“Say yes to every opportunity that comes your way even if it seems daunting” Aisling Press, Managing Director Personal Banking, Danske Bank
As an enthusiastic and energetic banking professional, Aisling Press credits some of her success to the mentors who believed in her leadership capabilities more than she did. Today, she gives back as a board member and vice-chair of SistersIN, an initiative designed to help girls discover their potential and build their confidence.
I grew up in Northern Ireland and after I finished my A-levels, I went straight into an entry level banking role rather than to university. At this stage I didn’t imagine I might have a flourishing leadership career. However, I held a natural curiosity and a thirst for learning and I continuously sought out learning opportunities including a series of Institute of Banking qualifications.
Just a short time before I left school the ‘marriage bar’ still existed, meaning women had to leave work when they got married. As a result there were very few senior females in banking. It was a case of ‘I couldn’t be what I couldn’t see’. I was first struck by the possibility that I could achieve more than I thought when one of my mentors encouraged me to apply for his job when he was moving on. I was taken aback by his confidence in my ability. He had seen something in me I hadn’t seen in myself.
Male allies were an important enabler throughout my career, helping me rise through the bank. One encouraged me to take a Masters qualification when I was balancing work with three young children. I wasn’t sure I could manage it but his faith in me motivated me to say yes. This educational opportunity and the networking opportunities it provided built my confidence and removed some of the imposter syndrome I experienced from time to time.
I turned to the IoD to professionalise my board and directorship learning and when I was ready to dial into leadership learning from sectors outside of banking. Membership allows me to access people with a broad range of experiences and perspectives who can support me personally and professionally. The training is excellent and I have undertaken both the Certificate and Diploma in Company Direction. Through these I have met leaders from different cultures, backgrounds and industries who have enabled me to understand that so many business challenges are common to all sectors.
In a recent conversation with my grown up daughter she described me as her ‘role model’. This reassured me that my children hadn’t missed out while I was working full time, but it also made me realise the importance of girls having inspiration close to home. Perhaps this was why I was delighted to be asked to take on the role of vice chair for SistersIN.
SisterIN is an educational initiative to build confidence in sixth form girls to broaden their career perspectives and ensure they reach their potential. It’s an eight month leadership programme which originally piloted in 10 schools and now, just a year later reaches almost 400 girls across 30 schools. Our ambition is to make this programme available to every girl over 16 years across Northern Ireland and we have a vision to take the programme to other countries where young girls have even fewer opportunities.
My experience has taught me that self-belief is almost as important as hard work. If I hadn’t been encouraged to aim higher, I might not have achieved as much. I would advise young people just starting out in their career to create a professional network that will support and challenge in equal measure, to seek out honest feedback, and act on it. And to say yes to every opportunity that comes your way even if it seems daunting; everybody has felt doubt at some stage so dig deep and find your courage.