Jennifer Bainbridge

Jennifer Bainbridge originally started to study Veterinary Medicine, having wanted to be a vet her whole life.

However, she dropped this after a year as she wasn’t enjoying it, and instead chose a liberal Arts and Sciences degree at the University of Birmingham in Economics and Chemistry. During university, she took part in the ‘Women in Trading and Finance’ programme run by BP, which led her to apply for BP’s Finance and Risk Graduate Programme. She’s now a Structured Trade Finance Analyst at BP Integrated Supply and Trading in London, working with emerging tech.

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

My name is Jennifer Bainbridge and I am currently a Structured Trade Finance Analyst in BP’s Supply and Trading division, however I am moving roles to Commercial Development in October. I’m on the graduate rotation programme at BP, which sees me doing three year-long rotations.

I was born in the UK but spent my childhood in the Middle East before returning to the UK where I have been since (except for a year abroad spent in Australia). I graduated from the University of Birmingham in 2017 with a BSc in Liberal Arts and Sciences (Chemistry and Economics).

I would describe myself as a confident, bubbly, and extroverted person, who likes to be challenged and work in a fast-paced, team-based environment. In that sense, my roles have been and are perfect for me as they combine working with people and relationship building with problem solving.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

I did but what I do now versus what I planned is very different!  I always wanted to be a vet until I went to university and found out it wasn’t for me. So, at the age of 19, I was back to square one, trying to work out what I wanted to do.

I started business and management as they seemed like useful, transferable subjects. Shortly into the course, I realised that business was too easy. I missed the hard sciences like chemistry that I’d studied at school. My tutor at the time, who was an economist, said to me “since you’ve got a maths background, why not combine them and do economics?” So I did, ending up with a double major in economics and chemistry, which led me into Supply and Trading at BP.

What has been your biggest career challenge so far and how did you overcome it?

The learning curve going into trading in the energy industry was extremely steep. I had to learn very quickly and felt like a duck out of water at the beginning.

At times I felt a lack of confidence and was daunted by the sheer scale and sums of money traded in the energy industry. However, my co-workers in my first role were extremely supportive and always happy to answer questions. That support continued into my next role and has helped me to develop fast and become comfortable and confident in what I do.

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

Being able to get stuck in straight away in my first rotation and being given responsibility was key. After some initial training, I had my own book, commodity area and group of traders to manage. I really appreciate the trust I was given by my team; it’s something that has been a huge factor in my professional development. Being trusted is hugely empowering, as it makes you feel good about yourself and that you add value. This was repeated in my second rotation and I think the sense of accountability and job satisfaction has really helped to push me and my development.

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

My main pieces of advice would be to get stuck in, ask questions and take every opportunity to build your network. Particularly for people who are at the start of their careers, it’s important to get involved in as much as possible as the best way to learn is by doing.

Do you believe there are still disparities regarding the number of women working in tech?

Looking at the finance and energy industries where technology plays a huge role, you do notice that the workplaces are male-dominated. It’s particularly noticeable on the trading floor where you see very few women. However, it does vary from team to team and women are becoming better represented in leadership roles. It will take time for the disparity to reduce but I do think it is improving.

The lower number is partly due to the perception of the role. A lot of people make a judgement about whether their personality type would suit a tech, trading or finance environment. Therefore, they may apply to more ‘traditionally female’ roles. I think a lot of stereotypes still exist around the working environment which is definitely one of the reasons for the continuing disparity.

There is currently only 17% 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?

Someone said to me once, “do you think that females didn’t make the grade?” To which I said, “no I think that they didn’t even apply in the first place”. That is where the problem lies.

It is essential to encourage female graduates to apply from the offset. Getting girls interested in finance and STEM at a very early age is the only way you are going to support great careers for women down the line and even out the numbers. Getting them into various businesses and showing them what the working environment is really like is very important. I don’t believe you can just show them one office, it’s about proving that many of the stereotypes they believe exist, don’t.

What practical things can we do to support the careers of women in finance?

It is crucial we show women and young girls that there are opportunities for fantastic careers in technology. Holding female-oriented events is one way to do this.

An example is the ‘High Tea at BP’ event that I attended whilst at university. Females from STEM backgrounds came to find out more about BP and participate in assertiveness and body language workshops. It was great for me to network, find out about roles and simultaneously develop key skills for the workplace.

I believe we need to go further still and target the next generation of women in STEM. I think a lot of companies have very good programmes around supporting women once they start their careers, but many fail to attract women in the first place. At BP, we have events which focus on showing women, particularly those at school and university, what a trading and finance environment looks like. They can be mentored, visit the office for an afternoon or a week and get to hear from a range of people from across the organisation. I think it’s important for them to meet people both at the top of the organisation but also those starting out so they can see how their careers might progress. For many, hearing about A Levels, university and first jobs is more relevant, and they see themselves in those people. It can sometimes be hard when you meet a woman in a leadership role to relate to them as they are quite far down their career journey.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech, e.g. podcasts, networking events, books, conferences, websites etc?

I’d definitely say it is important to stay up to date with news in general. I listen to the news every day on the radio and receive newsletters from publications such as the Financial Times and Reuters.  Another thing is to build a network (not just women) who you can go to for advice and support. They don’t necessarily need to be mentors or those more senior, some of the best advice I’ve received are from fellow graduates and those early in their careers.