CitiGroup COO Cecilia Harvey Helping Women ‘Bring Fire’
Posted on June 16, 2015 by Tara McCollum
We are certainly lucky to be living in a time where young girls and women are often told that they can do and be anything. It’s a wonderful and empowering statement to hear, but one that doesn’t quite correlate into action. According to a recent study by the American Association of University Women, a nonprofit that promotes gender equality, the percentage of technology-related jobs held by women has actually fallen dramatically over the past two decades, leaving a huge sector of today’s workforce terribly under represented. Cecilia Harvey, however, is looking to take her 15 years of experience in the financial service industry and raise those falling numbers.
Harvey, chief operating officer for CitiGroup’s Markets and Securities Services Technology department in the company’s United Kingdom office, is very passionate about her job and the part she plays in the world of technology and business. Not one to shy away from a challenge, she also believes in paving the way for others, hoping not only to entice more women into the technology sector, but those of all walks of life, culture and experience.
“Being somebody who definitely benefited from lots of programs and input from great mentors along the way, it’s definitely something that I feel, not only within my role with CitiGroup but also just as somebody that’s been a leader, that it’s my responsibility to make sure that I am giving back and that I am able to pass my experiences that I’ve learned along the way to others that are coming up,” Harvey said.
With a long financial history that started in New York City with companies such as Lehman Brothers and Morgan Stanley, Harvey knew she was on the right track, but like any story in life, found herself approaching a road she never thought she’d end up traveling.
“When I first graduated from University, [Wellesley College], I certainly at that point in time never imagined that I would have a career working in technology,” Harvey recalled. “I left University and I started working on Wall Street and in fixed income derivatives and I knew that I wanted to work in finance and in terms of my career path, I was always uncertain whether I wanted to do management consulting or investment banking.”
Harvey eventually landed a job working Capital Market Management Consulting, for which a lot of the projects she was a part of were centered on operations and technology, utilizing her background in financial services. Applying her knowledge in different ways, such as assisting banks with implement technology solutions to help them grow their financial services business, made Harvey realize that she was on a new and exciting path.
“It wasn’t the master plan to join technology but what I found was, it was an incredibly dynamic career,” Harvey proclaimed. “I was able to do things that I continued learning about financial services but at the same time was a part of an industry, which was expanding, growing and very dynamic; quite a blessing, really.”
Harvey quickly made a name for herself in the industry and was presented with an opportunity to move to Europe and start a new chapter in her life.
“One should never be afraid to take a risk and really just give it a go and try something new, a completely different experience. At the time, I only knew of one person who lived in London, it was a former classmate of mine from Wellesley, and when I got here, it was pretty much starting fresh and it was a great opportunity and I think really the pivotal point in my career, where I think that, that opportunity allowed me to take on a role where I was given an incredible amount of responsibility,” Harvey recalled.
“I had wonderful managers, excellent sponsorship, in terms of the people that I was working for, and it was an opportunity that was only supposed to be for three months, a three-month project, and I knew that I wanted to stay in London and to really make this be the next chapter of my life and I’m very glad that I did so because that opportunity allowed me to really understand what it takes to start having a career that has so many global influences and how to manage a career in a very global industry,” she continued.
Now, seven years living in London and with no intention of leaving any time soon, Harvey insists it was the best move she could have made, encouraging others to take the chance if ever presented with such an offer.
“I think for anybody, having a career abroad is an amazing opportunity because it diversifies your CV [curriculum virate] and it allows you to have experiences working with people from different cultures and different backgrounds, that is absolutely invaluable in dealing with day to day business situations,” said Harvey, “I think that it really helps to shape you as an employee, to shape you as a manager, it’s really helpful in your leadership capabilities.”
Not discrediting the career she might have had if she had remained in the United States, Harvey instead looks at her move abroad as a testament to her character and strength of person.
“In terms of my personal experience, it was just such a stretch for me and I think that it made me be quite fearless to take on anything that was really thrown at me. I figured if I could move to a completely different country, knowing one person and getting a great job and really growing my career out here and really starting over and growing my support network, I felt like I could do anything,” Harvey stated. “So as new opportunities were given to me, I wasn’t afraid to take them on because I thought, you know what, if I can jump abroad and start anew then I felt I could just take on anything that was thrown at me.”
Established in her role at CitiGroup, Harvey has now taken steps toward working on another passion of hers, helping others.
“It’s definitely something that I find rewarding; the development of people is something that I am very passionate about, especially working in technology,” Harvey said. “To be making sure we’re doing everything that we can in order to have a diverse workforce and definitely be making sure that we’re doing what we can to encourage more women to enter careers within technology, I’m just very passionate about it.”
Harvey, with a great team behind her, is currently the strong force behind CitiGroup’s Global Diversity Initiative, in which their hope is to bring in prospective employers from all walks of life to enrich the working force. While Harvey works to promote diversity in the technology sector, she is steadfast in her belief that hard work alone is not enough if you want to make it far; that without a sense and belief of self, one is severely shorting themselves out of fantastic opportunities.
“In terms of challenges along the way, I think that everybody – and this is advice I try to give people – is that first of all you should never think of yourself as being different from anybody else. And that’s one of the most empowering things that I think that anyone can do, is that you’re entitled to the same opportunities as anybody else and I think that that change in mindset is very empowering,” Harvey said.
“I think the second thing that’s very important is that as you’re making your journey, definitely help other people along the way with their journey. To teach is to lead and to learn, and I think that that’s an important thing that people should always continue throughout their career. Not only are you helping somebody within their journey, but you’re also getting something out if it in terms of developing your leadership capabilities – and that’s a wonderful way to give back to an organization,” she added.
One of the initiatives Harvey has started is a program called Prometheus, a female talent pipeline development program that teaches women certain leadership skills through challenges that focus on management-type problems that an organization deals with on a daily basis. Through this program, women are not only learning invaluable skills that help them further their careers but also manage to build a network of support amongst each other, becoming friends instead of competitors.
“What we say is that Prometheus is simply a platform for you to take advantage of and to really empower yourself and develop your career,” Harvey said. “And that’s been amazing in that they’re doing it themselves, they’re empowering themselves and the confidence that develops is amazing to see. It’s quite a transformation to see them at the start of the program and at the end of the program and when they’re really into their challenges and they’re really driving change within an organization and they’re seeing the value that they’re adding and they’re really stretching themselves in a ways where they’re going beyond what they thought were their limits and that’s quite empowering.
“Prometheus was the titan in Greek Mythology and he advanced civilization by delivering fire to humans,” she continued. “He stole fire from the gods and delivered it to humans, so our tagline within Prometheus is, ‘Delivering Fire’ because that’s what these women are doing as they go through their challenges, as they’re implementing change or strategic initiatives within our organization, they’re delivering fire.”
Harvey and the women of the Prometheus initiative are all setting up a diversified future in the business of technology, something Harvey believes will only further advancements in society and tech.
“Diversity for any industry, any organization is something that is a benefit because you’re bringing together people of different backgrounds, different perspectives and different ideas to figure out how to solve problems,” she said. “Everybody thinking in different ways and challenging one another in order to deliver the best solution and I think that you get that the more diverse your organization is.”
Her goals don’t stop there though; Harvey never wants the program to stop. Just as she feels a responsibility to give back and help others move forward, her goal is to make sure that that fire she speaks of continues to be passed around. Lift each other up, she says, enrich yourself when you lend a hand.
“Continuing to develop the female talent pipeline and seeing these women, who started out in our first classes of Prometheus, and seeing them become senior management in our organization, seeing them become directors and managing directors and making sure that they’re doing the same thing in terms of giving back continues that spirit of Prometheus,” Harvey said.
“Where we really want to make sure that as people go through the program – you never leave Prometheus – although it may be a one-year program, you never leave it and you’re always a part of Prometheus and we wanted to do something where people know that within Citi, within our technology division, that there is a program like this and it’s something that makes women feel like, you know what, this is a great place to work,” she added.
When asked whether she sees the technology field becoming more diversified in the future, Harvey is nothing but optimistic, believing that programs and initiatives are already being put into motion to entice a more diverse employee base into an industry that itself is always evolving.
“You see it now, with all the programs that are underway globally to get more women and minorities into technology, I think that absolutely it’s something where over time we’re definitely going to see that those programs have definitely had an impact. We’re already seeing it with Prometheus,” Harvey said. “There’s so much going on right now, which I think is great, around getting young school girls and exposing them to those types of careers.
“Being in a field where you see the innovation; you see the change that’s coming about, where the work that you’re doing is actually helping to help organizations to grow, to get more clients, to have more reach, I think that that’s an amazing thing to be a part of. You’re actually helping to deliver change,” she added.
While Harvey works at CitiGroup on her everyday duties, whether in her London office or traveling throughout Europe and beyond, she also works on making a difference, using experience, talent and pure gut to help push forward anyone willing to do the same.
“The experiences that I’ve had – of course everybody has certain hesitations – but I think I’ve always thought to myself, ‘What is the worst that can happen?’ And honestly, when you think of it in a very rational way, what’s the worst that can happen? It’s not that bad,” Harvey mused. “When I do that, and I take that little bit of a jump and I remember that, and I think, well you know last time I did this and I took this risk and nothing happened, it actually turned out for the best. So every single time you take just a little bit of a risk, it makes you more confident … so why not go for it?”
In her fearlessness, Harvey brings the fire to herself, breaking both the mold and the stereotype that women tend to shy away from risks. And in doing so, brings Prometheus and the women who are a part of it the ability to continue passing the fire to other women and ultimately other diverse groups. The fundamental hope being that the fire Harvey sparked will spread its way to other organizations and become an initiative beyond CitiGroup.
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