< All articles

17 March, 2023

#40 & #41: Portrait of two women in finance: Khatleen Pauwels & Inge Donders

Can you shortly present your role today in the organization (in 1 sentence)​?

K: Within BNP Paribas Fortis, I am head of the Client Service Center, an entity within the Bank in charge of contracting, after-sales and transactional services across all banking domains (Invest, Credits, Financial Security/AML, Daily banking,…) and this for individual persons as well as entrepreneurs and small/mid/large enterprises. I am also a member of the Executive Cttee of BNP Paribas Fortis.

I: I am Team coach private banker in Antwerp as well as the president of MixCity Belgium. MixCity being the network in the bank that advances gender equality.


- What brought you to finance ?​

K: Curiosity…before I joined the Bank in 2007, I was actually very happy with my former employer in a non-financial industry. I had nice colleagues, a challenging responsibility, international interactions,… I was not looking for a new job elsewhere at all. However when I was asked by the Bank to work on a big merger in the financial sector, with cultural differences to manage, I was instantly triggered by the challenges that this would bring and the related interesting learning curve for me. Hence, I took the jump in the unknown world of a new sector and I haven’t regretted it since as the Finance sector - contrary to popular belief – contains a variety of expertise domains going from pure economically and commercially driven roles to project management, IT development, sustainability experts, etc., so -if you’re open to it- you can get a taste of many flavors within 1 career.

I: The bank was and still is my only employer. I started right after university because I really wanted a job and the bank is known to be a top recruiter. Was it the job of my dreams then? No, but it has been a very interesting and happy journey since.


- What did you learn recently regarding gender equality ?​

K: I learned that gender equality is certainly not a pure mathematical exercise to complete…it is touching hearts and minds of everyone in an organization to get things moving… touching hearts and minds of everyone to act towards the needed change…a true belief that men and women bring diversity in ideations, in problem solving, in decision making, in teamwork and through that it can create stronger results. It is about having guts and walking the talk. Being transparent about the progress and related challenges in order to make it a company-driven and bottom-up/top-down supported ambition.

I: Gender equality is not only about numbers, it is about establishing a cultural change in which everybody can be their authentic self. And that’s the challenge, in our company as well.


- What was one of the decisions that had the most impact on you or your career? ​

I: Becoming a mother was life changing. Obviously it had an impact on my career. I made choices to make sure I had a better work life balance and I still stand firm behind these choices. Being a mum makes me a more balanced person. It is the biggest joy in my life. That doesn’t make me any less capable, motivated or ambitious. In addition to that, I would like to share something a friend told me lately. The obstacles that you encounter in your career path are not necessarily a bad thing. They can be a gift to move you in a different direction and learn along the way. So sometimes – after an obstacle  – I took a different path in my career. Looking back, those decision were often the best ones I made over the years.

K: The most impactful event for my personal development (and hence my career) was deciding to become a parent and raising my 2 wonderful though highly energetic kids. They are part of my development as a leader: they make me put things in perspective, they drive me to make certain choices, they co-develop my softskills and - with my daughter more than with my son - are often a mirror of myself on how you interact with others. Another impactful decision was the decision to leave my comfort zone of IT Resource and Vendor Mgt after 12yrs to switch to a new job within the Bank where both the content as the direct and indirect stakeholders were unknown to me. I had to fully believe that my strengths would guide me in this uncertain jump. I am quite convinced that I wouldn’t be performing my current role if I hadn’t made this move.


- What would you tell your younger self ?​

I: Be kinder to yourself. Society tells us very often that we – as women – have to be perfect in all aspects of our live. It is still a personal challenge to not be that tough on myself. It’s a work in progress…

K: I would tell her to invest in Apple and Lotus Bakery shares😉 and to do more sports…

More closely related to professional development I would advise her to study and work a few years on other continents because managing cultural differences is so enriching in today’s society. I would also tell her to be more patient as good ideas & decisions often come after some in-depth reflection time.


- Any message to share with female students interested in finance, or with young women starting their career?​

K: If you look up Finance in a dictionary it states “the management of large amounts of money, especially by governments or large companies”. Behind this sentence lies a whole set of competences to explore, so we definitely don’t look for Finance experts or Commercial engineers only. Our sector needs strong, curious and genuine young female graduates to develop our Business which besides economic challenges is also facing more and more other challenges like sustainability, social inclusion, ageing, technological evolutions, etc.

Don’t hesitate to jump into the unknown and during this journey surround yourself with people that support you in your personal & professional life (your partner, friends, parents,…) and never think that kids are a setback in your career as they are a mirror of yourself that can only help you grow!

 

I: I’ ll be brief: don’t make yourself smaller to please others. Stand out & speak up!

Discover all the stories on the Women in Finance Instagram page.