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Senior Female Leaders in Financial Services: Kirsten Burt


Our 2018 Salary & Market Report revealed some stark realities on the gender divide within marketing departments across the Financial Services industry, which summarised that men take the top spots and therefore the top pay and bonuses. We also found that the financial services industry was less flexible towards working around childcare. Which begs the question; is the industry naturally discriminatory to women?


We’re interviewing six women who have made it in financial services marketing to find out just how they have navigated their way to the top and to ask them what they think of the gender pay gap, and if we can do anything about it.

Our second interviewee is Kirsten Burt, Executive Director, and Head of Marketing for UBS Wealth Management in the UK. Having started marketing in her native America, she took the leap to move to London in 2005. She began her financial services career at Janus Capital (now Janus Henderson) and Citigroup as a Marketing Manager. 


Tell me about your career route here in the UK, and how you have managed your success?

I was at Citigroup in New York, and was able to garner a transfer to their London office. It was a 10 year plan to move the UK, and it only happened for me after completing an International MBA and working at a global firm. My second role in London was as Regional Marketing Director at the private banking arm of American Express. It was then acquired by Standard Chartered Bank where I became Head of Marketing for EMEA and Latin America. From there I came to UBS.

Regarding managing my success, I’ve always been a marketer who enjoyed working closely with the business. I’ve worked in the financial services industry my whole career, so I have an in-depth knowledge of finance as well as the whole marketing tool-box. That’s essential in this industry. You have to understand how the products work, not just how to market them. 

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

Yes marketing is constantly evolving and changing, and it’s imperative to have a constant curiosity to keep up with trends. You have to continue to push yourself to keep on learning throughout your career. I invest in training for me and my department, and have up-skilled many of my team to experience more in digital. I have done this in a few ways; we are members of the Financial Services Forum, which is a non-profit organisation that runs ongoing professional development for financial services marketers. I have put my team on CIM courses. And we also invite experts in to run training days. 

I also think that higher education in business has been transformative for my career, especially as a woman in banking. I completed an MBA in International Management in my mid-20s, which gave me a thorough understanding of all areas of business beyond just marketing. It gave me more confidence to go toe-to-toe with senior banking stakeholders, to understand the balance sheet and how investments work. It’s a generalisation, but sometimes I find women in UK are quite quiet and don’t speak up. My MBA gave me the confidence to speak-up and lead in a mostly male environment.

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

I’ve always had permanent jobs that have challenged me. I’ve tended to be a change-agent and I can get bored if there is not a significant challenge.  You have to develop strong analytical skills, as marketing as well as finance is driven by numbers. And finally, an ambition to learn different marketing approaches – don’t be afraid to try new things.

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

Don’t just send emails; spend time with stakeholders and partners, put your hand up and be noticed. Volunteer for challenging assignments even if it will be a stretch. Also, I tried to develop a broad marketing skill set, there are of course areas like media that are close to my heart, but I tried to gain broad experience. To be an effective growth partner for the business, you need to understand all the marketing levers you can use.

Remember that you are the master of your career. It’s great when you have a boss that challenges you, but even when you don’t; it’s your responsibility to keep on learning. Plan your career strategically, pick good managers, and choose new roles that will challenge you. I do think the studies are true that women under-sell themselves and give recruiters salary expectations that are too low to move. I think women need to be bolder and ask for the bigger salaries they deserve. Look at salary surveys and stand your ground. 

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

There shouldn’t be one, as the numbers of women that start out in marketing are generally much higher. I went to a senior conference of marketers a few years ago which was all men, which was hugely surprising as it means that there is a ‘leaky pipeline’ of women who leave the industry.

I think women might be dropping out mid-career around the time of children. It can be expensive to keep your career going around this time, with the high cost of childcare. Also the marketing landscape changes so fast, it would be hard to come back after a long break of several years. I think you have to view these years as an investment in your future. You might not be clearing much money if you carry on working with the cost of childcare, but children go to school before you know it and at that point you will have kept your skills fresh. 

In the US there are more women in senior roles, and we have better role models. However I have always worked for strong female leaders that have encouraged me in the UK.

Have you ever taken a career break or worked flexibly? Do you think having children can hinder a woman’s career opportunities and how can employers help bridge the gender divide for working mothers?

I have two children and I took breaks for both of them. For my first I took nine months off. For my second I only took a shorter break, as I was starting a new job and anxious to get started. I think flexible working is a godsend and the best thing ever for balancing work and parenthood. In my current team I have retained all our talented women who are mothers, by offering them all the flexibility they need. I think we are all grateful to be offered this flexibility and work even harder and show more loyalty to managers and firms who offer it. It’s hard to juggle it all, but hopefully for a lot of women, marketing is a fun and rewarding career and it’s a great feeling to keep on learning. 

You also need to be a good team with your spouse or partner. They need to be a co-parent that takes some equal time out for the kids. If you both share the burden equally at home, you can both keep on having successful careers. 

Kirsten was interviewed by Tom Brockton, manager of EMR's financial services recruitment team. Read our first interview with Jane Parry, Head of Marketing at Canaccord Genuity Wealth Management here.

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