Simone Cooper – Head: Business and Commercial Banking, Standard Bank South Africa
Simone Cooper, a seasoned professional in the financial services sector, has carved a remarkable career path at Standard Bank by rising above the noise and breaking barriers along the way. With her strong leadership, resilience, and commitment to empowering women, Simone has not only achieved personal success but has also had a significant impact on the company’s success and the advancement of women in the workplace.
Simone’s introduction to the financial services sector was not by design but rather a fortuitous discovery. While studying Commerce at university, she was drawn to Standard Bank’s renowned graduate programme. This decision set the stage for a diverse and fulfilling career within the institution with roles spanning the consumer and business banking segments and risk management.
These experiences have exposed her to the complex problems faced by African businesses and the challenging environments they operate within.
Through fresh thinking and innovative solutions, Simone has honed her skills as a problem solver, critical thinker, and integrator, while developing resilience in the face of adversity.
“To rise above the noise and get to where I am today in my career, took resilience. I understood early on that working for a financial institution is no easy feat, we operate in a very challenging environment that could become overwhelming; however, with the right mindset and attitude, you learn to build resilience and keep going. No matter the challenge, you rise to the occasion to try and find a solution”.
Rising above the noise
For Simone, rising above the noise means overcoming negativity and transforming the seemingly impossible into reality. She has applied this mindset throughout her career, understanding that the financial services industry, with its strict regulatory environment and myriad of challenges, requires unwavering resilience. Simone believes that it is particularly important for women in leadership positions to rise above the noise because they are often underestimated due to gender biases.
By refusing to let negativity and assumptions hold them back, women can unlock their true potential and contribute their incredible creativity and innovation to the world.
In Simone’s view, rising above the noise in the context of empowering women in the workplace involves dispelling biased beliefs about women’s capabilities as leaders. By providing support and creating opportunities for women, organisations can empower them to achieve outstanding results, thereby challenging the narrative and promoting equality. Simone has personally witnessed the benefits of having empowered women in her organisation. The most successful organisations embrace diversity, and empowering women brings unique perspectives, fresh thinking, and innovative solutions to the table. With women in leadership roles, Standard Bank has built a competitive advantage, attracting and retaining significant market share.
“I think it’s most important for women in leadership to “rise above the noise” since women are often underestimated due to our inherent “softness and compassion” that is wrongfully assumed to be a weakness. It’s actually one of our greatest strengths, but if women let the negativity and those kinds of assumptions get to them, then they will never realise their true potential and what they are capable of.”
Vulnerability and empathy in leadership
Vulnerability and empathy, according to Simone, play crucial roles in effective leadership. To create a successful team that is collectively focused on a common purpose, trust among team members is essential. Simone fosters this trust by demonstrating vulnerability and empathy in her own leadership style. By being transparent, and seeking different perspectives, she cultivates an environment where every team member feels comfortable and valued. This approach allows for the effective leveraging of each team member’s strengths, leading to optimal performance and the achievement of Standard Bank’s purpose of driving Africa’s growth.
“Excellent leadership is all about getting the best out of people and enabling individuals to come together and work as a team, collectively focused and driven to achieve a common purpose. To me, vulnerability and empathy are traits that build the foundation of trust which results in effective teamwork. If individuals do not feel safe to be vulnerable and trust their colleagues, then they will not contribute wholeheartedly and work as a unit.”
Advice to younger women
Reflecting on her own journey, Simone would advise her younger self to be kinder and less self-critical. While competitiveness and striving for excellence are important, it is equally important to learn from others and recognise that not being the best at everything is acceptable.
To young women embarking on their careers, Simone advises them not to be afraid to carve their own paths and break the mould. Bravery and embracing unique perspectives are key to achieving great things in life.
For women aspiring to leadership roles in male-dominated industries, Simone encourages them to believe in themselves, invest in their own development, and not be swayed by prejudiced opinions. By focusing on their ambitions, drowning out negativity, and proving their capabilities, women can earn their place as leaders and gain the respect of their male counterparts. In doing so, they pave the way for future generations of women leaders.
“There are many women who have come before us and helped change the way women are viewed and treated over time. We have earned our seat at the table, and young women should never be afraid to break the mould, speak up and do things differently.”
Simone Cooper’s journey serves as a powerful testament to rising above the noise, embracing diversity, and empowering women in leadership. Through her resilience, compassion, and determination, Simone has become a role model and catalyst for positive change within Standard Bank and the financial services industry.
“Women have so much to offer, and if we let the nay-sayers win then we do a huge disservice to the teams we lead, to our country and to our continent. Let us ‘rise above the noise’ and shape the world for our future daughters.”