Barclays’ Karla Maloof, Zainab Kwaw-Swanzy and Kirstie Mackey


"If you are passionate about something, do it”

11 October 2021

Three ground-breaking Barclays colleagues have been featured in a new book by The Female Lead which celebrates “67 women changing the world today” – alongside Tarana Burke and Julia Gillard, among others. Find out about what motivates them, what they’ve achieved and their advice for the female leaders of the future.

Open the new book created by educational charity The Female Lead, and you’ll find profiles of 67 women who show “incredible strength, talent, ingenuity, resilience and bravery”. These figures, including former Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize Nadia Murad, and Tarana Burke, founder of the Me Too movement, are inspirations in the worlds of politics, science, business, sports, entertainment and activism.

Three trailblazing Barclays colleagues are featured within its pages: Kirstie Mackey OBE, Zainab Kwaw-Swanzy and Karla Maloof.

Titled The Female Lead (Volume 2): We Rise By Lifting Others, the book is a sequel to the charity’s 2017 publication – and showcases personal stories and insights from interviewees, alongside imagery by renowned photography team Sane Seven.

Its contributors follow in the footsteps of people like European Central Bank President Christine Lagarde, Academy Award-winning actor Meryl Streep and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Leymah Gbowee – who were all highlighted in the first volume.

The Female Lead

Barclays’ Kirstie Mackey, who features in The Female Lead Volume II.

Kirstie Mackey is behind Barclays LifeSkills, which has helped 14.6 million people. Picture credit: The Female Lead/Sane Seven.

Be ambitious and be bold. Don’t be afraid to take risks.

Kirstie Mackey

Managing Director and Head of Citizenship and Consumer Affairs, Barclays

“We still need to do more to embrace different backgrounds”

Mackey, Maloof and Kwaw-Swanzy all add to what the book calls “a rich register of diverse personal histories, interests, challenges and goals”.

Kirstie Mackey is the colleague behind Barclays LifeSkills – a project that has helped 14.6 million people since its inception in 2013.

The original aim of the programme was to “help young people build confidence, give them an aspiration to succeed and equip them with the skills to move from education into work”, explains Mackey, who is now the bank’s Managing Director and Head of Citizenship and Consumer Affairs in the UK.

“I pitched the idea to Barclays internally, and then worked with charities and stakeholders to get their thoughts and feedback so that I could tailor the plan,” she remembers in her interview with The Female Lead.

Since then the programme has expanded to support people of all ages across the UK, through online hubs that cover topics such as starting a business, wellbeing and digital skills: “We help people see that there are different careers, offer work experience, talk about mental health issues, embrace inclusivity and diversity and help them manage their finances better.”

Reflecting on the experiences of women in financial services, Mackey believes “there is still improvement to be made and I would like to see a more inclusive and diverse workforce – it has improved a lot since I have been at Barclays, but we still need to do more to embrace different backgrounds.”

“We need diversity at all levels of our business”

Zainab Kwaw-Swanzy, the second Barclays colleague to be featured in the book, also addresses the need for an intersectional approach to inclusion in her interview.

“I have seen a drive to get more women into the financial services industry and into senior positions, and progress is happening,” she says. “We need to keep up the momentum but we also need to think about intersectionality. I still don’t see that many women of colour in senior positions. Better female representation within leadership will provide young women with relatable role models and show them that they can aspire to get to that stage.”

Kwaw-Swanzy, a Senior Digital Product Manager at Barclays UK and Co-Chair of the Barclays Black Professionals Forum, has achieved a huge amount since joining the bank in 2016 – from winning the Financial Services Rising Star of the Year category at the Black British Business Awards to writing a book.

“I have so many things that I am passionate about,” she explains. “Don’t feel you have to put yourself into a box – if you are passionate about something, do it.”

She hopes her efforts will inspire others in the industry – emphasising that diversity is crucial for business success. “I wasn’t aware of many Black women in this industry when I first started my career, so it is important that as I progress, I am visible to generations after me.

“We serve millions of customers – we need to cater to the needs of all of them. We need diversity at all levels of our business so that we have the right people in the right rooms to serve customers from all different backgrounds.”

We need diversity at all levels of our business so that we have the right people in the right rooms to serve customers from all different backgrounds.

Zainab Kwaw-Swanzy

Senior Digital Product Manager at Barclays UK and Co-Chair of the Barclays Black Professionals Forum

Barclays’ Zainab Kwaw-Swanzy

Barclays’ Zainab Kwaw-Swanzy says she hopes her career will inspire others.

"There is no such thing as failure"

Karla Maloof, who leads the International Corporate Banking coverage effort for Barclays’ Financial Institutions Group in the Americas, also says there is more to be done to “level the playing field and drive gender equity in the finance world” in her interview for The Female Lead.

But she also thinks that progress is being made in the industry. “The events of the last year have really challenged us all to have the courage to make changes and become intentionally more inclusive around talent,” she explains. “If you have a more inclusive workplace, business outcomes are not only better, but the path to achieving those outcomes are much richer.”

Improving gender diversity is a priority at Barclays – and the bank’s activities range from regularly tracking gender targets across the organisation to accelerate progress, to providing development opportunities like ex-officio roles, to building a pipeline of future senior leaders.

Maloof says that co-chairing Win, Barclays’ gender network, in the Americas “brings additional dimension” to the way she works with both colleagues and clients.

“Being able to connect with colleagues and clients with a common goal of achieving equity and balance in the workplace and in our communities is very exciting,” she says, emphasising the increasing opportunities for “more robust conversation.” 

So what career advice would the three colleagues give to young women? “Always be curious and ask questions,” says Maloof. “You are your own best advocate, so don’t be afraid to talk about your accomplishments and articulate your goals.”

In her interview, Mackey says women shouldn’t be afraid to take risks or “be ambitious and be bold”.

Kwaw-Swanzy, meanwhile, passes on a piece of advice from her school report when she was five. “My teacher wrote that I needed to learn that making mistakes is not failure. This is something that I try to tell myself every day. Imposter syndrome is real – especially if you are a Black woman in a space that isn’t super diverse.

“I often question if I am doing things right or doing things well enough. Every experience is a learning opportunity that we can grow from. There is no such thing as failure – just different experiences that help you change and adapt and better yourself for the future.”

Lead image credit: The Female Lead/Sane Seven