With dreams of being the next Einstein, Crystal Downie never considered working in financial services technology, but a chance event opened her eyes to an industry she loves.
Fifteen years on and Crystal is an Executive Director at J.P. Morgan, with global responsibility for technology support across the investment bank’s markets trading businesses, overseeing a team of 100 people. She shares why more women should get into technology, how she champions inclusivity and her clever tip to boost confidence.
What it’s like to work in fintech
Halfway through completing a Master of Mathematics and Physics, Crystal went to an information night on technology careers in a global financial services firm.
“If I’m honest, I was very skeptical about careers within technology. I didn’t think I’d fit in to my perception of a male-dominated, hard-core programming environment. I never thought my skills would be of interest to a technology group,” But Crystal had a good discussion with a representative from the company and went on to take an internship position, which eventually led to a full-time position at the firm.
“I joined and discovered that I love the technology sector – it’s so fast-paced, there’s always something to learn and you’re an integral part of the organization.”
Crystal encourages women to be open to the idea of technology as a career path.
“It’s the way forward across all industries – you can be part of shaping the future.”
Setting career goals
Crystal’s career quickly took off, as she sought out new challenges and responsibilities.
“I’m very goal driven, and generally know what I want to achieve in one, two and three years’ time,” she explains.
“I’d encourage everyone to have career goals and actively think about the small steps you need to take to achieve them.”
Crystal joined J.P. Morgan last year, wanting to be part of their investment and growth in technology. She was also drawn to their culture of openness.
“Right from the very beginning of joining, there was a big emphasis on openly identifying process enhancements or areas of the firm’s practice where improvements can be made. It is something I have seen and am encouraged to speak openly, with people listening and action being taken.”
How to fake confidence
A lack of confidence can be a real barrier for women’s careers, Crystal believes, but she has a great tip for anyone struggling with this.
“I love visual aids, so if I’m in a situation where I need a confidence boost, whether it’s a job interview or an important meeting, I’ll pretend I’m the leading lady from an action film or TV series. This could be Daenerys Targaryen from Game of Thrones with three dragons sitting behind me or a superhero like Captain Marvel or Wonder Woman,”
“Anyone that says you are born a leader is wrong. It is something you learn and develop over time – believe in yourself; that you can do it.”
Tips for building inclusive teams
One of Crystal’s favorite parts of her job is working in a global business.
“I love dealing with people from different backgrounds and cultures. There are so many great ideas that come from working as a diverse group.”
A passionate advocate of inclusion, Crystal believes in making sure everyone feels they can be included by being their true self.
“From a very early age, I was excluded and learnt very quickly that if you looked, behaved or came from a different background you may not be included. Everyone has an unconscious bias – we all need to learn how to recognize and overcome it.”
For leaders wanting to build more inclusive teams, Crystal’s advice is to educate yourself on inclusion challenges encountered within your team, minority groups and encouraging open discussions.
“George Floyd’s murder has provoked a lot of open and honest dialogue, but leaders need to be continuing that dialogue and not just around race, but also things that were previously taboo, like mental health and issues that impact women such as the menopause. By breaking these taboos, you can help form a more inclusive environment.”
Becoming a mother
As much as having a family wasn’t something she planned, Crystal is grateful it’s happened for her, with her husband and two kids, aged 5 and 7, an important part of her life.
When navigating work and family responsibilities, Crystal’s advice is to have an open conversation with your manager on work arrangements that work for you and your family.
“When I joined J.P. Morgan, I had a discussion with my manager about being offered flexibility, so I would be able to pick up my kids from school – which I got,” she says.
“I’m careful to manage my day around my schedule. With COVID-19, my routine has changed, but I continue to have the flexibility around when I work, so that I’m able to spend time with my children.”
“It’s not about quantity on the number of hours worked, but quality and results achieved. Working smart and being organized is important, as is structuring the day to ensure you leave some time for YOU.”