Episode 4

In celebration of Black History Month: In conversation with Caroline Abel

Published on: 29th September, 2021

Music: created by Jahzzar under CC BY-SA 4.0, remixed, duration shortened.

Transcript
Edgar:

Welcome to our In Conversation Diversity podcast. Today, I have the pleasure of speaking and welcoming Caroline Abel. Welcome, Caroline.

Caroline:

Thank you very much, Edgar.

Edgar:

Caroline is a graduate of Leeds University Business School, where she read for her bachelor's degree in economics. Since 2012 Caroline is the governor of the Central Bank of the Seychelles, and she is the first woman to hold this position. So thank you again, Caroline, for joining us for this podcast, and particularly since the celebrating Black History Month in the UK. And as I've just said, you've already made history. So welcome and thank you.

Caroline:

Thank you for inviting me.

Edgar:

Great. Can I just start with a very simple question about Leeds, namely, what are your fondest memories of studying in Leeds?

Caroline:

Actually, Leeds was my first part of the world getting out of Seychelles and as soon as I entered the city, what I admired the most was the friendliness and the welcoming nature of the people of the city and university, the university itself, the support system was great. And it was a conducive environment for study. So we could continuously mingle with everybody with no problem.

Edgar:

Can I ask that at the time? How many other black female students were there studying economics?

Caroline:

Actually, not that much. I remember that most students in my class came from China. We were about probably maximum five of us and came from the African continent. So there was not much of us black ethnic individual in the group.

Edgar:

And was that something for you that was obvious or something that you felt a bit strange about, or did you not actually notice any particular impact of that?

Caroline:

Edgar:

That's great. Now, as I said at the beginning, of course, we are doing this podcast as part of our diversity series, but this particular one in celebration of Black History Month and this year, the theme is Proud to Be. And I wonder whether you have some reflection on how that theme of Proud to Be resonates with you.

Caroline:

Actually, when I was approached to do this podcast on this question. I was profoundly touched in the sense that I live in a society where this issue is not a challenge. But I acknowledge that in many parts of the world, many people face many realities that are perceived to be negative. So in my own context, so. I live in an environment where there is no ethnic boundary. We are seen to be one nation in what we call a melting pot of many cultures. So all of us, we can practice our diverse culture. And you will not be called by the source of your ethnic background. So. For me, the the current environment that I live in now perhaps would be an envy to a lot of people. When I look at what happens in the world. So I think at times such experience can be showcased in their words, so that these negative elements that we see can be improved over time.

Edgar:

Thank you. It's, of course, fantastic to hear that you feel you have an environment where you can be and where everyone can be. And of course, it's one thing that we as well aspire to. But it leads me into one of the other questions we're having, and that is really about your experience of being a black female leader in particular within an area of the economy that has neither a lot of women nor a lot of black women. So I would really love to hear your reflection on that and maybe some of the aspects you're very proud of, but also what you have experienced as part of this.

Caroline:

So as I've highlighted before, given that the ethnic background is not an issue. So it has not been a major challenge. As I continued on the journey since I've been appointed in the role, perhaps the the main challenge for me was to become a female leader in the world of finance, where you don't see much of us in the field. But in view that in our society, most gender gets equal opportunity based on our competency. That was not a challenge to take on the role.

But I would say overall. Women tend to be challenged because at times we lack a bit of the confidence to take higher positions, especially if we are few in the field. But also, if you take note of the role of women in the family because of these extra duties at a personal level, we women tend to to see themselves cornered so that perhaps they were not delivered to the full potential that they would. Have done. If they did not have the extra responsibilities in the home, and especially with the pandemic, we saw this to be a major issue for young women professionals, because in addition to their normal duties in the home, they also had the extra duty to do home schooling. And for those working from home, they had all the family members to look after. So we saw these issues to be a major hindrance in putting extra pressure on women to be able to deliver on higher roles.

But what we also admire in in that environment is that women can multitask. And we have seen increasing productivity, productivity levels. So for me, I usually assist young women to see that they have potential despite the challenges that the society can pose to them.

Edgar:

Thank you. This there's a lot in there that I'd like to follow up, and I might start with one thing, and that is around the aspect of confidence and maybe some tips that you might want to give to aspiring individuals or individuals who reflect on their own progress, what they could do around building that confidence or how they can achieve some of that or some of your experience and how you have gained that confidence,

Caroline:

I think to that confidence call for me when I look at my journey comes two fold. One. If in the environment we are working in provides for us to enhance our knowledge and definitely improve our competency. This should provide us with that confidence to move forward. If we are called upon to do higher duties. But at the same time, we also need to have a framework that helps young women to feel comfortable as they move along in their journey. And for me, as I have grown within the institution, I've spend this year, 27 years since I've been with the central bank. I've had a strong mentor. As I was going up the ladder, always focusing you to work harder, that you can do better. But even though the person leaves the institution or anybody else that you feel comfortable with, that you always have that relationship. That will always be a port of call when things at times can go a bit difficult because, you know, when you are in a position of leadership, often times we can feel alone because there are difficult decisions to be made. But if you have this person you can call upon to discuss what you are going through and and possible solutions, which at times you don't see them in the first instance. It's a good component to have because it is needed when you are in a position of leadership.

Edgar:

Thank you, Caroline And I think it's fantastic how you raised this issue around mentorship. Because I think we all hear a lot about it. But I think the practice and the reality of it is really one that is so important to really support individuals through their careers, not just women.

Any individual to that. So I think it's a really important lesson to think about and for organisations, but also for individuals to think about what they can do. Can I pick up one other thing you mentioned earlier on, and that is about the dual roles that women often have and that they often are the main caregivers, but also, of course, want to make a career. And I'm sure that has changed over the years. But what's your view there? How can we as individuals, we as organisations, support women better, more?

Caroline:

I think I think we need to recognise that such support needs to be put in place. In in our case, over there, I would say in the last four years, this is something that we've worked hard on to put a conducive environment where both men and women can see that there is flexibility for them to attend to personal matters, especially to do with with the family, because in the world of finance, it's quite tough. And you can have long days, especially when we are in an environment of stress, particularly since the pandemic started last year.

We have seen that we work long hours. And in the virtual environment, it's almost 24 hours because you are moving from one point of the world to another. So we need to create that environment that people feel that they have the flexibility to do the multitask that they have.

So the emphasis we put on is your output But how you deliver on that output is how you organise your time. So definitely in the world that we leave today, we need to bring flexibility to reflect the realities that all of us see ourselves.

And this provides the the motivation to the team that, yes, I have something to do, but I'm also getting the support from my institutional company that there is flexibility in how I deliver on the matter at hand.

Edgar:

I think that's fantastically important point now that we are beginning certainly in the UK, to move back into a world as it may have been before Covid, but recognising that things have changed and that we need to adapt to these changes and provide these different opportunities.

So I think that resonates very much with many of the conversations that I am currently hearing. But if I can just stick with one aspect of that, and that is the challenge that we as individuals and organisations have to create these environments.

In your view, what are still some of the challenges and barriers that have to be overcome for women or for black women in the finance industry?

Caroline:

I think we need to to take an open mind on the challenges that women face, especially on what has just been discussed, on the multitasking that we have to do, and definitely create that environment that women see themselves being able to contribute.

Because whilst in the financial sector, you usually see a lot of women. But where we don't see them is at the higher position. And because of the complexities that we we see ourselves being a working person and have to make sure that we also respond on a personal level, definitely at the top.

Boards and management in general would need to see how we create that environment that allows the women to prosper at at a higher level, because in in the society that I live, you see that women want to move ahead.

But there's still some some barriers that we need to pull down to allow them to work at the at the higher level. So is the whole society that has to has to look at that and put the infrastructure in place, because at times, you know, to to bring the children to daycares to school, you don't have the necessary infrastructure. So it's getting difficult for people to either move up or decide to change careers because they don't see where society is bringing these extra elements to help them deliver on all fronts. So it is important that as a society, at times we take a step back and take note how our environment is changing and if we want everyone to make a contribution. So we have to bring about changes that will facilitate for greater inclusion at all levels in society.

Edgar:

Thank you. You gave an example of nurseries, for example, such as caring or childcare facilities. What are some of the other barriers you were referring to that still needs pulling down, in your view?

Caroline:

Some of it would be perhaps working hours. The time of day that women see themselves working, because if I take example from our side of the world, we are tourism destination. And this industry is also female oriented. So one debate that has been happening in recent times is should the women be working night shift?

Because they need to be in the home to care for the children. So these are some of the issues that we see being faced by women. Given the structure of the economy, so there are many, many facets, depending on what are the critical elements in society.

So for us, there are certain elements that affects how an individual will manage on the home front. So we want to avoid social discord. Because of these elements that they exist, and we need to bring flexibility in those environments.

Edgar:

Thank you. I think it's really interesting and I like your framing within the context of both the economic requirements, but also the society at large and where the society stands, because I think there are differences and solutions need to be found that are relevant.

And as you say, not to create discord, but very much like that, that notion and hadn't really thought about it in that way. So thank you. With some of these challenges still remaining, some of the barriers that we still need to pull down.

I wonder what tips you would give young aspiring women. In this sector or even students who are thinking about entering this sector, what are the sort of two or three top tips that have helped you in your career?

Caroline:

I think the tips that I would give to young women aspiring to go in the financial sector or even students deciding to do a particular course to eventually move into sector. One, we need to work hard because the sector itself is an area where there's quite an amount of difficulty.

But it's an interesting field, because taking my own experience was when I joined the central banking field it was an area where it was a bit quieter. And very conservative. But with significant changes in the economy and the evolution of the of the institution itself, nowadays we talk a lot about an independent central bank.

And this is we got that in two thousand and four and this is what created a different environment and make it exciting. The second aspect is we need to continuously broaden our knowledge. Because coming from university, I always tell the staff is you will learn.

A certain level of to to know to start your career. But when you are in it, you need to continuously build yourself, enhance your capacity. Always asking questions. But then your environment also needs to create that space for you to to grow.

And we have systems in place where staff has the ability on on given their lives, circumstances to continuously enhance their capacity through onsite training, distance learning. And also, we have programs for enhancing leadership skills, because we know people in management at times is a difficult component when you become a leader.

And as I mentioned earlier, we in that program for leadership, we have allocated seasoned professionals to become mentors to our staff, which provides them with that independent support so that they don't feel alone in in that journey. So definitely hard work and continuous learning is an important aspect to have on anyone's career journey, and you will definitely see the benefit of that.

Edgar:

And of course, having positive role models like yourself is something that we need to highlight and spotlight, because I think it's really important to showcase your achievements within that. And I think, as you say, the visibility may not be as high, but there are quite a few women now within that sector, and we need to ensure that you are visible as part of that. So I think it's an important part. I know that you yourself take a lot of personal responsibility and interest in supporting individuals. So I know that for the central bank, for example, you are offering studentships and other areas for individuals to take forward their ambitions.

Caroline:

Yes, actually, since 2008. Because given our small population and definitely in terms of expertise, it's limited. We felt it important that in addition to our own training programs that we have internally, that we extend that to external to the bank. So since two thousand and eight, we offered two scholarships, one for first degree and the second one for master's level. Whereby every year we look at the topics that we see are pertinent of the time and taking also a forward looking view, and that this is done on a competitive basis and we do this allocation since then. And so far, we've had four recipients, so one have actually completed her course And another one is in her final year. The other one is we have two now who have started their course. One is, as I indicated was doing her course at the University of Leeds and the other one is doing a master's degree. And last Thursday, we launched the twenty twenty two edition. So again, in the various fields for the financial sector. So we are very happy to be participating in the growth of young professionals in the country. And we will continue to do that in the years to come.

Edgar:

Yes, but it's fantastic to hear. And as you say, it's about building local capacity as well. And thank you for one of the recipients to coming back to Leeds, which is, of course, fantastic for us to hear. One of the other things that has come up when we were talking to some of our stakeholders, the fact that I'm talking to you today was around how individuals could be allies and support those that might find it more difficult within an industry to progress due to various characteristics may it be ethnicity or gender or other things. What are your views, suggestions or tips for those who are allies and wanted to exercise active allyship to support individuals? What what can we as individuals do to support women or individuals from particular ethnic backgrounds, or other areas of characteristics?

Caroline:

Well, I think this aspect of engaging with all the groups is important, because, as I say, if we live in an environment where we showcase the attributes of inclusion, we should be able to link up with others to share our experience in how we can make another environment better in and and in our own society. Despite having equal opportunities, at times there would be individuals that are facing challenges. So we always find ways to link up with them, to be able to see how we facilitate for them to get access to necessary services or guidance that ourselves we are in a particular role. So definitely it is important to to do such. Engagement. And in my own role, what I do at present is I accepted to be the patron of the Seychelles Red Cross. So it helps you to understand the reality is that this agency have in given my role, if I have to echo their challenges in forums where I go for meetings to improve the general environment. I do so. So definitely people with influence need to use that position to make a better difference in society.

Edgar:

Thank you. Yes, I think it's really important that we're aware of the roles we can take and. For lack of a better word at this moment, the privilege we might have and how we can deploy that to support others.

I find it always very important to step back and think about and I have just recently also joined a board of a charity to do exactly that. I want to come back to you, if I may, Caroline. And I want to sort of to close off a little bit, ask you about who or what inspired you on your journey as the governor of the Central Bank of the Seychelles?

Caroline:

One would be my mentor that I talked about previously, but then I would say from the beginning it would be the teachings of my parents, particularly my father. Even though he passed away eight years before I step into the shoes of the governor. His guidance on how one can broaden the horizon of knowledge and question issues that are put before someone in a position of leadership is something that I have with me on a daily basis, because when I was called first time to take on the role. At first, I did not think of the extent that the role can bring. But over time, looking at what has to be done through this role I always think of his teaching in guiding me in the right way of doing things. So definitely when we are moving ahead to take a role of leadership. It is important. The teachings that we have received in the past. And how we grow those teachings in our own life. So these for me, have been lessons that I've learned and which continues to be with me. In what I do as a role model, but also on what I pass on to my colleagues.

Edgar:

You have already talked so much about your own humbleness and being a role model, supporting others. And of course, you have achieved so much already. You've won various prizes and recognitions and commendations. If I were to press you, what is one of your proudest moments today?

Caroline:

My proudest moment, I would say, is my team. Being able to walk around in the institution to talk to them and them not seeing me, even though I'm a leader of the institution. But we can sit down and have a conversation not just at the technical level, but them feeling comfortable to come to me and seeking guidance, both professional and personal. And also, I would say today the reaction of the public, because since twenty eighteen, we are very transparent in almost everything that we do. We talk to the population often. Tomorrow, I'll be doing a press conference on monetary policy. So when you walk on the street and people coming to you and say, I've understood what you have been explaining, because in the past, central banking was something that people said was very difficult to understand. So today, people coming to me and saying, I've understood. And I'm looking forward every time the central bank is coming out to pronounce on something. So this is something that we are proud to have achieved. Given the feedback of the past.

Edgar:

Thank you. I think there's very little I can say to close this better than you just have, highlighting some of the things that you can be proud of and that you have achieved. So, Caroline let me just close by saying thank you very much again for your time, for your openness and for sharing your insights, your experiences and your views on that. It's been an absolute pleasure.

Caroline:

Thank you very much, Edgar, and for the university to call on me to have this conversation. And I hope it provides an inspiration to the community, to the wider community that we can do things better for the world.

Edgar:

I'm sure it will. So thank you very much.

Caroline:

Thank you.

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About the Podcast

The Diversity Conversation
Leeds University Business School
Ever wondered about the lived experiences of individuals and groups of minoritized communities? This Leeds University Business School podcast series focuses on hearing from those in our community who have overcome adversity because of who they are, who advocate and support diversity and inclusion, and/or who can share their knowledge, expertise, and insight of what can be done to become more inclusive. A series of fascinating conversations worth a listen…