Resilience is one of the top qualities we need right now
“Resilience is one of the top qualities we need right now”
Kerry Phillips-Bland, Head of Resilience at Barclays UK, has been named Mentor of the Year by her colleagues. She reflects on why supporting each other has been even more important this year, how mentoring links with resilience – and why “sometimes just listening is enough”.
As leader of Barclays’ UK Resilience team, Kerry Phillips-Bland ensures that the bank has plans in place to respond and recover from the impacts of incidents and crises – from technology outages to terrorist threats. And responding to unexpected events has, of course, been crucial over the last year.
While ‘resilience’ previously meant working in the background to safeguard against future events, suddenly, she says, “everybody from top to bottom in the organisation was interested in resilience. Overnight, it became the number one priority.”
“With the COVID-19 crisis,” she explains, “part of that was enabling everybody to work from home really quickly. My role was to totally understand what was happening, understand the threat to Barclays, and understand customer needs. We had to work across the Group and make sure that we got a joined-up, practical response. Having plans in place that are ready to go gives you a really good start.”
I think if we can buoy each other up when our resilience is low, that's really important. For Barclays, in a very fast, competitive market, resilience is one of the top qualities we need right now.
Head of Resilience, Barclays UK
For Kerry, “resilience” also has a personal resonance, as one of the thousands of colleagues adapting to a new, unexpected landscape during COVID-19. “Life has been tough, and work can be tough as well,” she says. “With the speed at which technology is developing, and the speed at which organisations work, if you're not the kind of person that can align with those fast changes, then you get left behind very quickly. And I think that’s where stress and mental health issues can emerge.”
She continues: “Our ability to be resilient changes depending on the situation around us. And I think if we can buoy each other up when our resilience is low, that's really important. For Barclays, in a very fast, competitive market, resilience is one of the top qualities we need right now.”=
That “bounce-back-ability” can come “if you’ve got someone to talk to,” she says. “That helps if you’re having a difficult time, because it helps you understand that you're not on your own.”
“Ask for what you need”
That awareness of the need to foster connections between colleagues is one reason why, after joining Barclays in 2018, Kerry started mentoring. “I used it as a way of networking,” she remembers. “I had a really good network before I joined Barclays, and it was one of the things I wanted to achieve when I joined – both for personal support and to build my career.”
She joined the North West Women’s Network, and has since not only mentored colleagues, but also set up events to promote mentorship and career development. COVID-19 changed the way that worked. “People were finding it more difficult to network, because you weren’t bumping into people in coffee shops around the site,” she explains. “So, we introduced virtual networking sessions in an informal, safe environment to have conversations about topics like the work-life balance, working from home or wellbeing.”
“The phrase I like to use about mentoring is ‘ask for what you need’,” she says. “I don't ask people to come with a career plan saying where they want to be in a year or five- or 10-years’ time. Usually people have got a certain problem that they want to solve. And 70% of the time with women, it's about confidence.”
I entered Barclays thinking that I needed to make my mark in this big organisation. So, two years later, to be winning an award was a little bit overwhelming.
Head of Resilience, Barclays UK
Mentor of the year
Kerry is passionate about encouraging others to try mentoring, but says that many people don’t feel it’s a role they can – or should – take on.
“A lot of women still feel they can’t be mentors – that it's something you can only do if you've got those experiences, or you're really senior. I want to get rid of that barrier. It doesn't have to be something scary. Everybody's got experiences to share,” she says.
Kerry herself admits to being frightened that she wouldn’t always have the appropriate business or technical knowledge to be a great mentor – but discovered that “most of the time it’s not about that, it’s about the human condition. And for both mentor and mentee, it really makes you think about different ways of solving problems, approaching difficulties, and getting the creative brain going. Sometimes listening is enough and when a person is talking, they find they’ve solved the problem for themselves.”
She adds that working from home has in many ways encouraged people to connect in a more personal and profound way – even if it’s been virtual. “Relationships have always been important,” she explains, “but in financial services they’ve maybe been a bit stuffy and formal. A lot of that has broken down. We can see each other’s rooms behind us, we’ve had lockdown hair, children in the background, dogs barking. That’s broken through the pretence and helped a lot.”
Kerry’s ability to support colleagues saw her named the Mentor of the Year at Barclays’ Group Technology Awards. “I was thrilled to be nominated,” she says. “I entered Barclays thinking that I needed to make my mark in this big organisation. A lot of people have been here a long time and have great reputations – but nobody knew who I was. So, two years later, to be winning that award was a little bit overwhelming.”
Kerry’s sporty children have “windowsills full of trophies” but she admits that she’d never won a trophy herself. “When I got it, my kids told me to put it by the window by my desk – and actually it does cheer me up looking at it, because it's just lovely to be recognised,” she says. “It's lovely when somebody nominates you and then it was even nicer to know that I was voted for. It’s demonstrated to me that I can make an impact.”