Debra’s Story

Name: Debra Thomas, Head of Policies, Procedures and Training Compliance

My journey in the Financial Services Industry began in the summer of 2001 as a Client Service Associate but it wasn’t until 2015, in search of change, I joined Standard Chartered Bank as the Head of Policies, Procedures and Training in Compliance. 

In that time, as you can imagine, there have been some challenges along the way. As someone who falls into two minority categories, (black and a woman), I have always set high standards for myself. In doing so, I have become my harshest critic. I learned very early on that I had to work harder and smarter than those around me so that I can distinguish myself from others. About 14 years ago, during annual performance reviews, my manager asked me, “what have you done to set yourself apart from others”. That stuck with me and to this day, has shaped my performance as a compliance professional.

I am saying this to demonstrate that my professional life has always been an ongoing work in progress with the clear understanding that as a black woman, my journey requires an unwavering commitment to hard work.  On a personal note, I am the proud mother of a 13-year-old girl (my most important accomplishment yet). I recall a time twelve and a half years ago when it was time to return to work after my four months of maternity leave. I was terrified that I would be treated differently and as a result become disadvantaged for opportunities. That fear intensified my work ethic, it drove my need to regularly raise my hand when opportunities arose. I had this desperate need to show that being a mother has not impacted my abilities.

Best advice you would give to someone

You are the author of your own story, hard work alone is not enough to get you ahead, ask for what you want. Do not assume that managers and leaders know what your goals and career aspirations are.

This year’s US Black History Month theme is Breaking Barriers.  Who is a “barrier breaker” or changemaker that inspires you and why?

I would say that the change maker that inspires me is our former first lady, Michele Obama. As the first black first lady of the United States, my adoration and respect for her was always there. However, it wasn’t until I read her memoir Becoming, that I truly became inspired by her. From her modest upbringing to first lady of the United States. The symbolism in that is palpable. As a mother with a young daughter, this created something tangible I could reference in our talks. Her eloquent speaking abilities gives one something to aspire to. As a confident Harvard educated mother who carries herself with poise, Michele Obama has underscored the strength, courage and gravitas of women, more specifically, women of colour. Never appearing pretentious or disinterested, what a role model and example.