Francesca CarlesiFrancesca is founder and CEO of Molo Finance, which was born from her own frustration with getting a mortgage.

Before Molo, Francesca spent more than 10 years in senior banking roles with the likes of Deutsche Bank and Barclays. She started her career in consulting and private equity at McKinsey & Co. and Bridgepoint Capital and holds a PhD in Banking and Finance from the University of Rome, MBA (Hons) from Columbia University, Diploma from Harvard Kennedy School of Government.

Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role

In my current role, I am the founder and CEO of Molo – the UK’s first fully digital mortgage lender. I started the company around three years ago after a long career across banking, consulting and private equity. The idea of Molo was born out of frustration for the current mortgage process as I was getting my first mortgage in the UK at the time. I am incredibly proud of what we have achieved so far in this space. In terms of background I am Italian by origin, but have been living abroad in the last 15 years, across various countries including US, Eastern Europe and London, hence I have developed quite a broad international background by now.

Before starting Molo, I had a more traditional career mostly in Finance. After a Ph.D in Banking and Finance and a brief start in the academic world, I then started my professional career at McKinsey, moved then to private equity at Bridgepoint Capital here in London and in the last 10 years worked in banking at some of the largest European Banks (Barclays, Deutsche Bank, Intesa SanPaolo), holding different MD roles across Finance, Strategy, and Digital Transformation. Most importantly, I am a proud mother of two fantastic sons who have been great in supporting me throughout my career.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

No, not really. I always had inside me the desire of wanting to drive impact and a strong intellectual curiosity that leads me to be curious about the world around me and to explore new opportunities. In life it is important for me to be on a relentless quest for learning more, develop oneself and drive positive change. With this in mind, I have been lucky to be presented with various opportunities across my career, and I have taken up those opportunities that felt right at the time based on the principles above. I do believe that life is a wonderful adventure and it is impossible to plan it all ahead, sometimes destiny can present you with opportunities that you could never plan beforehand. And this is what makes it exciting.

I believe in my past, I’ve acted a lot on instinct – on what I thought was right – because I want to enjoy what I do. With this attitude, I’ve always followed my passion, going from one exciting thing to the next while learning at the same time.

Have you faced any career challenges along the way and how did you overcome these?

It is always a challenge to balance the intensity needed for a professional career with the downtime needed in other parts of your life. In today’s connected world, it is very difficult to completely ring-fence your work life from your professional life. Instead, I’ve always tried to integrate flexibility into both rather than limiting myself. Unfortunately, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all fix for this and everyone needs to find their own solution, but for me it was all about being flexible, maintaining a positive attitude and having a great family that could support me in my aspirations and desire.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

At every step of my career there has always been some great achievements that were quite special at the time and up to today I remain equally proud of all of them. Across all of this, I do believe that my biggest achievement to date has been to be able to pursue my professional dreams while also being able to fulfill my personal life, bringing up an amazing family, two wonderful sons and making sure they grow up as responsible, hardworking and generous young individuals. Being able to balance these two aspects of life is very important for me as I believe a fulfilling life needs to be balanced. Even at work, great leaders for me are those that are able to drive extraordinary new ideas, inspire other people to achieve them but that never forget that we are all human after all.

Life includes many other wonderful aspects other than work, of which family is an important one. Inevitably this is not easy, even just looking at every single role I have done so far, each one of them is by definition very intense and demanding, from consulting, banking and even now being a tech entrepreneur. But it is doable. Of course, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention how proud I am of Molo as well! Building something from scratch, shaping it in line with your vision and leaving a legacy is the most rewarding thing ever.

What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success?

In terms of achieving what I deem to be ‘complete success’, I’m not sure I’m quite where I want to be just yet, but I’m certainly on the way to it with Molo. To get there, three things matter the most in my view: work hard, take risks and build genuine strong relationships. First, there is no way around hard work. No matter what, to achieve extraordinary things you need to put in an extraordinary effort. This is true across every domain, from sport to art to business, going the extra mile, never being satisfied with “average” results is simply a necessary condition. Second, it is a must to take risk. Not crazy risks! However, you do need to take a leap of faith every once in a while to push yourself. Finally, building real trust-based relationships and maintaining them has been quite important for me. In my life I have met several people that were quite extraordinary, like-minded and with whom there was simply a strong connection. Believing in those relationships, nurturing them and maintaining them in time, rather than operating based on a transactional approach is quite important.

What top tips would you give to an individual who is trying to excel in their career in technology?

It mirrors my previous answer a little, but I would say work hard, believe in yourself, always pursue a mission and work with people that you keep in high regard rather than pursuing a job. Technology today is a fascinating field, where the future will be full of new developments that we cannot even imagine right now. If I had to start my career now, I would definitely start in technology and aim at gaining as much exposure as possible to the new things that will drive the future development of humanity. I would definitely recommend everybody in this field to aim for bold things, stay curious and focus on what you are learning along the way, when you stop learning then this is time to move on.

Do you believe there are still barriers for success for women working in tech, if so, how can these barriers be overcome?

Yes, I think there are and it would be naive not to admit that. I believe that any woman who has the foundation of working hard, being commercially smart and willing to go the extra-mile, she will always be successful in technology. Yet, there is no doubt that she would have more barriers to overcome and work harder than a man with the same skill-set would.

The main barrier to overcome is the generalised selection bias that affects all of us as human. Technology has historically been dominated by male talent and hence the unconscious role model of what “great” behaviours and attitudes look like, tend to be associated with those attributes that men demonstrate. Behaviours like assertiveness, directive management approach, and confrontational negotiation styles are often confused in the tech world with proxies for strong talent.

Inevitably women might have a different way to achieve things, and often can achieve even more with their own style, but don’t always they get to demonstrate it as they are often mis-judged on the parameters above. To change this, it is critical to get more women to be in the decision-making seat, to ensure a more balanced and not one-dimensional approach to judge talent. Proactively seeking diversity on boards and C-suites, ensuring a diverse team at Venture Capital firms, even dedicating specific resources to female talent would go a long way to accelerate this process and recognise the merits of many wonderful women out there that might never be able to stand out otherwise.

What do you think companies can do to support the progress of the careers of women working in technology?

There are a few things that companies can do when it comes to policies and rules around hiring and progressing talent. First off, set some rules. Once you’ve got these rules, make sure that you are following them. I.e. reflect your stance on diversity on your board. You’ll also need to make an effort and look proactively – for example, if you put out a job role and don’t get enough women applying, then look for them! Establish partnerships with Universities, etc. to do so. Finally, you might need to be more understanding in the career development progress of women.

Don’t underestimate the impact of a business going above and beyond to support and enable a woman to have a child and not make them feel they have to choose. We should not forget a lot of women are opting out themselves from an ambitious career because historically they felt (or they were told) that they had to choose between a family and a career. This is a choice that nobody should have to do. Certainly men never thought they had to. Hence it is time to recognise this explicitly in the way companies shape a career path, allowing flexible breaks for women (and men) to have children without being left behind. You’d be surprised how many more women would be rising at the top and drive wonderful impact for society if this was possible.

There is currently only 17 percent of women working in tech, if you could wave a magic wand, what is the one thing you would do to accelerate the pace of change for women in the industry?

Well, if I had a magic wand, I would just wave it and replace half of CEOs, board members and investors everywhere with women. You’d be surprised how much of an overall impact that would have. Now, is it realistic? No. Probably not. But it is a magic wand for a reason and it would certainly achieve the aim of accelerating the pace of change for women in the industry.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

I would definitely recommend the books ‘Lean In’ by Sheryl Sandberg and Nell Scovell, and ‘Necessary Dreams’ by Anna Fels. Outside of books, women networks should be utilised as well. There is Women of Silicon Roundabout, or at a more senior level, there is an organisation called Women on Boards. But above all of this, I would recommend finding a mentor.

You should identify both men and women that you can trust, you regard highly, and can ask for honest feedback across your career. It could be a senior person at your company or another – it doesn’t matter – but this is the most important thing in my view.

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