She has defied stereotypes and societal pressures to rise to executive management in the banking sector. Lesley Bradley is an inspiration to career-driven ladies.
After completing her B.com management degree from the University of Botswana (UB), a career in banking was nowhere near what Lesley Bradley had wanted then. In any case she couldn’t wait to pursue her dream – a career as hotelier would have fulfilled that quite easily.
But after a short stint in her supposed dream career, she pulled out. It happened that BOCCIM (now Business Botswana) was offering free career match consultations to graduates and luckily that one visit to the organisation’s offices changed her life for the better.
“They offered one-on-one interviews where they you were asked about where your career interests lie. And they then looked for a company which had an opening that matched your aspirations,” she says, reminiscing on how handy the arrangement was.
This arrangement, which has since ceased to exist, will – according to Bradley – serve an even efficient purpose in the current environment, considering the fact the high number of unemployed graduates which tertiary institutions keep churning out year-after-year despite the fact that job availability is low.
Anyhow the BOCCIM programme landed Bradley in the banking sector – at Standard Chartered Bank Botswana – as a graduate trainee. The graduate trainee programme, she says, was a comprehensive programme, which took her through all banking training after which she was then given a chance to choose and venture into an area she deemed suitable. The rest, as they, say is history.
Leading corporate banking
The young Bradley, who a few years before would not have dreamt of a job as a banker, was hooked. She worked for Standard Chartered Bank for 12 years in different positions in corporate banking until she joined her current employer Barclays Botswana where she was recruited to set up transactional banking still within corporate banking.
“It always gives me pride to look back and see the role banking had played and is still playing in the development of this country,” she enthuses.
She, however, points out that though when she joined the sector, women’s presence was quite significant; they were often confined to much junior roles, especially in retail banking. In the corporate banking sector, for example, the presence of women was almost non-existent.
Luckily for her, working for an international bank meant that there was mobility as far as staff appointment was concerned. It then happened that a new manager who came in was not gender-biased and was able to spot some talent in her and took her under his wing and nurtured her.
Moving up, according to Bradley, was never easy. She had to for example deal with resistance from her male colleagues who dominated the sector and strangely the few women even. “I had to stand my ground and prove my worth,” she recalls.
Formulation of policies which prescribed and emphasised the need for gender parity among the bank structures, Bradley says also assisted women to gain positions of influence and leadership in the banking sector.
At just 49 years Bradley is now Barclays Botswana’s Director - Corporate and Investment Banking. In an almost boys’ club where a game of golf with potential clients or that late night whiskeys and wine parties are considered deal sealers, the mother of two has to set her own rules – well a bit different but ones which still deliver the same results.
Bradley expresses her happiness at working for Barclays Bank of Botswana, acknowledging the Diversity and Inclusion agenda the bank continues to pursue with over 50% of top leadership being women. She says her employer is committed to sourcing talent and developing it through graduate trainee programmes, internship programmes and leadership development programmes in which it gives immense experience to colleagues as some have the opportunity to work in other countries through programmes such as Barclays Talent mobility programme.
“The good part about banking is that it is performance driven; as long as results are delivered then nothing can hold you back,” she says.
She reflects how patriarchy sometimes has a hand in limiting women’s professional growth. In the banking sector for example where results speak for one’s performance, Bradley says it becomes difficult sometimes for women to be at par with their male counterparts.
“If you have two under-fives to look after, there is no how you can do the same hours that men do,” says Bradley – a mother of two, young ladies aged 20 and 13.
That coupled with the fact that unlike men, culturally women have been conditioned not to aspire for powerful and leading roles, she says, gives men an opportune chance to surge forward while women are still fighting back stereotypes and societal pressure.
She points out that this is often easy when women find partners who are supportive and motivate them to aim higher despite what culture dictates.
Sector good for women
All in all however, the soft-spoken highflyer says she believes the financial sector is not too hard on women. She says the high number of female leaders in the sector is evident that women are indeed doing well.
She thus encourages young women who may be considering a career in the sector not to hesitate joining it. “I have seen people building their lives successfully just from a banking career,” she says, adding that any economy will always need the sector.