Pledge 1%’s #WomenWhoLead series celebrates female leaders who are paving the way for the next generation. While our featured leaders come from a variety of backgrounds and industries, they are united in their efforts to promote equality for all women in the workplace. We’ve asked them to share a bit about their journey to success, as well as lessons they’ve learned along the way.

What is your name and title?

Lone Andersen, Partner at Step Forward Partners.

Briefly (1-2 sentences) describe your current role.

I am the APAC Managing Partner of a niche consultancy company focused on Treasury, Risk and Wealth Management. We help financial institutions and corporate treasurers with their software projects from selection through execution to production support. We are a small company with no plans to grow too big – our focus is on quality services delivered by a group of very senior industry experts. Our team are all people we know and have worked with both in FinTech as well as in financial institutions. Everyone here is a veteran of the banking and software business. Our aim is to be the go-to company, in our niche market, when a bank embarks on a project. Either in the selection process, the delivery process or indeed both.

How did you get here? Please share any quick stories from past work experiences.

I worked 16 years in private banking then moved to work for financial software vendors utilising my banking knowledge to create a great career. Coming from private banking where you really have to listen and believe in what your customer is telling you, I entered a very different world where it was all about delivery and quick turnaround. I moved up the echelons and took over services sales and support management for Europe and Latin America. Then Head of Services for APAC at Misys followed by Head of Operations Risk Division APAC at Thomson Reuters. Then global head of Customer Engagement at Finastra followed by global head of Partner Engagement. End of 2019 it was time for a change and a well-deserved rest. Right in the middle of this Covid-19 hit and the rest period extended through the lockdown till Zsolt, our founding Partner here at Step Forward Partners, whom I have known and worked with since 2009, called saying how about building the business in APAC. There is a time to work for big corporates and then there is a time to work for yourself – so here I am making the coffee, building the brand and marketing, the services and customer base and I am loving every minute of it.

In your opinion, what’s the #1 decision or move you’ve made that has helped advance your career?

That has to be the decision to move from banking to FinTech. Not that I couldn’t have made a long term career in banking but I love what I do, just about every day on the job has been interesting in some form or other, the people I have met all over the world, the challenges and learnings it has thrown me over the years.

What is the most important lesson you’ve learned this past year?

Letting people do things at their own pace. Before Covid-19 the general expectation was that things were to happen overnight, people (including me) worked all hours of the day and at weekends. I wanted and delivered things in the now. With the lockdown we all suddenly had this extra time on our hands from not travelling. Learning to use that gift of extra time meaningfully has been very valuable.

What’s the number one challenge you face as a woman in your industry?

I see this differently – I don’t think there is one challenge that is fixed because I am woman, certainly not in the FinTech industry. There are still cultures where, even today, it is a challenge for women in general – Japan for example has been in the news for this recently. As a child in the early 60’s I remember being in Moscow and seeing women who were road workers, builders and stevedores on the river, so very different from the west where women traditionally stayed in the home. I was very privileged that my parents never ever doubted that I could do and become anything I wanted. So from home, I didn’t grow up with the mindset that as a woman I was inferior or different in any way – which has shaped how I am and how I comport myself. You have to believe in yourself firmly and show the world that you do, then the question of gender becomes irrelevant.

To break free from thinking of women as somehow inferior or less deserving we need to start long before a girl enters the workforce. The question I always pose is why are parents not consistently educating their children (boys and girls) about the truth that there is equal opportunity for everyone. To break free women need to develop an inner strength to rise above this and they need this from home – from their mothers, their grandmothers, aunts, uncles, fathers. Many already have but there is still lots of work to do.

Do you have any mentors? What does mentorship mean to you?

Yes, I have a group of people whose opinions I really value and who have been great idea-sparring partners over the years. I am a mentor to quite a few people and I especially enjoy taking up mentorship of young people just starting out. I believe that all successful people need to pay it forward and help others on their path. We need to listen to them, give them our learned wisdom and never forget that we can also learn from them.

What advice do you have for women who are just starting their career?

There is so much to say but let me keep it to 4 points.

  1. You do not have to decide today exactly where you want to go or what you want to do. Gain some experience first and by the time you have worked a couple of jobs, you will be in a much better position to decide on a long-term career strategy.
  2. Listen and learn from others but form your own opinions and learn to formulate and express them in a compelling argument and you will do well.
  3. Do not be afraid to change your mind, when you do, do make sure you have thought it out well and are able to articulate the change so others understand your thinking.
  4. Finding the market or niche you like and can thrive in is key, so don’t be afraid to switch if you feel the need.

What is one thing companies can do, big or small, to help create an environment that advances women into leadership positions?

Make 100% sure you walk the talk at all levels in your organisation. Lip-service is the biggest killer of good intentions. I have seen so many instances where the head of the company is super focused on providing opportunities for women, offering flexible working conditions etc. Only to have it all undermined by the next level(s) down who don’t think it’s important, don’t believe in it, or don’t have/make the time to address it. These nay-sayers are women as well as men, so not just a discrimination thing.

When did your company join Pledge 1%? What does your impact program mean to you?

We are brand new to Pledge 1% and have pledged our 1% to UNICEF this year. I didn’t make that choice but it was an inspired one, which I wholeheartedly support. Throughout his career, my father worked for various UN entities as well as the World Bank and was stationed all over the developing world. When there were UNICEF projects in those locations my mom would do volunteer work with UNICEF, so this pledge has a very personal meaning for me.

What do you like to do outside of the office? Any interesting (or unique) habits or interests?

In my spare time I and a group of like-minded women run a small company, coaching people for job interviews and helping them with career planning. Whether this is someone interviewing for their first internship, an important new role in a different business, jumping to a C-level job or they just want to talk about career options we can help. We are a diverse group of women (not intentionally only women) who have all worked in big jobs around the world and seen and felt what success is like.

Are you reading/listening to anything interesting at the moment? Please share your most recent favorite book or podcast!

I have just finished reading The Myth of Multitasking by Dave Crenshaw. A book with a simple but powerful message about how to become more efficient and productive in your day-to-day work and life at home. Well worth the read, I find myself planning my day and working differently and the benefits in productivity are truly gratifying.

What’s been the one (or two!) things that have helped you navigate this past year? Any tips or tricks to dealing with remote work?

My granddaughter first and foremost – I have had the privilege of spending all that non-travel time with her. She is 2 years old and just delightful. For 7 years I have been in global roles based out of Asia and not worked out of a fixed office. So I was already working from home and the change was not a problem for me. Though I have missed the travel, even dreamed of airplane food for goodness sake. Frankly I think you are more productive when working from home but there is a danger that you could slack off conversely you can also do far too much. So set some goals and work practices and stick to them. You must build-in some down time or you will reach burn-out very quicky. The one positive thing coming out of these lockdowns, is that people working from home are no longer viewed as lazy and slackers. This will drive a much better work experience for many people. The offices of the past will very quickly disappear.