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  • Writer's pictureConnect Magazine PWN Vienna

The Journey to the Top and Future Perspectives

By Claudia Cordie

PWN Vienna and Western Union co-hosted a panel on October 12 with four inspiring female leaders who work in the financial field. The discussion was very open and honest - the panelists shared deep insights into their personal leadership journeys and offered some advice for aspiring future leaders.



When Joanne Hunger (Director Western Union Business Solutions in Central Europe and Ireland) got her first leadership position, she put all her enthusiasm and passion in her new role. After a few months she had a conversation with a senior executive and he said that he saw her “a little bit like a general of an army, leading her troops into the battle and storming uphill”. He suggested to her she slow down or even stop from time to time and look behind to see if her people were still with her. The same person gave what Joanne defines as a “second gift”; he introduced her to the woman that became (and still is) her mentor. She helped Joanne to navigate through the complexity of a global organization and supported her through the most lonely and challenging times. For Joanne the key to success is having a “circle of trusted people” around you that will keep you straight and looking forward. They will point out your blind spots and stand united with you “. It is crucial to listen to those people.

In Sandra Simundza’s experience (Managing Director and Chief Risk Officer At Western Union International Bank), one of the keys to success is also to listen to the feedback, especially the “hard” one. “If you want to be a leader, you need to really listen, you need to appreciate others and you need to be kind to people”. She also thinks that leaders need to be mindful, be curious and never take anything for granted. Sandra has worked for many international companies and has often faced stereotyping and unconscious bias. She learned to accept that the career journey is never a straightforward line and you have to be ready to face and overcome many roadblocks.

Claire Gates, CEO Paysafe Pay Later and CEO of Payolution, openly shared that the major challenge she has had in her career was (and is) finding a balance between work and personal life, between career, family and personal needs. With a senior role come more expectations and at some point also isolation and loneliness. The pressure is getting higher and often, we find ourselves going through phases of self-doubt, in particular after becoming mothers. Female leaders with personal struggles hold guilty feelings both at home and at work. “When the grey mist of guilt descends just pause, put the situation into the wider perspective, be kind to yourself and remember you’re not alone.” Claire learned to put things into perspective, redefine expectations and demands she put on herself or allowed others to put on her. Claire also said she has been very fortunate as she has a really good support network as well as a supportive partner.

Gundi Wentner (Partner at Deloitte Human Capital) revealed that at the beginning of her career, while working in the banking industry in Vienna, she was confronted with a lot of prejudice and stereotyping coming from both colleagues and clients. After witnessing male colleagues easily climbing the career ladder while she was refused an executive assistant job because of being a woman, she decided to leave the bank and become a consultant. Now she regularly helps financial Institutions to select women for executive positions but the situation in Austria is far from being gender balanced, especially in the top positions.



Finance is still a “boy’s club”. The situation has been slowly changing over the years, but there is still a lot to be done to increase the representation of women in financial leadership positions.

Women are still facing a lot of unconscious bias which is, according to Sandra, the biggest roadblock on the path towards gender equality at the leadership level.

While everyone agrees that women and men should reach top management positions because of their talent and merits, the reality has strongly brought up the need for setting quotas.

“I am not afraid to be a quota woman” Gundi said, “ Because if you look at the present reality, there is a quota, which is (in some cases) 100% men quota”.

“What you can measure you can manage” continues Gundi “and organizations have all kinds of Key Performance Indicators. So why not having KPIs for the representation of women and other smart KPIs tracking the progress of women within each organization?”

Western Union is a good example, as they put gender equality as one of their strategic priorities with a commitment to reach the target of 40% women at director level (and above) by the end of 2020.

But hiring more women is not enough because it is also important to retain their talents throughout their careers including after the start of a family.

Structural interventions should take place in all processes and at all levels, from the hiring to the promotion system, from changing the way job descriptions are written to creating a peer support system such as a female network or a mentoring system.

But a real change requires more fundamental actions within society, education, governments, and businesses. It is about attracting, supporting, encouraging and promoting finance to young girls, female students and of course women in general.

“Governments and companies need to drive initiatives, courses, recruitment, and training that supports an equal number of female/male in finance. All need to play their role in getting the next generation of females into finance.” (Claire)


Sandra’s advice to women wanting to progress in their career is to be courageous and be authentic. Don't be afraid to ask for guidance, don't be afraid to identify your go-to person and don't be afraid to ask for feedback and be aware, you're going to learn much more out of your failures and mistakes, rather than from your successes. Finally, don’t let anyone stop you in your aspirations.

Joanne strongly believes in advocacy and in finding sponsors. She advised finding people who believe in what you're doing and will help you work your way through the company and towards the top. Networking and mentoring are the key moves: find a safe environment to ask questions and get support.

What else? Be confident and stand proud. Stop thinking you are not good enough.

For Claire, as you progress in seniority, you are likely to find yourself in the minority, “make sure to be seen and be heard”, you have a right to be at the table! Contribute, speak up and stick together with other women.

About the speakers

Claire Gates is a consumer finance expert, specialising on the successful development and launch of consumer-centric credit solutions. She holds an MBA from Warwick Business School and has over 20 years of experience in the FinTech sector. Claire gained her expertise in corporate finance working with Citigroup, Virgin Money, GE Capital, American Express and, just to name a few. Her ambition is key to her success as she firmly believes that doing a ‘good job’ is not enough – you must stand out. As CEO for payolution, she is responsible for Paysafe’s Pay Later business and services and champions the idea that women can balance career and family life. With her experience in consumer purchasing habits, Claire drives the business and the international expansion plans.

Joanne Hunger heads Western Union Business Solutions in Central Europe and Ireland. With International Corporate Banking background, this current high-profile role uses her expertise in opening up new markets, developing high performing expert teams and innovating FX and payment product solutions for SMEs working on an international scale. Business development in new markets, International Banking, Leadership in crisis, High performing teams and structures in virtual world

  • How to successfully lead international teams in times of crisis

  • Encouraging and empowering women to management positions in banking and finance

  • Setting up business in new markets and getting the most out of networks

  • The development and expansion of Western Union Business Solutions

Sandra Simundza is a Managing Director and Chief Risk Officer of Western Union International bank, being responsible for management of all financial and non-financial risks for the bank, helping business make better decisions and take smarter risks. In her role, she also oversees internal control system, outsourcing program as well as data privacy. She is dynamic, results-driven financial professional with 25+ years experience impacting corporate performance through the design, development and deployment of risk management strategies and programs. Before joining WUIB, Sandra held various management positions in risk management in several banking groups in Europe, such as Unicredit, Sberbank Europe and Hypo Alpe Adria. In her free time, she is passionate skier and enjoy reading and spending time with her family.

Dr. Gundi Wentner has been a partner at Deloitte Human Capital since 2002. Prior to joining Deloitte, she was the founder and managing partner at Wentner-Havranek, a management consulting firm. Her expertise is in both the search and selection of talent for senior management postions for businesses in the financial services and public sectors, as well as in the monitoring and implementation of specifications and objectification processes. She counts among her clients base Sparkassenverband, BAWAG P.S.K., OeNB Österreichische Nationalbank, Stadtschulrat Wien and Stadt Wien. Dr. Wentner studied law at the Karl-Franzens-Universität Graz, Austria, and did her post graduate studies in International Relations at John Hopkins University, Bologna, Italy.


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