Opportunities and Influence: Discussing Female Leadership with Ffion Acland, Vice President at Goldman Sachs

Ffion Acland, Vice President at Goldman Sachs, has a mathematical background. During her maths degree, she undertook a work placement at Goldman Sachs sparking her interest in banking and finance. In 2011, Ffion joined Goldman Sachs’s graduate scheme and began her career there as an analyst.

Ffion started in the Operations division, and more recently moved to Data Models and Governance, which involved a transition into the Engineering division. Her current role involves managing a team working on the re-architecture of technology and the management of data within that architecture. Since joining the team several years ago, Ffion has been able to develop her management skills and take on more global responsibilities.

Female Leadership within Goldman Sachs

What makes a good leader is twofold –a sharp focus on vision and strategy, and strong people management. Vision is key to driving the direction of the team, and people management is vital for guiding and encouraging individuals through their career. For Ffion, the people side came most naturally and she has developed her strategic skills over time – something that helped with this was undertaking an MBA.

“The MBA involved a lot of reflecting on myself as a person. For me, perhaps the strategy and the vision piece required more conscious effort. Timing wise my MBA came just as I was taking on responsibility for the team, equipping me with the right skills at the right time. I started to think about what it means to build a strategy? What does it mean to drive the vision for a team? And how do you do that? They’re very interconnected, but I try and think of them as two different things to make sure that I’m doing both.”

For many, being a female leader can present a multitude of challenges. However, from Ffion’s perspective within Goldman Sachs, she has been delighted by the support offered and the programmes run to develop female leaders. The Women’s Career Strategy Initiative is a six-month programme at associate level that focuses on building leadership and management skills and provides a network of connections across the business. Despite the support, Ffion has found herself in the minority at times, but sees this as an opportunity rather than a challenge.

“I take it as an opportunity to showcase the merit of being a woman in those meetings, the value that we can bring to decision making, and the different perspectives that we can offer. It’s probably the same for many underrepresented groups, not just women. I think that having a range of voices represented at the table benefits the whole group, it allows us to challenge ideas and the status quo, and bring fresh perspectives. I take it as a privilege that I have the opportunity to do that rather than seeing it as a barrier.”

Bringing Women into the Tech Industry

One of the biggest ways that women can be attracted into the tech industry is through events and conferences, and building a strong network to encourage and support each other in their tech journeys. Goldman Sachs sponsors many events and programmes to upskill women in tech careers, including the ‘CFGdegree’ delivered by Code First Girls and the Black Codher Bootcamp delivered by Niyo Enterprise and Coding Black Females. These programmes have direct pathways into Goldman Sachs careers through internship opportunities. Ffion sees it as the responsibility of those women already in the industry to open doors for those behind them, building a bigger sphere of influence and providing a wide range of role models. This means not just following the example of those who are already there, but having the courage to become a role model yourself.

“If each of us that are coming up behind those pioneers end up queuing in the tunnel, we’re going to be waiting a very long time, if we leave them to just keep chipping away at the front. Actually, if we start chipping away in the area that’s immediately around us, you’re no longer in a tunnel, but you suddenly end up in a cave. And there’s so much more opportunity and ease of movement when you’re in a cave than when you’re in a tunnel.”

Taking a career gap or maternity leave can leave women feeling displaced and it is here where organisations need to provide support so that women feel empowered to come back. Something which is helping with this is shared parental leave and equal paternity and maternity leave, something that Goldman Sachs now offers.

“In the past, it was something that women had to do. Whereas actually, I think it’s that men also wanted to, they just didn’t have the opportunity. Shared parental leave is a huge step to levelling the playing field.”

Ffion’s Advice

In terms of leadership, Ffion believes in balance – in particular, in being a servant leader. Her advice to new managers is to consider how you can help others and what they might need from you in order to become an effective leader.

“It’s about helping to meet their needs in order to achieve authority rather than demanding power.”

Research has shown that women are less likely than men to apply for an opportunity if they don’t meet 100% of the criteria, and this was something that Ffion experienced herself when applying for her MBA. Not believing that she met enough of the criteria, she didn’t apply until her manager at the time encouraged her to. Based on this experience, she now approaches things with a different mindset and this is her advice for others.

“The worst case answer is no, and the best case is that it propels you and your career. So what are you waiting for? Go out there and be your own biggest cheerleader.”