What is it like to work for a diverse and inclusive organisation like Citi? Senior Executive Assistant at Citigroup Global Markets, Rebecca Crow, tells us how she was open about her invisible illness at work and what she learnt about managing expectations.
You've worked at many global organisations in the past. What was the most difficult interview question you have been asked and how did you answer?
"Why do you want to work here?"
The honest answer would obviously be, I need to get paid but when I interviewed for Citi I had actually been in a full time permanent position at another investment bank for about two months. An ex colleague contacted me and asked me if I wanted to work at Citi, he raved about it and said that the person who was looking for an EA would be a great guy to work for. I wasn’t happy in my current role so I thought why not. When he told me about the team, the culture, the role and the opportunities and the personality he was looking for it ticked every box and I haven’t looked back since. Why do I want to work at Citi, because it brings out the best in me, supports my ideas and initiatives and has enabled me to grow and develop as an individual.
Were you open about your disability? What support was provided to you?
My illness came after being at Citi for 5 and a half years which meant I had to be open about my diagnosis. I was diagnosed with PND and anxiety shortly after the birth of my first baby while on maternity leave. I was open about my illness with my managers and employers during my return to work because not only did I need more support during my return to work but they too needed to understand that not only had I become a mum during the year I was away I had also been through a very frightening experience and may need more time away from my desk, more breaks, less pressure etc. By being upfront about it, it gave us the opportunity to have open conversations and it reduced my anxiety greatly.
What led you to this role? Why did you choose to join this organisation?
I feel that Citi actually chose me. I always say to people who are unhappy in their job that the perfect job isn’t going to call them and say “come and work here”. You have to go out and find it. That may mean temping, changing roles or changing companies to find the perfect fit. But my job, role and organisation did find me! Having just taken a Head of EA role at another company I didn’t for one minute contemplate moving somewhere else. I wasn’t happy in the position but did hope that time would change that and in the future I would look forward to going to work. Then I got a call from an ex colleague who had recently moved to Citi and well the rest is history.
Tell us a bit about the type of work you’re doing at the moment; what are your day-to-day tasks?
Although the day to day life of an SEA is quite monotonous (diary management, answering calls, travel planning) it is ever changing and evolving. I always say when I interview EAs that it is important to take on more and more so that the day you leave the list of skills on your CV is longer than when you joined. And that is my aim. I support three Global MD’s who have completely different personalities, roles, work styles so I am juggling three balls all the time and making sure they are on time, in the right place, seeing the right people, have the right information and have been fed and watered!! On top of managing them helping them to travel the world, communicate with their teams, do their jobs I also ensure that the trade floor is compliant, keeping up to date with their mandatory training and that everyone takes mandatory leave. I coordinate information for the other assistants in the division and help with the daily running of the trade floor.
How do you manage your disability at work?
Mental health issues don’t discriminate against the person or the time that they decide to rear their ugly head. I am always conscious of my PND and anxiety and because of this have a personalised care plan to ensure that I can deal with an attack quickly and as effectively as possible having minimal effect on my day/impact on those around me. Being able to talk about my issues on a public stage through Citi’s recent mental health campaign I have been able to tell people on mass that I struggle at times and this in turn has meant that people are more accepting. If I feel anxious I make sure I am hydrated then I go for a short walk outside to get fresh air or around the shopping area for distraction. I tend to take my phone with me as a back-up but try not to use it as it can be detrimental to me. I do carry medication that is called a PRN (pro re nata) and basically is a prescribed medication that is taken as and when required rather than daily. Pro re nata translates to “as the thing is needed” which is exactly what it is. Especially at work I do my best to remove myself from stressful situations where possible.
What do you enjoy most about your work?
I think especially since returning to work after having my baby it’s the ability to be able to show what I can do. I had a wonderful year off but coming back to work was like putting on old shoes. I slipped back in behind my PC screens and got on with my job like I hadn’t been away. In my role I have a great relationship with my colleagues and that helps the day fly by. I enjoy the responsibility being a Senior EA entails and I look forward to coming to work to see what the day is going to bring.
What about your job/organisation surprised you when you first started?
The size of it! I have worked for a few global companies in the past; British Airways and Goldman Sachs to name a couple but because their local offices are spread out in the UK you don’t always appreciate the enormity of their employee base. Citi have two of the large Canary Wharf towers in London right next to each other so there are a huge number of people all working for the same company within a few footsteps of each other. When I joined Citi I found out a friend also worked here too and we are based on the same floor (I’m in one tower and they are in the other ; both towers are linked), in the 7 or so years we have both worked here together we have only bumped into each other three times!
What aspect of the job have you found most difficult to manage? Is this affected by your disability?
Managing people’s expectations in any environment or industry is tough. On paper I ‘only’ support 3 people but those 3 people only see the emails / conversations / requests / demands on my time that they produce and all of these have different urgencies, deadlines and actions required in order for me to complete them. And on top of this I have the demands from other people in the business and other EAs. Sometimes this can cause my anxiety to flare up but I am lucky in that my years of experience working with people and also my care plan being available the minute I feel that I am stretched or overwhelmed I take step back look at what needs doing and then prioritise. I have found from experience that honesty is the best policy and I tell the people I support where I am with their request and confirm it will be done while explaining that I have something more time sensitive that needs to be completed ahead of their work. It doesn’t matter if it is a customer on a plane or an MD in a bank when they want something they want it now I just have to make sure they get it asap!
What is your organisation’s approach to disability; how has your employer helped you to do well at your workplace?
If I had to answer this in one word it would be AMAZING. With any company there are changes that could always be made but Citi have definitely started the ball rolling by making it a more inclusive environment for people with mental health issues to work for them. When I was ill and an inpatient at a mother and baby unit the thought of telling my employers that I had a mental health illness filled me with dread. I believed the minute I told them I would be fired, I didn’t think for one minute I would be part of a video for their diversity campaign telling people publically I had been ill six months after returning to work. Citi have given me a platform to speak out, something I never thought I would be given the opportunity to do.
What has been your proudest achievement since starting work?
Definitely being the ‘star’ of a short video about my experience of PND and mental health and seeing the amazing feedback and messages of support from colleagues around the globe, most of whom I have never met or come into contact with before. I had a colleague email me to say that she showed her daughter my video as she was struggling with anxiety and couldn’t explain it. Her daughter said “that’s it, that’s what I feel”. Finally she had found the words to tell her parents what she had been going through and they are now able to look for the right resource to help them all as a family get life back on track. It was a strange and emotional experience seeing myself on the screen talking, of course being a typical woman I didn’t like how I looked/my hair and I definitely need to lose weight, but seeing my story and getting my message across was the most empowered I have felt for a very long time. I couldn’t have done that without Citi’s help.
Tell us about a personal strength or a valuable plus which you have developed, as a result of your disability. How has it helped you in your career?
A valuable plus has definitely been for me as an employee, a mum, a friend, a partner is learning to say no! Taking on too much, trying to be everything to everyone can be a catalyst for anxiety and depression. Before having my baby I would take on everything not wanting to let anyone down or leave people in the lurch often to my detriment. Since getting my diagnosis I have learned the value of saying no. It not only benefits me as it gives me time to breath, makes it easier for me to manager my time and also reduces the worry of unnecessary commitments and deadlines but to those around me it means I can manage their expectations and needs too. If I am honest and say ‘no sorry I cannot do that for you this time’ they have the time to ask someone else and get what they need doing done. If I say ‘yes’ when I already have a lot of things on my plate and then get sick I feel that I have let them down and they feel guilty/annoyed.
What advice would you give a student with a similar disability, who wants to pursue a career in the field you work in?
Do not let mental health issues define you or take you from the path you want to go down. There is an endless list of charities, resources and people out there who are there to help you and get you to where you want to go to you just need to find the one that is right for you. Some of the biggest earners, celebrities and public figures in the world have suffered at some time in their life with a mental health illness. You are not alone, you never will be.
Find out more about opportunities and disability support at Citi here.