Credit Suisse Coaching Circles

Hi, it’s Gitanjali here from High Definition You, and this week, I am thrilled to be joined by Lisa London from Credit Suisse. Lisa, welcome.

Hi, Gita. How are you?

Very good. So we’re going to be talking about a really special piece of work that we did together recently for women in your organisation. But firstly, tell us a bit more about who you are in the world, what you’re passionate about and a little bit about your role.

So my name is Lisa London. And first of most, I’m a mother of two boys, aged 12 and 14. So they’re my first priority. And I’m a senior director in operations, and I’ve been at Credit Suisse a long time. But I have many roles at Credit Suisse; I’ve got my functional role, where I head up settlements, lead a team of approximately 200 people. But my main role that I see is actually my leadership roles as the co-chair of the Women’s Network and co-chair of Women Connect.

And what I’m really proud about with the Women’s Network is that we’ve really engaged senior management over the last two years. And it’s engaging those senior management that’s enabled us to put on a lot more events that give the profile to the female talent and allow them to sort of grow their confidence and their network across the bank.

And then a little bit about Women Connect, it’s actually an initiative that I launched personally, with a colleague of mine, and it’s got no budget. It’s not a bank-wide network; it’s just a functional network where we created the concept of group circles, mentoring circles. But in house, we used our senior MDs to take a group of females and start mentoring them. And we just had an open agenda, and it grew from there.

We’re now actually over 900 people in the network over nine locations. And now we started to grow across the firms; we actually have a true brand called Women Connect. And I’m really proud because we did win the Women in Banking Finance Award back a couple of years ago for team diversity.

And it was well deserved, because I mean, it’s really been a passion project for you since, and we’ve known each other for many years. But it really has evolved for you and turned into, as you say, a brand.


Let’s go back to when we first started having conversations about how I might come in and do some work, and what were the challenges that you could see that women were facing. And then what did that mean for the business in terms of the challenges that they were facing?

I’m well-networked across Credit Suisse having been there for many, many years. I’ve been through maternities. And I’ve been promoted through the ranks. And I know that I helped myself along the way. And I know there were sponsors that also helped me along the way. And I got frustrated when I saw peers not progressing in their careers, not getting a deserved promotion. And many females that I met, I’d see them have a coffee, whatever, they didn’t think they were good enough. And I knew they were, and that’s what frustrated me. And I think that’s where I grew Women Connect.

And then obviously, we had a conversation when we met during some internal leadership courses. And it’s like, what can we do? This is my passion. I really want to get these females promoted. I want to raise their voices. I want to get more sponsors to recognise them. So I kind of think that’s where it came from is that you and I had a connection on a very similar agenda.

Well and truly, and what were some of the implications of that, and you may continue to see them now in the business? So that was what we wanted for the women. But what did that mean for the business that they weren’t getting promoted, or they didn’t have a voice?

I think we just saw really good people not making the impact that they could. And they became useful. And we talk a lot about that in the circles, about people saying, Okay, I want to raise my profile. So the manager gives them more work to do just to make them useful. And it’s like, no, actually, I want to progress my career here. I want to have an impact. And I think some of the females just became useful, because that’s what they felt their role was.

And some managers like useful people, because they can give them more work. And maybe they didn’t invest enough time. Also, maybe the females didn’t raise their hand, and maybe they didn’t give the impression that they wanted it. So the manager made the assumption for them. And in many cases across the network, I believe that happened.

And that’s not a new conversation that we’ve had around it. That’s for sure. And there are lots of initiatives I know at Credit Suisse and many other corporations as well. What was it that you felt like I could bring? What was it that made you think of me in terms of what I could bring to the table?

I attended your courses. That’s how I met you. So I signed up for a course at Credit Suisse, and I attended your course, and you taught me some really good techniques and you reminded me of bad habits that I might have or examples of myself where I didn’t push myself forward. And it really resonated with me. And I really enjoyed your class. And I thought I really want to get this for other people. So I kind of used my network and my position in the Women’s Network and Women Connect to lobby for the funding to give the right people that opportunity to join those confidence coaching courses. And I knew that I’d have fun with you.

And fun as well, always fun. And as you were going through that process, was there any resistance that showed up? You know, it was an investment that the bank had to make. Was there anything that stopped you or them from saying “yes” straight away?

No, I think management were like I’m so glad that somebody’s taking a lead here. We’ve definitely got an agenda that we want to push. And it was just trying to come up with ideas on how to do it. I would guess that the only resistance at the time, and in my mind as well, was we haven’t got enough budget to do everybody. And I like to be inclusive. So how did we select the individuals, and that was the only sticking point that we can’t do it for everybody. We’re going to have to start small, and we’re going to have to make some choices. But we worked through that. But absolutely everybody was really supportive. I think they just need people like you and I who drive it and get the job done.

Yeah, I remember those initial conversations about how many women can we help? And do you remember it was originally meant to be six? And then we’re like, oh, gosh, it’s only six of them. And we ended up actually having 13 in what we ended up designing as a coaching circles program.

And I think we have that shared frustration of they’re all almost at senior VP level. And certainly, as an executive coach, one of the frustrations that I experienced is that oftentimes women and men don’t get coaching until they get to director level or senior leadership level. So how could we create something where in essence, these women were getting coaching, but it was feasible, because the bank wasn’t going to invest in one-to-one executive confidence coaching for them.

So we put our heads together and came up with this idea of coaching circles, so-called because it turned from 6 to 13 because of so much appetite from the business and the people being nominated left, right and centre for the program. And when you think about that and the other elements of it, the coaching program, what do you think the benefits of that were? What really appealed compared to some other initiatives that are always going on in terms of female leadership? What was it specifically about the coaching circles approach that appealed?

First of all, we gave the females a message that we wanted to invest time in them. So they felt special. And they didn’t feel like it was just a tick box, and somebody sent them on a course. It was actually, no, this is an external coach who is going to spend time with you.
We also took them out of their day jobs. And we gave them time, and we took them out of their comfort network. And we were able to allocate a place across every division, every department to bring together a cohort of females who were equal. They were at the same level. They were VPs. They were females. And they could actually then broaden their network across the firm.

But they quickly shared their stories and felt comfortable with each other. And I think it was because it wasn’t people they work directly with, so they didn’t feel like they were being judged. And very quickly, this group of ladies really built a camaraderie together.

And one of the key points as well is that we didn’t go to the manager for feedback. We didn’t say to the manager, what do these people need? We went straight to the individuals and said, what do you need? And that was the biggest differentiator, I think, from many other types of courses that I’ve been on is that there’s this whole 360 feedback. And we all know managers have good intentions.

But they don’t always know how you’re feeling and what your personal blockers are. And that was the massive feedback I got across all of the individuals was I’ve built a network; I just didn’t realise that this person existed, or I actually felt like this person was much better than me. And actually, when I met them in the room, I realised I was equal. So I think it really gave them a great platform, and I know they’re still in touch today.

Which is such a powerful outcome for me. And part of the program that I designed was well and truly that it would continue on without me. You know, as I said at the time, I’d love to coach them forever, actually, that’s not my role, right? It was really designed to, and it was one of the first things that we looked at, is I gave them a framework to coach each other. So that, in fact, they were in their circles, coaching each other with the view to continuing that on without your or I needing to be involved.

And then that’s the power, actually, in terms of continuing to have that impact, and the coffee circles that they had, the informal things in between our sessions all came from that shared understanding.

And they were different. I mean, one of them was in IBD. Front office has different challenges to operations, which has different challenges to people in private banks. It was all very mixed, but with that common challenge that they were facing, whether they were coming back from maternity leave, or they wanted to elevate into the next level, and that was definitely a driver for us; looking at how can we get them promoted, and what’s the best way to support them.

But I think you’re right to identify, and I was thinking on those first conversations that I had with them in the first session, it was really about them saying, what do they want to get better at, rather than someone else saying, hey, this is what I think you need to focus on. It all started from that place. And when you think about those results, how did you know that the coaching circles was working? What results did you start to see for the women and then for the business?

We gave them opportunities to present up to the senior board. And they did a great job. I mean, their presentation was honestly phenomenal. And I was really inspired by them and the feedback that they brought out.

And individually, they did reach out and give feedback. But we’ve seen a really good promotion success rate across the team. I would say that at least 80% have been promoted to director and operating very well within their new peer group. And the others that aren’t are either in the running this year, or for whatever circumstance, they left the bank.

But I do know one of the individuals who was part of the cohort now works for me. I’d changed roles, and I see her techniques coming in. She mentors me sometimes; I’ll be having a one-to-one with her, and she’ll start asking me questions about how I am or things that are going on. I think I can see some Gita in you. But I appreciate it as well, because I think you need to manage upwards as well as be managed.

And I think that’s wonderful when that’s the whole idea is they can actually start confidence coaching or, as you say, mentoring those around them and certainly mentoring, coaching upwards.

And that was definitely something that you were brilliant at in terms of the support from an organisational level. Because there’s times when I can be asked to come in and work with a group of women in leadership, whether it’s to get them promoted or increase productivity or engagement. But actually, what’s the organisational structure around that?

And you were really successful at getting mentors to actually pair up with each of them to support the coaching circles program that we were doing. And then in addition to that, you got sponsorship from some really high-profile people in the business to launch it and then to do a closing event where they could share their successes.

Yeah, I think that’s really important, Gita, because if you’ve got the senior sponsorship, you end up with better management sponsorship because obviously some managers are really supportive. They want their staff to do well. Others are thinking, gosh, they’re out for the day; I’ve got to cover their work. But I think as soon as you’ve got senior sponsorship who are engaged, and they’re attending events with the UK CEO, for example, then the manager is going to sit up and listen and go, actually, this is important, and their success is my success.

So there’s something in there for the manager. And that definitely worked, and on the mentor program, we assigned a female MD to each of the individuals but from a different division to where they worked. And most of them still have that mentor relationship. It’s not so formal now, but some of them carried on very formally because they helped them through the promotion process. But, actually, the mentors enjoyed it as well, because it gave them an insight into a broader cohort, what the feedback was and a connection within another department. So that definitely worked very well.

And when I think about those results, there’s always the intangible isn’t there, and I can see that through the course of the program where they’re able to feel more focused and calm and confident and how to get better at decision making, but then the tangible results of 80% getting promoted to director level. What was it do you think about the way that I work that was able to allow those results?

I think, you know, I mentioned at the start: fun. I think they can relate to you. It’s very personal, and they enjoyed the sessions. They didn’t feel pressure, but you have a way of challenging them and making them be honest with themselves, look in the mirror and start to open up about what’s holding them back. And obviously some really good techniques on how to take that forward.

But I think you didn’t let anybody shy away. Eventually, each person found what it was that they really wanted to focus on. And then you followed up with them. I remember the postcards you sent to them saying, hey, you said you were going to do something. I’m reminding you, but very personally, so that it wasn’t in front of everybody else. It’s just regaining that contact to say, did you do what you said you were going to do? Because if you don’t, you’re just really letting yourself down. But it’s saying it in a very nice way.

And a lot of them contacted me when they received that to say, yeah, it did keep me on my toes, and I did follow up with what I needed to do. It’s very easy to walk away isn’t it after a session and forget and get stuck into your day job. And that’s where we need to really make sure that they do benefit, and they do follow through on the things that are going to really make a difference.

That level of accountability, I mean, that was definitely a focus for us to have them accountable to each other. But obviously, as an executive coach, one of the key roles is to hold people accountable and hold their feet to the fire, if you will, in a loving way, in a fun way always. What really surprised you or delighted you about the coaching circles program, Lisa?

It’s the first of its kind. A lot of training events are either random, so people can just sign up and you’re with a random selection of people, or they’re very targeted to a division, and it’s a program that’s done within a division.

This was the first of its kind to go cross-divisional with a very specific agenda and targeted audience. So that was exciting. And I was very pleased to be part of that. I still feel a very good connection with those individuals who have progressed through those coaching circles. I really hope, and I’m sure that they are doing the same for their team – as one of the ladies who works for me now, she does coach me.

The ripple effects, that’s all I can hope for on my journey to impacting a billion lives: the ripple effect that those 13 will have. So, I mean, really, we were pioneers is what I’m hearing. If someone’s watching this, and they’re feeling inspired to be a pioneer in their organisation and invest in some coaching with High Definition You, what would you say to them? What advice would you give them?

Find a senior sponsor who is genuinely interested in what you want to achieve. I think the senior sponsorship makes a really big difference to the funding, to the selection process and then also the management support. And it’s the senior sponsor who is going to get you the sort of profile of the program and invite you into then the follow ups, the meetings, get the right people in the room to really support the individuals.
Without that senior sponsorship, you might not get the support to really follow through

Good advice.

But they’ve got to be genuine, you know. Some people sign up because they want their name on something. You need to find that person who really believes in the agenda.

And that’s the passion that I have seen in you from the very, very beginning, Lisa. So it’s easy to influence other people when you have that level of passion that you do. And I know that that’s something that people continue to benefit from within Credit Suisse, and I’m sure outside of it as well.

Thank you. I mean, I did use my role as the co-chair of the Women’s Network for those senior sponsors, the two senior sponsors, to really take a part in the program. So I was able to leverage that position, but I knew they were genuine, and we all could work together. And they gave me whatever I needed to make the program successful. So that’s really important.

They were incredibly generous with their time and with their advice and openness to connect with the women in between our sessions to really give them that inside information for what’s going on on the ground. It’s been a long time since I’ve been in that environment to know exactly what’s going on. But that was definitely a huge benefit.

And then, obviously, all the coaching and everything else created this wonderful group that I’m thrilled to hear have done so well. So thank you so much for sharing your story with us today. And I’m thrilled to see that you’re winning the awards that are well deserved for the amount of passion and change that you’re trying to create for female leadership, not just to Credit Suisse, but really across the industry.

Thank you, Gita.