Leading the Way: First hand accounts from female leaders of industry

Leading the Way:first hand accounts from female leaders of industry

Mini Series

Our Chief Reporter, Phoebe Sennett, interviews Leslie Uzan, Head of Private Equity and Debt at St. James's Place Wealth Management.In the second part of our new mini series, Leslie delves into her key career learnings, tips for female investors and her strife for greater cognitive diversity in the financial sector.

Tell us a bit about yourself (your current position and a summary of your career journey)After graduating from university 7 years ago, I joined St. James’s Place Wealth Management, initially qualifying as an actuary and eventually moving to the investments division. Over the past few years, my focus has been on establishing and growing our Alternative Investments team, and expanding our offering within this space. I now head up our Private Equity and Debt team, where I oversee a £2bn multi-asset fund, which invests in a variety of public and private asset classes.What challenges did you face when climbing the ranks in your industry? Establishing a new team certainly came with its challenges!Being the first individual in Alternative Investments, I had a blank piece of paper to develop something new, which was exciting but also daunting. I was tasked with setting up processes and growing the team which took a lot of patience, resilience and teamwork.What advice would you give to young professionals when entering your industry? My best advice is to say yes to as many opportunities as possible early on in your career, even if some feel a little scary or out of your comfort zone. Also, don’t always wait for opportunities to be handed to you, sometimes you need to create them. This will provide you with a diverse set of experiences, help you to widen your network and accelerate your career. What policy changes have you implemented to encourage greater diversity and equality of opportunities within your organisation? (Or ideas you may have) I am a big advocate of looking past the conventional selection criteria for graduate jobs. For example, I don’t think that an applicant’s university grade or degree subject is necessarily a good indicator of whether that person will perform and succeed in an organisation. It’s very difficult to do at scale, but I prefer to look for other factors such as ability to take initiative and drive a project. What do you consider as being the barriers for female founders/leaders? I recently wrote an article in Startups Magazine about the gender funding gap for female founders. According to a report commissioned by the British Business Bank, for every £1 of VC investment, less than 1p went to all-female teams and only 10p to mixed-gender teams. The initial reaction may be to point fingers at the VC industry, however interestingly the report also noted that in fact only 5% of all pitchdecks received are from all-female teams. So perhaps the real issue to be tackled is how do we get more female-led businesses appearing in the VC pipeline. Whilst this doesn’t apply to all, I feel for many it’s about taking a less cautious path, and this applies to so many things: your business, your investments, your career.