Debbie Phillips is Head of Campaigns at NatWest Group working across proactive media and public affairs campaigns. She leads the bank’s 13,000 strong women's network, creating opportunities for colleagues to grow and learn together.
Debbie Phillips
Debbie Phillips
Natwest Group

She is passionate about the impact that coaching and mentoring can have and won the Patricia Mann 2020 WACL Future Leader Award. Outside of work she volunteers with BLOOM, is a founding member of the Allbright Club, a Brownie Guide leader and soon-to-be podcaster.

Debbie has been nominated for the 2020 Future Leader Award.

How does it feel to be shortlisted for the Future Leaders Award?

It’s an incredible honour that I’m still blown away by – especially when I see the other amazing women who’ve been nominated. I still feel like I’m at the beginning of my career so to be shortlisted is a huge achievement.

What has been the most challenging part of your career to date, and how did you overcome the challenges?

A few years ago I had a really serious accident that left me in intensive care for 2 weeks and off work for 3 months. While it wasn’t the thing that caused my accident, I realised now that a major contributor was that I had burn out.

It was massive wake-up call and I realised I had been guilty of letting life happen to me and not taking control of it. That all changed after my accident. I started taking better care of my mental health by making some small changes starting by focussing on my resilience. That has meant prioritising exercise and sleep (no matter how busy work gets), setting and respecting my own boundaries and, most importantly, moving to compressed hours at work.

I’m very open with my team that I do all of this to help my mental health and I’ve found that by being open myself, people are more willing to come and talk to me about their own issues.

You’ve led on PR campaigns for NatWest with a gender lens in mind, can you tell us more about this process?

There’s a lot of data showing that we live in a world explicitly designed for men and banking is no different. Our research found that whilst men and women hold roughly the same number of current accounts, women aren’t engaging with finance at the same level as men beyond that. This is creating a gender finance gap and I’m really lucky to be part of a bank that wants to put that right. I’ve been able to work with partners like Stylist on activity that talks explicitly to women and helps build their confidence with money. There’s still a lot of work to do but I feel we’re more awake to this issue than other banks.

You started up a breakfast club for women, what was the motivation behind that and what kind of topics do you discuss?

Like a lot of people my office is large and corporate. Our first instinct is to send an email rather than speak to someone face to face. I realised there were a lot of amazing women in my department who didn’t know each other so I set up the Breakfast Club to give everyone the opportunity to get together outside of work and break down some barriers. It quickly became a safe space for us to talk about things in the workplace that are sometimes difficult for women to handle. We’ve covered lots of topics from how to ask for a pay rise through to being confident with public speaking. It has meant every woman who comes along leaves with her own amazing network of allies. It’s our version of the old boys club!

How are you finding the current lockdown and do you think it will change the workplace in the future?

I think I’m pretty fortunate with lockdown. I have access to a small outdoor space, I have a spare room I can work in and my partner and I don’t have kids. I’m also used to working remotely with my immediate team (who are split across the UK) so we were already set up on Zoom! I think what lockdown has done is helped show that for many roles you don’t need to be in an office, in a city centre. So my hope would be that this approach continues in the future and we can democratise the workplace more.

Which 5 people (dead or alive) would you invite to an imaginary dinner party?

This took me so long to think about! I think I’d have:

Brené Brown (an American researcher and storyteller who focuses on the power of courage – a value I aim to live by).

Emily Pankhurst (One of the leaders of the suffragette movement and the person who kicked off my interest in female equality when I was at school)

Blair Braverman (an American dog-sled musher who has covered thousands of miles of wilderness with her dogs. I’d also make it compulsory for her to bring at least one dog with her)

Serena Williams (a modern day hero who is continually championing female equality and breaking down barriers. She’s the ultimate demonstration of someone using her platform for good)

Roxanne Gay (author of Bad Feminist who is known for her radical honesty. I love her writing and her perspective always challenges me.)