Invest more in young talent: when it comes to how the trade finance industry can best tackle its gender bias, Emma Clark’s message is clear. In this, the next edition of GTR’s series about inspirational women in trade finance, Sanne Wass talks to Falcon Group’s head of business development.
For Emma Clark, if things get a little too easy, they become dull. In her professional life, she heads up Falcon Group’s global business development, a role in which she often finds herself racking up the airmiles, heading out into the world to help companies expand to new export markets. She says she loves her job, because she helps “solve problems that no one else can fix”.
Outside of the City of London, Clark thrives on challenges too, though of a slightly different nature. When not with her two children, she is a ‘tough mudder’, having completed eight endurance obstacle courses. Normal running, she says, is too boring. “With obstacle racing you never know what’s around the corner.”
Meeting GTR at the specialist financier’s offices in London, Clark begins the interview by organising pages of detailed notes that she has prepared in advance. “I’m a bit of a control-freak,” she says with a smile.
With that start to the conversation, it’s no big surprise that “work hard” is her number one piece of advice to other women in the industry – something that has paid off for the now 42-year-old Clark.
“Probably like most other people, I never planned to do trade finance,” she explains. Instead, Clark had an eye on owning a farm and a horse when she decided to study agriculture at Writtle College in the UK.
Her way into credit was through her first job at UFB Humberclyde, the farm finance division of BNP Paribas, in 1997. From there she moved into technology finance, taking up various roles over the next decade at Forward Trust, Siemens and Dell, among others.
A job at Sony Financial Services was what led her into the world of trade finance when she was offered a position in 2006 to lead the company’s B2B financial services business.
Attracting and retaining female staff
Having just become a new mother, it was at Sony that Clark faced what continues to be one of the biggest challenges for women pursuing a career in trade finance: balancing family life with dedication to a job that is all about maintaining client relationships and often involves a lot of travelling.
She believes this is where many of her female colleagues fall behind in the career race. “I’ve had friends who’ve been really good career women who’ve said: ‘I just can’t do it, I can’t manage.’ So naturally women fall out of the race to the top. It can be quite hard for them to get back in. Trade finance is a relationship business, and if you are out of the industry for a year, it’s hard to get back to where you were before you left.”
Clark has never said no to travelling, even when it last year meant she was only in the UK every other week. “I always felt that I had to prove that me having children is not going to create an issue,” she says.
While the support of her family has been crucial – especially when she was a single mum – Clark also emphasises the importance of having family-friendly policies in the workplace if companies want to retain good staff. Sony, for example, offered a generous fully-paid maternity package, flexible working hours and the opportunity for people to come back part-time or do job sharing. Although she never took advantage of these policies herself, she says “it brought a lot of loyalty”.
I’m a big fan of recruiting young people and training them up, and trying to make people excited about trade finance.
From Sony, Clark moved into consulting for a few years, before she was hired by insurance broker RK Harrison, where she helped develop the company’s trade credit and political risk business. By her 38th birthday she had taken up the leading role at Falcon she holds today.
Having worked in the trade finance space for many years now, Clark has the benefit of being well-known in the industry and having good connections – something that has helped her progress her career. But younger professionals looking to enter trade finance don’t always have the same advantage.
With this in mind, Clark says the key to gender equality starts with investment in young talent, and she has no doubt this is where institutions have the biggest opportunities to up their game. More apprenticeship programmes and better qualifications around trade finance as a specialism are just some of the steps the industry could take to attract more women.
“No one tells you at school that trade finance can be really fun,” she says. “I’m a big fan of recruiting young people and training them up, and trying to make people excited about trade finance. But that’s a lot of time and investment. And I’m not sure how many companies out there are prepared to take people on and train them up. Trade finance is quite a fluid market; it’s easier just to get someone else from a different company and pull your relationships across.”
More articles in GTR’s Women in Trade Finance series: