Bethan: Hello and welcome to the BCU Alumni podcast. I'm Bethan, and in each episode, we welcome a different member of the alumni community back onto campus to find out what they've been up to since they graduated from BCU. Today we're joined by Pam Sheemar. After graduating from BCU with a BA in Government and Law, Pam has gone on to work her way up the ladder at NatWest, where she's now regional Enterprise Director for the Midlands and the East of England.
Alongside her role, she's also the director of Entrepreneur Engagement at Birmingham Tech, as well as a business mentor and coach and global co-chair of NatWest Multicultural Network.
In this episode, we're going to talk about what it takes to become a powerful woman in business, how to make contacts and get involved in initiatives, and what you need to successfully climb the career ladder.
So Pam, thanks so much for coming on to the podcast.
Pam: You're welcome.
Bethan: It was actually quite difficult to get everything that you do in your introduction. You do lots of different things. But in all seriousness, how do you actually do it all?
Pam: Oh, it's all linked together. So basically, making sure that all the parts join up. I am passionate about working with entrepreneurs, so from an entrepreneur's perspective, being a mentor, a coach directly links in with my role. And then Birmingham Tech is an awesome start-up so that directly links in as well.
Bethan: Okay, so let's rewind the clock then. You studied here in around the mid-nineties. So, what was it like to be a student in Birmingham at that time? And it wasn't that long ago, but the city has changed a lot since then.
Pam: Yeah, absolutely. So, I graduated in 1998, and that was at the Perry Barr campus, which was then, you see. So, it's a huge amount of change. We've just been walking around the amazing new facilities you've got here. So, loads of change, I guess, moving into the city. I think that's massive. I think from a strategic perspective, you’re where everything happens in Birmingham. So, I think that's a massive change. And also, I think the vibe of the University has changed. It's now global, and you get a real sense of that, and that's a real kind of positive as well. I'm really proud to be alumni. I think, you know, I always showcase the fact that I'm from BCU, and I've studied here. Yeah, I do attribute a lot of that to it.
Bethan: So, what was it like to study at Perry Barr then?
Pam: Oh, my God. It was different. Yeah, it's very different. So we had like the very nice One Stop across the road. That was where everyone went for their McDonald's, I think it was then. I was in Galton building, so I did Business Studies in there, and it was just it's just it's just a different vibe, you know? And when I graduated, I was absolutely delighted, so really happy. Good. Good times.
Bethan: That’s good. So, after graduating, then, what were those kind of like, first few, like, initial years? Like, I guess. Did you always know what it is that you wanted to go on and do, or did you find what kind of worked for you over time?
Pam: So, I think, I think when people say they have a very linear journey when they come out of uni, I think that can be a bit of a myth. I think what I call it is a bit of a squiggle career. Yeah. So, it's almost experimenting in terms of what do you enjoy. My, my degree was Government and Law.
Pam: And in those days, I think you had to look at a year as LPC, which was effectively really expensive to do. So, I guess I joined the bank to learn some skills, which then I could then go on to practice law or do law if that's what I wanted to do.
Pam: But actually, when I joined the bank I found that a lot of the skills and a lot of the key attributes that I learned at BCU were really transferable to banking. So that's why I ended up there.
Bethan: Okay. So, you've worked at NatWest in, I guess a series of different roles then. So what is it like to work within commercial banking then? And do you think the opportunities are there to be able to try different roles and responsibilities, and kind of work your way around?
Pam: Mm hmm. So, with banking, each department has its own, I'd say, culture, and its own kind of vibe and learning opportunity. So, I probably moved, I guess, about ten roles since I joined the bank.
Bethan: Oh, wow!
Pam: I know. So, I started off in mortgages, and that was very much learning a lot. I moved into communications, I did a few senior roles with some senior execs. It kind of gives you the strategy and the leadership skills.
Bethan: Mm hmm.
Pam: Moving to retail banking, I was actually local director as well, so leading the banking retail franchise in Wales and North Wales, and then also then moving into entrepreneurship and in between that, taking a stint doing some time in commercial banking, which is the larger businesses from 2 million turnover to 45 million turnover.
Pam: And then moving across to heading up the entrepreneurship team for the Midlands and east of England.
Bethan: So, I guess can you talk me through what your job involves now?
Bethan: And how is it that you actually, how were you able to actually really support kind of those local budding entrepreneurs as well?
Pam: So I think it's the best job. Honestly, what you're doing is you're basically helping people to bring their dreams to life. So, if someone's got an idea for a business, there's a place for that. Actually, how do you turn this idea into a business. Otherwise, it can be a really expensive hobby. So actually giving them the tools, a skill set, connect them with the right networks, the community, because it can be really lonely being an entrepreneur. So that's one stage of it. Then those businesses which are growing, but they don't know how to really scale. I mean, we've got one unicorn in the Midlands, which is Gymshark, but we've got loads of other businesses scaling really well. So again, sometimes the drivers are funding, sometimes the drivers don't connect to the right network, the board members. So my role is to unlock that with my team and the team, provide coaching, a lovely community space and also those mentorships and those kind of business relationships to make those businesses grow.
Bethan: Okay. So I mean, that's what I was trying to say earlier - that you do a lot in the time that you have. How is it that you switch off and like how do you kind of like take, you know, yourself out of work mode?
Pam: So, I love community work. So, I think switching off, I'm not sure like when I'm cooking, I think cooking, just helps me switch off. I made a chocolate concrete cake over the weekend.
Bethan: Oh, nice.
Pam: But I think I think for me it's even when it's my downtime, I'm still probably doing something. So once a month I support with a homeless feed every Friday in town by Dale End, I like to take staff with me. So that's always something. It kind of sounds like work, but it's actually downtime and I’m doing something for the community. You'll probably know that I’m a magistrate as well. So that's kind of yeah, kind of that comes into it as well. But yeah, downtime for me I think is probably cooking. That's my time to unwind. I should do, I should do gym... but it’s more cooking.
Bethan: So, you are a real inspiration for women here in Birmingham then climbing that career ladder. But have you ever had to kind of deal with the criticism or the setbacks, especially in an industry like banking? Are there lots of people who kind of look and sound like you or, you know, people with opposing opinions you might feel a bit different about?
Pam: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. So financial services traditionally have been male-dominated industries. So, I think finding a place and finding your voice in those places can be challenging. So, I have had to navigate kind of the boardroom, you know, where you're the only female. And then secondly, probably the only diverse person in the room.
Pam: So that can be a challenge. I think the important thing is to kind of be your authentic self and bring your real skills to work. I think there's nothing better than proving that you can actually do the job and making that known. But also, I think the value of mentors, I think it's really, really important that, you know, you find a mentor, you have mentors who can actually help in those situations and help you kind of navigate that now, I think is changing now. I think there's a lot more kind of diversity in terms of gender balance in a lot of financial institutions. And if you think about Birmingham, for example, you know, often I look in the window and it doesn't reflect what's outside of the window, you know, so I think there's a lot of work to be done in terms of reflecting the communities we serve from a gender perspective or from an ethnic perspective.
Pam: It has been a challenge. But I'm really proud in terms of, you know, being able to kind of break some of those glass ceilings and barriers.
Bethan: So on that point then, you are part of NatWest Multicultural Network. So, I guess how important is it for you to be part of making banking more diverse and inclusive then?
Pam: Oh, amazing. Very important. So, the Global Culture position was something that you were elected to by the staff. There are three global co-chairs. We have 19 strands, which includes USA, India, Poland, Jersey, Guernsey and the whole of the whole of the kind of country nationally. So, it's 19 strands. Yeah. And then every couple of months we have a direct dialog with Paul White and Scott McCall, who are basically our exact sponsors.
Pam: What that enables us to do is actually say, where are the hotspots and how do you move the dial? So I think that's really, really important. I mean, one of the things I'm really proud of is I lead the Culture and Educate pillar. So, what that means is actually let's not just kind of celebrate, but let's also learn about culture and make that a more kind of educational piece. And I think that's worked really well, especially for career development, for a lot of the members. There's over 20,000 members in the Global Multicultural Network and I’m really proud of it. And further to kind of your question earlier, I helped design the Career Accelerator, and the Career Accelerator was a piece of work which was designed to help people – staff, progress in their careers, where they are from different backgrounds and from both genders and different ethnicities or intersectionality. So, I'm really proud that's been rolled out.
Bethan: Okay. So, what advice would you give then to current students or fellow graduates who are thinking about getting into banking themselves?
Pam: I'd say definitely do it. I think the misconception is that banking is just kind of a branch like – you’ve just got the front of house. That's what we see, isn’t it, when you think of a bank?
Pam: But actually think of banks as a whole organisation that will have HR departments and media departments. We’ve got our own comms, we’ve got cyber security teams, we’ve got front-facing relationship managers, a team that leads entrepreneurship. So, I definitely would consider it as a career and I think the BCU courses here and the degrees, they give a huge, massive platform to be able to join banking. So definitely do it.
Bethan: Okay. What I love about you is that you actually still practice law because you are a magistrate.
Bethan: What does that kind of entail then? And also, what is it really like to have so many different aspects of your career?
Pam: I think I love the Magistrar. I've been doing it for about seven years. Yes, I sit on the crime bench, I was there on Saturday. So, the way I kind to fit that in is I tend to do kind of once a month or once every three to six weeks.
Pam: So we've kind of 3 to 6 weeks rotations. I think it's really important that you give back. And I think at the magistrates you're effectively administrating justice, but you're from the community, in the community that you're serving. I think it's a huge responsibility. You know, you're responsible for people's lives, you know, responsible for what's going to happen to their families. I think it's a huge amount to take on board, but I really enjoy it because there's days when you walk out of there and I think, you know what, I’ve really made the right decision.
Pam: So, I think it’s important. To be honest, doing law, I think I was really keen to make sure I still did something in that. So we, as magistrates, we don't really give any - I guess we're not the legal advisors. The legal advisors give the legal advice, but we have sentencing guidelines that we use and we work with the legal advisor, but that does help you give that kind of context and background information.
Pam: But it's amazing and I think it's something that I'm really proud of.
Bethan: Okay, so this is something we like to do in every episode then- a Birmingham quickfire round. Are you actually from Birmingham?
Pam: Yes. Born and bred in Birmingham.
Bethan: Okay. Would you rather go to Snobs or Pop World then?
Bethan: Do you not like cheesy music? Blues or Villa?
Pam: Oh, Baggies.
Bethan: Oh, interesting. West Brom. Would you rather go to Broad Street or Digbeth?
Pam: Oh, Digbeth.
Bethan: Oh really?
Bethan: Where are your kind of favourite places to go in Digbeth?
Pam: The Custard Factory.
Bethan: Oh, I love the Custard Factory.
Pam: It’s smart isn’t it.
Bethan: Yeah. Where is your favourite, like Brummie landmark?
Pam: Oh, Floozie in the Jacuzzi.
Bethan: Floozie in the Jacuzzi!
Pam: See, only a Brummie would know that.
Bethan: Yeah, if you know the Floozie in the Jacuzzi, then you know where it is.Yeah. Although you can't access it at the moment can you? It's like, I think, isn't it closed down or something?
Pam: I think so, I think she's having a redress or refresher isn’t she.
Bethan: Yeah. Bless her. She’ll be back working soon, won’t she. And your best Brummie word?
Bethan: Bab. Such a classic. You can't go wrong with bab.
Pam: You can't. Can you, bab?
Bethan: So, you've been selected as one of our Industry Icons at this year's Alumni Festival. So, what does that mean to you?
Pam: Oh, my God. It's extremely humbling. Honestly, I think being an alumni and being born in Birmingham and having gone to BCU, I think is just really humbling. And, you know, thank you for the opportunity. I think it's great. I'm going all shy now. You can tell. But it’s humbling, it's really great. Thank you.
Bethan: A final question then, if you could go back to your very first day here at BCU - so what year would that be, ‘95?
Pam: Yeah, giving my age away.
Bethan: So, what is the one piece of advice that you would give yourself if you could go back to that?
Pam: I would say get involved in as much as you can because I think the University has so much to offer. And unless you ask, you don't know. Unless you do, you won't get involved. Yeah. So I think just submerge yourself because you're never going to have the university experience again. So just go for it.
Bethan: Pam, thanks so much for coming by today and coming on to the podcast – It’s been so nice to talk to you.
Pam: You’re welcome.
Bethan: It’s been lovely to talk all about, you know, your journey and also so thank you and hope to see you again very soon.
Pam: Lovely. Thank you so much.