Skipton Building Society pensions manager Caroline Eastwood scooped the Pensions Manager of the Year accolade at PP’s Women in Pensions Awards. She tells Holly Roach about her success.
What does winning this award mean to you?
To be selected as the winner in such a strong category of pension professionals is an amazing accolade for me personally and affirmation that I continue to make a difference in the pensions industry for myself, Skipton Building Society and my wider professional network. I feel both proud and humbled.
What is the most important lesson you have learned in your career?
After 20-plus years in pensions there have been a few lessons learnt!
- To believe in myself and persevere. You can achieve so much by trying new things and turning challenges into opportunities. Don't be afraid to take risks and learn from your mistakes. This will help you grow in ability, confidence and resilience. Experience has taught me to have confidence in myself, to stay true to my principles and to blow my own trumpet! Learn to say: "I am a highly experienced pension professional with a valid opinion and I will use my voice."
- My professional network is one of my greatest assets. Take the time to invest in your professional network, listen to what others are doing in the industry and take the opportunity to share your knowledge and experience. A strong network provides the opportunity to share best practice and gives insight into what others are doing when faced with similar challenges.
- The importance of being or having a great mentor. Having or being a great mentor is a way to encourage success and help others grow in skill and confidence. I've been on both sides of this relationship and have benefitted immensely.
As a result of that mentor relationship I developed a trustee training module including a business proposition which resulted in me delivering training to some of my employer's largest clients (including a lord!). This training module is still marketed and delivered to clients today.
- Maintain a work-life balance. Although I take my work very seriously, I also have a life outside work. Time spent with my family and friends is precious - don't neglect the need for ‘me time'.
- Never leave a bad footprint. The pensions industry is a close-knit community and you are likely to encounter the same people at different stages of your career. Treat people fairly and with respect and you won't go far wrong.
What has been your greatest achievement, or one that you are most proud of?
Something I am incredibly proud of is the creation of the Building Societies' Pension Forum. Following my move to an in-house role, I really missed the interaction with peers and the ability to bounce ideas off them. I felt I needed to expand my professional network and create links with pension professionals in other building societies. This started quite small with me cold-calling my peers and having introductory meetings. Luckily they didn't hang up on me and we now hold twice-yearly forum meetings, supported by Mercer, with representatives from multiple building societies coming together to showcase thought leadership and share best practice.
What has been your experience working as a woman in the pensions industry?
Early in my career I experienced the old boys' network where roles I had applied for had already been promised to male candidates. At the time I felt frustrated but now see this as a loss to those employers who were limiting themselves and the future growth and success of their business.
I've been lucky to work with a diverse set of colleagues and been supported by some great mentors (both male and female). They have coached me through professional exams (at a stage when I was ready to give up), helped me to challenge the mind-set that part-time working mums have given up on their career and championed my skill and expertise to support clients business wide.
My current perception is that senior positions on trustee boards and in consultancy are male dominated. However, it's not just about gender balance but also diversity of thought and self-confidence. As women in the industry we can help address this imbalance by getting our voices heard and showcasing our diversity; with the help of The Women in Pensions awards.
What is your top tip for women looking to progress or start a career in the pensions industry?
Believe in yourself and try different things. The opportunities are limitless if you work hard and persevere. Don't feel intimidated by men in dark suits!
CV: Caroline Eastwood
Position Caroline Eastwood is pensions manager at Skipton Building Society, a position she has held since the beginning of 2016.
Previously Eastwood joined Skipton Building Society as a pensions consultant in October 2012 from Mercer, where she was a retirement benefits consultant in its retirement practice based in Leeds. Prior to joining Mercer in 1998, she was an investments and pensions administrator at Arthur Andersen and started her career as a junior administrator at Binder Hamlyn.
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