• Laura Hay, Leadership |

When a person faces an unjust world, one might ask, “Do I need to change to deal with the world, or should the world deal with me?”  That question came up during my recent conversation with Standard Chartered senior executive Tracey McDermott.

It’s a great point because, while women must take steps to breakdown barriers, the world also needs to change to make things easier, through both supportive leaders and systemic change to create greater inclusion.

And while I learned that this litigation-trained Group Head of Conduct, Financial Crime and Compliance still likes a “good debate” – including a boardroom level rethink of workplace norms – Tracey believes that battles are ultimately won by finding allies and engaging in real conversations in the side chambers.

From feisty to friendly conversation

From Tracey’s light-hearted tone, you may not guess that she enjoys the occasional skirmish, until she describes her history as a London litigation lawyer. Her determined instinct was partly fuelled by bias she faced as the product of a comprehensive school in northern England “Issues around class were a bit of an obstacle, I was once told that there was a concern in a job interview that clients would not take me seriously because of my accent,” recalls Tracey. She adds that, like many women, she’s also had employers ask if she was ‘serious about her career’ if marriage or parenthood occurred.

“That’s the sort of thing that could easily demoralize you, but I was quite feisty, and I was pretty forthright in calling out those comments,” says Tracey. “Sometimes I made a bit of a joke of them, but I wouldn’t let them pass by.”

Despite her battle-ready spirit, Tracey decided to move to in-house counsel to have a greater impact: “I realized that, as a litigation lawyer, we get involved after things have gone wrong. I wanted to shift direction so that I could influence outcomes, rather than just manage them at the end.”

Things happened quickly – and opened Tracey’s eyes – when she applied for a role at the UK’s newly formed Financial Services Authority. While scanning the job description enroute to the interview, Tracey realized she had little of the expected industry experience. “It was too late to pull out, so I thought, ‘Well, it’ll be a good practice interview,’” laughs Tracey. {Sidebar: A landmark 2014 study by Hewlett Packard showed that women typically only apply for jobs if they have 100 per cent of the prerequisites, whereas men apply with 60 percent of those qualifications.1}

To Tracey’s surprise, she aced the interview and ended up working 15 years at the regulator. “Looking back, I did well in that interview, partly because I was relaxed and I just spoke freely. However, what really made the difference was that I was interviewed by two men who made me feel comfortable, they were really open, and we just had a very good conversation.” At that point, Tracey realized the importance of allies and role models, which were refreshingly commonplace at the FCA, where many women held senior positions.

Turning obstacles into allies

Throughout her career, Tracey has confronted obstacles by finding – or making – allies. She explains that, “Rather than only being the person in the room banging the drum about injustice, if a person shows non-inclusive behavior, I approach that individual afterwards. A lot of times, people don’t know they are doing it or they actually think they are being helpful. If so, I might enlist their help by saying, ‘This thing really makes me uncomfortable, so next time, could you please keep an eye out for it, and help me deal with it, by doing this or that?’”

Tracey has found that, these days, an increasing number of peers are willing to be allies, but they don’t know how. “In that case, I suggest that you actually talk with persons from that underrepresented group, whether it’s a woman, a member of a minority community or whoever, and ask them what they might find helpful.” For example, a soft-spoken colleague might have a hard time making herself heard in a boisterous meeting. Knowing that, as an ally, you could speak up and ask, “Mary, I’d like to hear your view on this issue.”

Tracey particularly likes allyship, and the 2022 International Women’s Day theme of ‘Break the Bias’, since it doesn’t put the onus on the individual victim of injustice. Rather, it calls upon everyone to help change the world. “For a long time, there was an assumption that some people aren’t succeeding because of something they need to do differently. Actually, it’s not the fault of the person on the receiving end of the bias. Instead, everyone else needs to understand and break their biases so as to empower that individual. That way we can help everyone to achieve their full potential.”

At this point in our conversation, Tracey’s feisty nature emerges: “If we want to make real change, we do need to break some things we are doing. That means making things uncomfortable for all sorts of people, probably even including me.” She opines that, “Gender parity will depend on all of us thinking very differently about the way we work and changing traditional views on career progression. With many of us now having multiple careers, or taking time away to raise children, we need to realize that judging people by age, or time spent in the office, are outmoded concepts, and we need to accept that career paths aren’t going to be linear – that’s the real way we get to parity.”

So going back to the age-old question of “Change oneself or change the world?” Tracey’s willing to refine her own behavior and convince others to change their spots. And she continues to influence outcomes with humor, sincere facts and gentle persuasion.

More about Tracey McDermott: Standard Chartered is a leading international banking group, with a presence in 59 of the world’s most dynamic markets and serving clients in a further 85. Tracey joining the Bank as Group Head of Corporate, Public and Regulatory Affairs in March 2017, subsequently adding  Brand and Marketing to her portfolio, and later Compliance  (later renamed as Conduct, Financial Crime and Compliance). aPrior to joining the Bank, Tracey served as Acting Chief Executive of the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), having joined in 2001 and fulfilled numerous senior roles, including Board Member, member of the Financial Policy Committee of the Bank of England, and Non-Executive Director of the Prudential Regulatory Authority (PRA). Previously, Tracey worked as a lawyer in private practice in the UK, US and Belgium. In 2016, Tracey received a CBE (Commander of the Order of the British Empire) for her services to financial service consumers and markets. She is a member of the International Regulatory Strategy Group (IRSG) Council; and chairs the Conduct and Ethics Committee of the Fixed Income, Currencies and Commodities (FICC) Markets Standards Board (FMSB).  She is on the advisory committee of 25 x25 and the Steering Committee of the 30% Club.



1 Harvard Business Review, Hewlett Packard internal report, August 25, 2014: https://hbr.org/2014/08/why-women-dont-apply-for-jobs-unless-theyre-100-qualified

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