02 March, 2023
#33 Portrait of a woman in finance: Désirée Verhelst
- Can you shortly present your role as today in the organisation (in 1 sentence)?
In my current challenge in the Commercial team at Marsh as ‘Financial Institutions and Financial services champion’, I am responsible to ensure that in our account management and new client discussions, we put our FULL scope of services, solutions and experts at the disposition of this challenging client segment. I work across the full ‘risk scope’ from analytics and advisory to insurance, from property and liability to employee and investment risk, with our team of experts in Belgium and across the continent, to connect our clients with the most relevant expertise in a sector for which risks (operational, regulatory, digitalisation…) are fast evolving.
- What brought you to finance ?
I coincidentally rolled into my first job in credit insurance broking after I graduated. Where I thought it would be a temporary stop, the new projects, clients and solutions kept on challenging me and I always wanted to learn more, which set me me on a journey into insurance and specifically credit, finance and today financial institutions and their very specific risk profile. I haven’t been bored one second and keep on learning every day!
- What did you learn recently regarding gender equality ?
Throughout my entire career I have felt that gender equality only exists where colleagues, male and female, work together in respect for each other’s professional capabilities, and see that these are note related to gender. I’ve had the honour to work with some strong male managers who genuinely respected their female team members for their work and who have always cheered me on in my career even when I was going through the hard time of taking care of two small babies while trying to keep the work side going. When I needed to re-balance things, working part time for a couple of years, they’ve been supportive and believed it would help me become the best version of myself in my career. Perhaps I’ve been lucky in that regard, but I know that those great men are out there and can achieve great things! More recently, I have started experiencing what it means to work with a female CEO and I now report to a female manager at Marsh. After years of working in a male-dominant environment I do feel it takes away the doubt I sometimes still had about whether it would really be possible to build a great career as a woman, to really take up a role in strategy and decision-making. Today I have the female role models I didn’t have in the first years of my career and it really gives a feeling of confirmation that I can achieve whatever I aspire. It has certainly boosted my personal belief.
- What was one of the decisions that had the most impact on you or your career?
I think it was the moment where, through a mentorship program, I decided I needed to speak up and voice my personal aspirations. I think that is where many women still fail… I did for years… not considering our own aspirations and ideas important enough to voice them, thinking that if you’ve missed another job appointment, it’s probably because you weren’t good enough to be considered. The crucial point for me was when I realised I wasn’t missing out because I wasn’t good enough but because I wasn’t speaking up that I had such aspirations. The moment I did speak up, my employer was very fast in picking up the signals and doing something with it!
- What would you tell your younger self ?
I’d tell myself that failure is OK, it’s the best way to learn. You only come out stronger!
- Any message to share with female students interested in finance, or with young women starting their career?
Be open for everything that comes on your path, take each opportunity to learn – read all materials you can get your hands on, open eyes and ears to observe experienced colleagues, find role models in every phase of your career but in the end… be yourself, be genuine: once you dare to get to that point, you feel you can really start to have fun and be the best version of yourself!
Interviewed by: Wendy Baeyens