one trip. We actually as corporate finance Istanbul had gone to London to negotiate and discuss how we would continue the operations. I was pregnant, but I hadn’t told my boss yet that I was pregnant. When we were about to fly back, there was an issue with my boss’ passport. And he was taken in custody for a visa problem or something like that.
I had to call from the airport the CEO of the bank in Istanbul and he tells me get off the flight and stay with him until you can get him out of custody. And I started crying and I said listen, I am pregnant and I’m having a very bad term and here I am disclosing over the phone from London that I am pregnant and I am getting on that flight and I am not trying to get anybody out of custody. Well and the team who was celebrating, I am sure and blocking the roads was Galatasaray because we are the most successful club in Turkey.
So back to the promotion of women in leadership. First of all for so many years, there were really, really only a handful of us in the industry and it’s not just in administration but if you look at globally, only 7% of directories, 10% of the coaches and 2% of the CEOs in global federations, and only 9% of the board directors are women.
So it was just all about invisible unsung heroes, but we knew there were hundreds and thousands of women making the game possible in their own little silos, working very hard. So first of all what women in football has done has been to provide a platform for them to connect with each other and share experiences. And we think that you know equality and diversity obviously are very, very important topics these days that are on the agendas of not only football organisations but globally of governments, of NGOs, of many large corporations.
But unless you provide that opportunity for connection for women, you really cannot make them feel comfortable and confident and included in their workplaces. So that’s been one of our major contributions let’s say to the whole EDI discussions. And then we also tried to help over the past six years through our professional development programs and leadership courses, to upskill the women and more importantly than you know giving them necessary skills at the workplace, giving them the confidence to believe in themselves, believe in their capabilities, discover their motivations, discover their passion.
And really put it to use and find their purpose, and really excel in what they’re doing. And also feeling comfortable to go for a new opportunity when it next comes and not say well I don’t tick half of the boxes so I am not going to apply.
there’s so many similarities actually between some of the things that you’re doing and some of the things that we are also doing as well as things that I’ve been involved with in the past.
I’m Chair of the gender council here in the corporate bank, at Barclays. And we launched that around 18 months ago as part of our focus in terms of promoting women. And I think there is still you know a view despite all the progress that has been made, there’s really been a lot of good progress that we’ve made within women that if you keep your head down and just keep working harder then somebody will notice and that somehow by magic that will kind of help you to progress your careers.
And I think what we’ve been doing to kind of help with that is we’ve launched sponsorship programs, mentoring, we’re holding development days for different levels of women because and I’m sure you’ve seen this as well Ebru maybe in your banking life that the issue is not at the junior level, we generally hire in decent proportion of men and women at the junior analyst end, it’s broadly around 50/50. But what happens is that as people go up that career ladder, at the middle stage of the career, that’s when we start to get women in particular falling off and the ratios start to mix, be more weighted to men.
And so that’s really the phenomena that we’re trying to correct, is to make sure that we provide enough kind of support and really get into the core issues as to why it is that that drop off is happening. And so that we can kind of have the women continue their careers right, all the way up from analyst, all the way up to managing director. And we’ve set some really you know ambitious targets around the balance of women that we want at senior levels. And that in itself, having those targets, is really focusing efforts of everybody on how to achieve them.
Yeah, I think that’s extremely important because it’s one thing to build a talent pipeline but it’s also important to change the minds at the top because still the decision makers and those who promote the women to those positions are predominantly white middle-aged male world so it’s really, really. important to also convince them about the merits of having this diversity of thought on their senior management teams and making sure that they have the interest and the capacity to relearn what they think they know because they need to be open minded and have this growth mindset as well that embrace diversity as a core principle and a truly integrated part of the corporate strategy.
No I totally agree and to be honest it’s, what you find is sometimes it’s just small adjustments that are needed. When we were analysing why there was a drop off in the number of women at VP level, which is kind of the mid-level within banking, and with MD being the highest level. We found that when a woman goes on maternity leave whether it’s for six months or one year or however long a time, if they’ve got a portfolio of clients that they’re managing of course for six months those clients get handed over to somebody else.
And then when the woman comes back after maternity leave, she has to start all over again in building those relationships because those clients actually are well settled with the new banker. And so one of the small adjustments we changed was, and then it becomes even harder of course like for the women they have to start again with the clients, they have to start again, and it becomes harder and harder for them to make MD.
And so one of the small adjustments we made was basically to say that when a woman goes on maternity leave, rather than her portfolio be distributed amongst the team, actually what we will do is make the, have the manager take on those clients for the short six-month period or nine-month period when the woman is out.
And so that when the woman comes back, they can all be handed back to her. And that she doesn’t really have to start again, and that small adjustment that we made actually helps the continuity of the career of the woman because you know we have very fair processes I would say in terms of annual reviews, in terms of how we rate people, but if you’ve just come back from maternity leave and you have to start again, then of course you’re going to be rated less, because you’ll have made less progress with your brand new set of clients and you wouldn’t have the advantage of all those relationships that you built prior to go on maternity leave.
You have to really get into some of this, what is going on, why are women not progressing as fast and make some of those adjustments to help that along.
Exactly and we tried to do that via our research actually, Barclays has been an amazing sponsor and supporter for us over the years and we truly value our partnership because we have a very good working relationship where we understand how we can together affect change, and that’s why over the last two years we’ve developed some very strong programs, one of the pledges of Barclays, was research that set the scene for some of our subsequent offerings to the membership base.
And we also hold regular surveys to understand where the shortfalls are, whether it’s you know insufficient support from the organisation or peers or you know the kinds of discrimination that the women are facing. One of the headline figures that we had announced last year, was this 66% of the women either witnessed or faced discrimination, but only 12% chose to report it.
This was actually quite shocking for quite a few people, not only about the discrimination figure but also about why people choose to remain silent. And what makes them stand up, stand up and speak out in what kind of situations. And so that probably leads me to my next question for you. Do you think that the professional world is very different today then when we faced these challenges in our 20, 25, 30 years of career? Or do you feel that there is still a long way to go?
I actually think we’re making enormous progress Ebru, overall. I don’t think we’re there yet however, and I think every year we see incremental improvement. Just like you, I have multiple experiences of walking into a room or a conference, and I’ll be the only woman there and you know you’re looking around to see if anyone looks like you, or wears the same clothes as you.
But I think like I said, the fact that we’re even having conversations like this in such an open way shows the progress that we are making in my mind. What about you, how do you feel?
Well as you say, one of the first signs is definitely seeing more women in senior leadership positions, but it certainly is not enough and now through our work, we are seeing many internal networks being formed in football organisations, very similar to yours. And they’re actively trying to ascertain what the network needs, how to keep them engaged and from what we’re hearing we actually decided the best way to continue this collaborative discussion is to launch our own D&I consultancy services.
Unless we get in there and really try to help with hands on experiences of our board and network of consultants through our own lived experiences, it’s not easy to change the organisational cultures from outside simply by campaigning. Both are necessary but we really think that we can change the engagement and retention levels of employees in football organisations because we’ve been through that ourselves, we know what it feels like at the receiving end, excluded, or discriminated, or to be passed on promotions or opportunities.
Absolutely. So I think the final kind of question and discussion point I really wanted to bring in Ebru, is around the theme for this, for international women’s day. So we’ve got international women’s day this year being themed around choosing to challenge. And so you’ve spoken about a couple of things already, but I wondered whether you could share anything more where you’ve chosen to challenge.
Sure. Up till now our work was more focused on football organisations, governing bodies and obviously the female workforce. But the stakeholder list for football is much, much larger than that. So this year we want to pull into the discussion, the sponsors, the media, the fans. The newly emerging private equity investors. So that all of them as stakeholders in the game hold their clubs, brands, players, coaches accountable for improving the landscape for women. And what about you? What is your challenge for this IWD?
I think the myth that we need to challenge, is this concept that women are only preoccupied and concerned with wanting better flexible working arrangements and better childcare support. Because I really don’t think that that is the only thing that’s important for women. I’m a strong believer that women want all the same things that men want, they want career progression. They want development, they want opportunity.
And it reminds me of a story from my past where there was a senior manager who had a woman who was coming back from maternity leave, and he basically called me up and said oh you know, you’ve got children, you’ve had maternity leave in the past, could you have a chat with this lady, could you be a kind of mentor to her on how to make things work? She’s a hyper talent and we really want to make sure that we kind of support her and give her sort of help. Now this woman’s role involved a lot of international travel and in fact her manager, I think he thought he was being super kind to her, was actually sort of stopping asking her to do any travel because she’d just returned from maternity leave
Anyway I took this lady to lunch and had a really nice lunch with her and said oh you know, your boss is really concerned about are you coping and you are okay and all this kind of stuff, is there anything more than can be done? And actually she turned around and said to me, well actually I’m ready to go, I want to get into work, I want to work towards my next career goal, I want to, there’s things I want to do in other countries. I need to get back out travelling and all of that. And I think when I back and reported this to her boss, he was a little bit shocked actually that you know there was no need actually to have kind of kid gloves around her and try and provide all this, it was a very nice gesture but you know she was ready to continue her career.
I think it’s also all about having this open conversation in the workplace and not making assumptions, long dated, outdated assumptions about what women want as you were saying. We were facilitating an internal senior management workshop in one of our clients this week and I really liked one of the male leaders said that it’s time that we realised that we have a privilege as you know white men. And when we realise that we need to also look for ways to distribute that privilege. It automatically assumes that if it’s an international conference, it’s the male head of department who would go to that, but why not turn around and ask if somebody else is willing to go? Give that opportunity for international exposure and also networking opportunity, so that’s a very important part of the puzzle I think.
Absolutely. And certainly, in all the discussions I have with talented women that are looking for advancement, they’re looking for progression, they’re looking for development opportunities. And you know don’t limit the conversations to flexible working and childcare because there’s a much wider ambition that needs to be heard, I think.
So let me bring this podcast to a close Ebru, I really want to sincerely thank you for joining me today. It’s been a really enjoyable and interesting conversation, I didn’t realise we had as much in common actually around certain things. I’m sure our listeners will have enjoyed it as well.
And finally I just wanted to say, thank you all for listening and thanks Ebru once again for helping me with this podcast, thank you.
It was a great, great pleasure for me and what a wonderful conversation and look forward to repeating it in person sometime soon.
Hopefully in Istanbul!
And I’ll take you to a Galatasaray match.
That would be amazing, thank you, thank you.
UK Corporate Banking Head
Chair of Women in Football
Ebru and Tasnim have both had careers in finance, but while Tasnim is now Head of UK Corporate Banking at Barclays, Ebru moved into football after a career that started at Morgan Stanley.
Her position today as the Chair of Women in Football is the culmination of a career that saw her be the first female CEO of a Turkish football side – Istanbul’s Galatasary – the first female executive on the European Club Association, and the first and only female General Secretary of the Turkish Football Federation.
We hear from both women about the challenges of being a female leader in traditionally male-dominated environments, and what all leaders in organisations can do to challenge inequality.
This special podcast episode is part of a series of activities Barclays Corporate Banking has produced to mark International Women’s Day. Visit our LinkedIn profile and follow us to see more of what we’re doing this year.
Barclays has a long history in football and in November 2019 agreed to extend its ten-year association with WiF (women in Football). The partnership is helping WiF to grow its reach and offer, expand its highly regarded leadership course to more levels and helping to upskill, empower and connect more women working in and around football.
Earlier in 2019 Barclays announced the biggest ever investment by a brand in UK women’s sport when it became the title sponsor of the of the Barclays FA Women’s Super League and made a commitment with the FA to ensure girls get equal access to football by 2024. Barclays continues as Banking Partner of the Premier League.
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