Meet our people

Defying trends and opening doors

Posted by Jon Meyrick, about 2 months ago

7 min read

Where you grow up and your family’s wealth directly influence your life chances. From access to education through to employment and career progression.

For example, the UK government social mobility report from 2023 includes data into the backgrounds of people in higher professional grade jobs – senior managerial and above. It shows that while only 20% of people were born to parents who held those kind of jobs, those same people make up 34% of senior managerial and executive role holders today. But people born to parents in working class jobs – 31% of the total – only hold 18% of the higher professional roles. In other words, if your parents had high flying professional jobs then you're overrepresented in that category today. If your parents held working class jobs, you're significantly underrepresented.

So we wanted to speak to someone who bucks the trend. And, to coincide with Gender Equality Month in March, we were delighted to talk to Marg Jobling (pictured on the left of the photo above). As our Chief Marketing Officer she’s part of our Executive Committee (ExCo), the team which runs our bank, led by CEO Paul Thwaite. She describes her journey from a council estate in Sunderland to a seat at the top table of NatWest Group.

Redefining the expectation

‘I knew pretty early on that I liked to learn. I’ve never understood where that feeling came from because my parents weren’t at all academic. In fact they thought I studied too much and tried to get me to go outside more and see my friends,’ Marg says. ‘I used to play netball and got a trial to play for England, but was too short as it turned out. All I remember was giving it my best shot and never wanting to miss out because I hadn’t tried hard enough.

‘My dad was a fitter in the shipyards and my mum was a part-time cleaner, and there were no real career expectations in our house. I’m one of three and we didn’t have any money, but we were happy. They taught me about respect, hard work, and what values were and what they meant. I guess the expectation was that I would do what most other girls ended up doing. My two best friends never left the North East. One trained as a hairdresser and now runs a salon in Sunderland city centre and the other works in the BT call centre and has been there for nearly 40 years.

‘Everyone I knew back then either got pregnant or went into admin type roles. I never thought that I needed to get away from that future, it was all I’d ever known. I just wanted to work hard and do well. I guess I’ve always kind of chased “mastery”, always wanted to learn more. I think that desire to learn helped me to see an early opportunity. I’m a firm believer that lady luck presents herself and you either grab on and stuff happens, or you don’t. I feel lucky, but I think there’s an element of creating opportunity as you go.’

Marg’s opportunity came in the form of a place at a Catholic secondary school for A-levels, which she believes provided her with the chance to attend university. She was the first member of her family to do so. Despite having the grades to enter higher education, her accent set her apart from her classmates.

Speaking in a different language and working in a different world

‘When I went to university no one could understand me because of my accent,’ Marg laughs. ‘I had to really slow down, slow down massively. I learned that we tend to speak really quickly in the North East and people struggle with some of the expressions we use. I say ‘mam’ and my kids laugh at me and they struggle to understand my parents when they speak. My dad used to phone the house and when I asked my kids what he said and what he wanted they’d have no idea.

‘If I spend a weekend in the North East, my accent gets stronger. My husband and kids find it funny. My accent must have changed over the years because now when I go home to Sunderland the people there think I’m dead posh and down where I live now, in Surrey, they think I’m really Northern.

‘When I was with my mam and dad I never really talked about my job and what I do. All they knew was I made TV adverts, but apart from that would have no understanding of this world, nor want to, to be fair. So yeah, I downplayed what I did. I told them that I did marketing for NatWest but not that I was the CMO. They didn’t even have a computer let alone go on LinkedIn or anything like that. It’s quite surreal sometimes to feel like you live in multiple worlds. Sometimes I smile in my head when I’m sitting with ExCo. It’s like I live and work in parallel universes. If my family had to interface with the people I work with, they would be saying, “what the hell?” And my colleagues would probably be saying, “are they your family?” I can't believe I'm here doing this job in a bank with all these clever people.

‘When I joined NatWest, I was new to banking, and it quickly became clear that most people had spent their whole career in the industry. For the first six months I thought what have I done? I have a PHD in laser chemistry and the prereading for many of the ExCo meetings made little sense to me. I’d reread and still have no idea. So much jargon and so many acronyms, like instead of saying mortgages we say HBO. And some acronyms are the same but have different meanings in terms of the context, what’s that all about?

‘I remember once, earlier in my career, someone saying, “no one can make you feel anything, you make yourself feel, it’s the self-talk inside you.” And it’s so true. I felt like I was very different, but difference of thought and approach is healthy and something that we need to make sure continues.’

Being a visible role model

Marg is a passionate advocate of helping young people fulfil their potential both due to her own experience and what she has seen through our Thrive initiative.

‘One of the things that really struck me with the Thrive work is that in many communities there is nothing for kids to do. We need to invest in these young people. You need to give them life skills and show them that there are role models and opportunities if they know where to look.

‘Banking, let’s face it, isn’t the most representative industry in the world. I think the perception externally is that banking remains white, middle class, male, and suited. But as we know, banking is now much more about technology, data insights, and marketing. There are opportunities in this world, but it’s true you aspire to be like people you can see. So we need to continue to find ways to bring a diverse and inclusive range of people in and pull them through.

‘It’s awkward for me to think of myself as successful. I can’t deny that in terms of social mobility I have moved up, which sounds strange to say out loud. I think it’s fine to move but I think you should never forget where you come from. The problem in life is that people only ever look up, not down. But when you’ve come “up” I think you have a responsibility to helps others do the same.’

Mentoring and holding the door open

Marg is an active mentor, providing support and guidance to a range of our colleagues as well as people outside the bank. ‘My colleague Linda always tells me off because I keep saying yes to mentoring more people,’ Marg joked. ‘She’s the one who looks after my diary and keeps me right, so I should probably listen to her. Most of the people that reach out are women.

‘It’s interesting, I think women definitely have more self-doubt. There have been times in my life when I’ve thought to myself, “I’m crap at work, I’m a crap mum, I’m juggling and struggling”. It does feel like as a working woman there is a constant judgement.’

As well as mentoring, Marg is also keen to increase the diversity in our recruitment. ‘We're trying in the Marketing department to look at how we bring apprenticeships in, because we've been a graduate recruiter which is fine, but that misses a huge amount of potential talent,’ she says. ‘We have 19 million customers, a great cocktail of British society, and we have to try and represent them internally. But saying that, we have a real duty of care because many of these young people potentially will have no experience of the working world.

‘In many ways our recruitment should mirror what we’re trying to do as a business – attract and retain younger customers, make them feel engaged, and convince them to stay with us. When I joined the bank a few years ago I wasn’t sure I’d done the right thing – I’m definitely not a banker. But difference is good. There’s a saying that I always go by which is “accept it, try to change it, or move on”. I think too many people are miserable at their work. If there’s something you can’t accept, then try to change it. And if that’s not possible, then maybe it’s time to move. I need to enjoy what I do. The work we are doing here makes me happy, and I feel very privileged to be here.’

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