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We Rise By Lifting Others

A proud South Londoner of Bangladeshi and Irish heritage, Joy Crookes is a multihyphenate artist shaped by a rich tapestry of influences. She’s a singer-songwriter and multi instrumentalist. In 2020, Joy made the prestigious BRITS Rising Star Award shortlist, as well as placing fourth on the BBC Sound Poll, and headlining ‘ones to watch’ lists from YouTube Music, Amazon Music, MTV Push, NME and beyond. Renowned for her live performances, Joy has played Glastonbury, BBC Radio 1’s Big Weekend and Later…With Jools Holland, as well as selling out her own headline tours across the UK and Europe.


Susan Yau

Susan Yau is a Senior Audit Manager for HSBC and has managed and led audits focusing on Commercial Banking for Europe, Middle East and Asia. The audits are across multiple risk areas including Financial Crime, Fraud and Sustainability risks.


"I want to make sure that people from all backgrounds have access to finance, understand their career choices and can work at it from a younger age."


Sponsor Susan S K YAU HSBC for The Female Lead by Sane Seven small.jpg

I was born and raised in Middlesbrough. Life was hard, a lot of people didn’t have jobs. It became known for crime, anti-social behaviour and drugs. At Primary School, in my class of 30, I was one of two people to go to university. Growing up I didn’t have role models. I wasn’t taught about anyone that looked like me in my school lessons, so how could I be like them?


I was one of three - I have an older sister and a younger brother - and we were bullied in school. My parents faced abuse at home. It was really tough and quite stressful. We tried our best in very difficult circumstances. We helped each other as much as possible.


As a child I was curious and very independent. I remember always taking my toys apart and putting them back together again because I liked learning about how they worked.


We were encouraged to be independent. My parents didn’t speak English, so we had to be translators for them. We translated medical problems to the doctors. We translated letters from the council. We constructed flat pack furniture because we were the only ones who could understand the instructions. I learnt early on that adults don’t always know what they’re doing. I learnt to stand up to people when things weren’t right.


My mum is the woman who inspired me most. My parents had a tough time not speaking English. I used to find it embarrassing watching her trying to mime in conversations, but it taught me that it doesn’t matter how people see you.


I wanted to be a personal assistant when I grew up. I had such a limited frame of reference. Nobody I knew worked, apart from my parents and teachers, so I had no idea what careers were out there. Being a PA seemed cool. You could travel with your boss, and type up meeting notes. I imagined it would be The Devil Wears Prada, with me as Anne Hathaway! Little did I know that I would end up being the boss. I would be the one travelling country to country, speaking in meetings, and expecting people to answer when I asked them questions.


I was lucky enough to study in one of the best universities in the country. I studied Mathematics at Imperial College London. During school and sixth form I found Maths pretty easy, but at university it was really tough. In my second year I was on a 2:2. Lots of companies were reaching out to students about graduate schemes, but you had to be on a 2:1 to get onto one. I realised if I wanted to get on a grad scheme, I would have to achieve a top mark in my third year. I remember crying because I thought it was impossible. But there were no do-overs and my parents didn’t have the money for me to do another degree. I looked in the mirror and thought: “Ten years from now when I look back on this moment, I will regret not doing everything in my power to raise my grades.” I had seven months of study time and I pulled out all the stops.

I worked from 8am-9pm six days a week for seven months. I achieved the grade, I got a graduate job, and that was my foothold into the banking sector.


I moved through working life in the financial sector in London. I worked in Hong Kong for a while and then I transferred back to London. I travelled to various countries as part of my work. I just said yes to opportunities.

My current role at HSBC as a Senior Audit Manager is to ask questions and try to break things, so I can see where we need improvement. I love how varied my job is. I’ve never had one audit that’s the same as another. I like finding new ways for the bank to improve. There’s always room for improvement.


In my personal life, I volunteer with the Samaritans and answer calls from people who are battling the darkest moments of their life. Through this, I learnt about how abusers were using bank payments to bully victims. The bullying landscape has changed a lot in a short period of time. Unlike bullying through social media platforms, where the victims can block the accounts of the abuser, bank payments can’t be blocked as easily. The abuser makes transactions to the victim with nasty comments in the text field. As well as the hurt it causes the victim, these comments showing up in bank statements can lead to banks refusing mortgage applications which can impact someone’s financial independence.


Intrigued by what I’d learnt, I thought, ‘does this really happen?’ I began looking for bullying messages in bank payments at HSBC. I found thousands of hits. I raised this to the senior management team who were just as shocked as I was. Within weeks we put together a task force to take action on the issue. A few months later, the topic was discussed in an industry wide meeting. The banks agreed to work on a solution together. My decision to volunteer led to a tiny idea that led to industry and global change.


In terms of gender equality, the finance industry is changing for the better, but it’s slow. When I first started working, ‘business attire’ for women meant your heels had to be a certain length and you had to wear makeup. Women felt guilt around whether they should choose their career or their family. This is slowly changing. HSBC runs training on gender bias, and finds ways to support women.


Having more diversity in the workplace brings different ideas. It changes banks for the better. There’s a lot more balance between men and women early in their careers, like during graduate schemes. However, the women that move into senior roles become fewer and fewer as they make choices in their life to look after their families. I now hear more discussions on how to make it normal for women to be able to balance work and family life, for example so that women can bring their children in to breastfeed, and then go to a meeting afterwards. You can have both, it’s just a matter of making these small changes.


Too many women doubt themselves. And it’s a vicious cycle - women doubt themselves and then they don’t get the job, then they doubt themselves some more. This has to stop. The sky's the limit. We are only limited by our imaginations. I want to keep building on what I have. I want to improve the banking industry as a whole. I want to make sure that people from every background have access to finance, and understand their career choices early on so they can work at it from a young age. There’s a huge number of careers out there, especially in the finance sector.

I learnt early on that adults don't always know what they're doing. I learnt to stand up to people when things weren't right. 

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