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Female marketing leaders in Financial Services: Jen Barham

We’re talking to women who have made it in marketing to find out just how they have navigated their way to the top given the stark realities our 2020 Salary & Market Report revealed on the gender divide in marketing, especially in Financial Services. 

Our third interview in our series is with Jen Barham, who heads up Marketing & Communications at leading international corporate finance advisor, DC Advisory. She knows financial services marketing well, having had roles at Barclays and Thomson Reuters to name but a few.

Tell me about your career route, and how you have managed your success?

I began my marketing career at one of the world’s leading investment banks – then Barclays Capital – which gave me a strong grounding in multi-channel, international marketing in the FS space. However, that role was nearly ten years ago and in the immediate aftermath of the 2008 collapse of Lehman’s, so it was also an excellent insight into financial services firms’ relationships with marketing departments, and the ‘overhead’ perception. 

Learning the necessity of marketing ‘marketing’ as something commercially-focused and essential to pipeline building (even more crucially when revenue targets were not on point) sat at the heart of all of my roles, thereafter. I’d say the ‘success’ part – and I’ve certainly made mistakes so this could not be deemed overwhelming success!  –  is that the experience gained by marketing the function in different environments (professional services, legal, advisory, and ultimately back to financial services) has given me cold, hard evidence to support the commercial rationale behind investing in ‘good’ marketing - if a business wants to generate revenue or enter new markets, they need a marketing powerhouse – and that doesn’t come for free. 

Have you undertaken any training courses throughout your career? And do you think external training and development is important for marketers?

From my perspective, marketing and business development is about your appetite to soak up product or services knowledge, your project management, analytical, creative, collaborative stakeholder management skills, and the capacity to see in to the future! These are core personality traits as opposed to learned ‘tools’, which I have sometimes seen hindered by taught marketing theory. I’d view training/courses that are pertinent to the business you are operating in as slightly more valuable. I recognise that could be controversial… 

What three things do you think have been key to your success?

1. Gaining stakeholder buy-in is key once in a role, but the longevity of that buy-in comes from your authenticity. In a partner role such as marketing, it’s important not to reactively execute if you disagree, but to honestly and politely provide an opinion. 

2.Learn your business - at every level of your career. It sounds like an obvious point, but the more you are under the bonnet of your stakeholders – spending time understanding their day-to-day and not just the client-base to whom you are externally marketing - the more value you can add with activity you are undertaking. 

3. I’m reminded of the Abraham Lincoln quotation, “The best way to predict your future is to create it.” Don’t wait for anyone else to give you the opportunities – create them and take them yourself. 

What would your advice be to women starting out in the industry around managing their career development and salary expectations?

I think ‘career development’ is a bit like a 90s computer game (Sonic the Hedgehog!) –it’s about being given the next layer of challenges to your existing skillset, and completing them. This analogy has been helpful to me in not underestimating the value of building the foundations needed to progress to the next level (things like learning every part of a business, or every channel to promote a particular message). Strategic growth and insight follows naturally – even if they don’t appear in square-like graphics like Sonic’s nemesis. 

Regarding salary – look ahead, do your research and be honest and open about your expectations. Reading industry reports, understanding your perceived value in a firm and maintaining a record of successful ROI driven initiatives, are good contributors to salary benchmarking, so these are helpful facts to share with your employer in a constructive way to achieve your goals. Removing any expectation of these conversations being instantly gratifying is also helpful… But that’s probably one we’ve all experienced!

What is your view on the gender divide that exists in marketing?

Like any gender divide, there are two pinch points that it’s crucial to tackle, I think 

1. The number of female candidates entering the race

2. How appealing that finish line looks.

In my experience, marketing actually outperforms other industries in area 1 – there’s a relatively equal distribution of women and men at the early stages of marketing roles. Area 2, however, is demonstrably different, which is more worrying than if there was an imbalance from the beginning. There is clearly work to be done to understand why progression to a senior level isn’t appealing.  I’m a strong believer in the fact that metrics of success should be reviewed to ensure that they are gender neutral - often, success isn’t taken based on delivery, but by those who talk about their success in delivery, which can sometimes be easier for men surrounded by other men, than for women, in financial services.

Have you ever taken a career break or worked flexibly? 

I took a career break after Taxand for six months to go travelling around Europe. I painted and took stock and decided what I wanted to do next. I decided I wanted to stay in marketing, so it was more like an extended holiday, ultimately. But a welcome one. 

You were nominated for a Women in Marketing Awards. Can you tell us how and why you were nominated and what it meant to you to be part of the awards?

I was nominated by DC Advisory – perhaps as pay back for how many awards I entered the firm for in my first year! I hope, however, it’s because we now have a solid, expert team in place who have set the marketing wheels in motion.

It meant a lot to be nominated – I’m a huge advocate for any awards programme that recognises women in an ostensibly ‘support’ focused function. 

Jen was interviewed by Tom Brockton, manager of EMR's financial services recruitment team. Read our previous interview with Kirsten Burt, Executive Director and Head of Marketing for UBS Wealth Management here.


Click here for the latest financial services marketing jobs 

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