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VIP Interview: Branding, Diversity, and the Power of Networking

Heather Melville, Director of Strategic Partnership Transaction Services in the UK Customer Solutions Group of The Royal Bank of Scotland, has won prestigious awards for women in banking and women’s empowerment, but her greatest achievement is likely her RBS Focused Women’s Network. Founded in 2007 and managed by volunteers, the organization has more than 12,000 RBS-employee members in nearly three dozen countries.


Melville spoke at a recent event organized by the women’s network at IFC’s Istanbul Operations Center, then sat down with EMENA Quarterly to talk about the importance of diversity, the development of female talent, and the power of networking and building your brand.   


At A Glance


Education: Graduate of IBM Business School


Work history: After starting out as a banking clerk at Midland Bank, Heather moved steadily up the career ladder and has now been working in finance for more than three decades, specializing in retail, textiles, and most recently, small and medium enterprises (SMEs).


Honors: In 2010, won the Women in Banking and Finance Network’s Champion for Women Award. In 2012, awarded The World of Difference Award as one of the top 100 Women Making a Difference Globally in the Corporate Space. Also honored with an IBM National Excellence Award.


Misc: Heather is a justice of the peace in Youth Court and has served as a judge for international fashion design competitions. In recent years she has mentored and coached young career women, and served as the non-executive director of Enterprise Enfield, a consultancy funded by the British government to help small businesses. Heather has two sons and three granddaughters.


EQ: How do you define diversity? And why is it important for a business?


HM: For me, diversity is about embracing everybody that’s different. Whether it’s hair color, ethnicity, the LGBT community, disabilities – anybody that’s different. And if you’re an organization that’s not diverse, how can you attract clients from a diverse background? Look at our client base at RBS, it’s very diverse.


EQ: So diversity attracts diversity. And how do you get executives, managers to buy into that?


HM: It’s always about the bottom line, and about opportunities. If there’s a target market we’re not going to because we don’t understand that market, that’s a missed opportunity. If you think about the female market, that’s the fastest growing market in the banking sector, female entrepreneurs, so you definitely want to be a part of that.


EQ: Yet there’s still a vast financing gap for women entrepreneurs. In what ways have women been excluded from or marginalized by the entrepreneurial system?


HM: One key is that women sometimes do not have the networks available that men have. They’re at home, or they’re just so busy that they see networking as something they can’t make time for. But now they’re starting to see that it’s just as important as having a business plan and a marketing plan. Making time to network is about growing your brand and your business, and those are the opportunities they’re picking up now. I think that speaks volumes, because by being in the right place I’ll get the right opportunity that I may not have had otherwise.


EQ: This connects to your idea that the “quickest way of building your business is to network with others.” But sometimes that’s easier said than done. What’s the key to bringing people together productively?


HM: SMEs are small businesses, so time is money. To take a few hours out of their day, it has to be worth their time or it’s a lost opportunity. When I organize an event I think of a subject people are interested in, a common denominator related to business. People don’t come because we’ve got great speakers; they come because there’s something they’re going to learn. We have a fashion client that produces high-end dresses that we introduced to a jewelry business, and now they’re organizing a fashion show together. That would never have happened if it weren’t for us bringing them together. And then those clients talk to other clients, telling people, “RBS brought us together,” and that becomes your reputation – as somebody as helping these small businesses.


EQ: Considering your own reputation, you said something surprising earlier – that your greatest role models have generally been men.


HM: It’s true, because in most of the jobs I had I was in male-dominated environments. I didn’t want to emulate who they were – because I wanted to be true to who I was – but I looked at how they operated and emulated the things they did that they got results. And let me just say, if there had been a woman around, I would have emulated her. But back then, twenty to thirty years ago, there really weren’t. But times are changing now; there are certainly more women around than there were.


QE: Your women’s network is a clear sign of that. You’ve said that from the start you approached it as a business, rather than an organization.


HM: The big thing was around the attraction, retention, and development of female talent. Not everyone wants to be a CEO, but everyone wants to be the best that they can be. So the area we focused on was personal development – presentation skills, confidence-building skills, all of the things that stop women from stepping forward. There are statistics that show women don’t apply for some jobs because they think they’re not good enough, even when they have nine of the 10 criteria. So it’s a mind change, saying to women, ‘You don’t have to do everything, but put your best foot forward.’ On top of that to that it’s about teaching them it’s not just about what’s on your CV, it’s also about who you know.


QE: You’ve created this hugely successful women’s network, won awards, and so many women are now starting businesses, getting better jobs. Do you feel, to some extent, the battle has been won?


HM: No, no, not at all. Our focus now is on male members – because we need to get them on side. But what I am finding very interesting now is that the cynics, seeing some successes we’ve had, are coming to us, saying, ‘I’m running a business with X amount of women and I can’t afford to lose them. What do I need to do?’ And many of these men have daughters, or wives returning to work, sisters, mothers, so suddenly it becomes a personal thing. They’re thinking: ‘I need to be working in an organization that is adaptable and open to female talent because I’ve got two daughters that just got through university.’


QE: You’ve been mentoring women not far out of university. What’s your message to young women just starting their careers?


HM: The biggest thing is find something you’re really good at and focus on that. Don’t try to do everything well because you’ll never do anything well. Focus on what you can do and get known for that, build a brand, so people know what you can deliver. Then maybe add another skill, something additional that gets you noticed. One skill people often forget about is communications skills. It’s so important for building a business and for building a career.


QE: It seems like you’ve learned to do many things well.


HM: My career is probably a bit different because I’m from a different age group. But I’ve always done jobs that I love, and found myself stretched into a job, challenged. If I’ve worked somewhere and I didn’t like it, or our values didn’t mix, I’ve gone. At big corporates there are so many different things you can do now. And for me, being client-facing has always been a part of what I’ve done and what I’ve wanted to do. I think the key for me is that I’ve been able to communicate well with everyone, clients, superiors, everyone. Really it’s about being authentic, delivering what you can do really well and making sure people know who you are.

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