40 years of learning and volunteering: Sharon’s story

Sharon's successful 40-career with us was built on her devotion to learning and community support

My mum was one of five children. When her dad, my grandfather, came back from the Second World War injured, he could no longer work, putting huge financial strain on the family. They often had to survive on bread and jam, and relied on the local community providing support. My mum used to tell stories of people from the local church leaving casseroles on the doorstep to help them out.

When I heard those stories,  my dedication to community support was born.

At the same time, I learned the value of education. My father joined Standard Chartered in 1977 and worked for the bank for 25 years. He always ensured that we took school seriously and had books to read, and I realised from an early age that not all children, certainly in the area I grew up in, had that encouragement and those opportunities.

The 1980s

I was 16 when I joined Standard Chartered. I finished school on a Friday and started work the following Monday! I worked four days a week, and took advantage of a day release scheme to study for my banking exams. My parents couldn’t afford to send me to university, and I was grateful to be able to learn while making my start in the working world.

Even at this early stage, I was aware of the barriers that stood against me. When I was still just a kid starting out at work, someone implied to me that I wouldn’t go far because I was from a council estate. That comment sparked a fire of motivation in me, and I haven’t looked back since.

Sharon loves volunteering, and is currently delivering food to help her local food bank

Giving something back

I’ve been volunteering my whole life, from helping out at catering events (I love to bake!) to joining the Reading Partners scheme, which was a partnership between Standard Chartered and the London Borough of Tower Hamlets. I was one of the Bank’s first reading partners – I would use my lunchtimes to go help kids read and learn to build relationships. I wanted to show them that they could get on and do big things, because I passionately believe that wherever you’re born, to what area or money, basic skills will give you a chance to succeed.

I used to go to local schools and help kids with things like interview practice and CV advice. I remember one day, the first girl that came in, said she aspired to work in her nan’s café when she grew up. The next kid that came in, from the same school, said he wanted to be a nuclear physicist! It brought home to me just how much the bubble of where you grow up can define your ambitions.

As my career progressed and I became more senior, I had to shift my volunteering focus. When I was called upon to travel more, for example, I was no longer able to commit to the reading scheme. But when I announced that, I was offered a place as a school governor, and I’ve been doing that ever since!

I will always advocate for volunteering, and would encourage anybody to do it. It’s a way of giving something back, and a chance to learn. People should find the thing they’re passionate about so they enjoy volunteering and don’t see it as a chore.

Learning and progressing

My advice to young people is to find the things that matter to you and make those things sacrosanct. It’s healthy and important to do that. Community support and education are important to me, so I’ve always pursued and promoted those things. If it means something to you, it’s worth it.

And be open to change. The defining moments in my career have always come when I had to learn something new. It can be challenging, but it will help you progress as an employee and as a person.

40 years of valued service

Sharon has retired to embrace the next stage in her life. We wish her all the best

I sometimes joke that if you cut me in half, I’d have ‘Standard Chartered’ written through me – just like a stick of rock! The Bank opened doors for me that would not have opened otherwise – like, for example, when I realised I didn’t want to be an accountant in my mid 20s and preferred human resources, the Bank helped sponsor me to take a course at the Open University so I could shift my career. That was a big change that wouldn’t have been available to me just anywhere.

Retirement is a bittersweet thought. It will be sad, but it’s the right time, although it’s a shame it’s happening during COVID-19, as I would have relished the goodbye drinks and lunches! But COVID-19 has actually brought forward my long-standing plan to work for a local food bank in my retirement. Working from home has allowed me to fulfil that ambition earlier than I expected.

In my retirement, I’m going to work there one day a week, and I’ve got plenty of other plans, too: I’m going to keep working with schools; I’m going to look into doing magistrate work, as that’s another way of helping the local community; and I’ve already signed up for courses with the Open University, including one in forensic psychology!

Looking back

The only regret I have from the time I spent with Standard Chartered is that I didn’t take pictures or keep a diary as the years went on. It’s amazing to think back over the changes I’ve seen. When I first started, we used to get work delivered via ship. If there was a storm and the ship couldn’t dock, we’d have to wait!

It’s been an incredible journey, and I like to think Standard Chartered and I have helped each other through it.