Outside the Box: Silvi Wompa Sinclair

The Alternative Risk senior underwriter on how she helps young professionals climb the career ladder.

What I Learnt on Wall Street is an online platform aimed at supporting young professionals’ career and life progression. It focuses primarily on financial services, but the advice can be applied to any sector.

I was introduced to the founder, my partner of the platform, in March 2017. He told me he was looking for a strong female partner because the platform was attracting an increasing female audience. We talked about our backgrounds and soon found we had a lot in common and so we decided we would make a good team.

We’re both passionate about sharing what we’ve learnt in the hope that it might help young professionals to get ahead a little quicker, mainly by avoiding some of the mistakes we’ve made. We want to show young people that they can make it regardless of their background or gender, and inspire them to have smarter, happier, richer lives.

Life lessons

My partner was born into humble circumstances in India, but made it to university in the US before going to work on Wall Street, where he was promoted to managing director at Goldman Sachs at the age of 34, which is quite an achievement. But as an Asian who hadn’t been born with a silver spoon in his mouth, he had to fight his way up the career ladder.

My upbringing was more comfortable than my partner's, but I also felt like an outsider. I was born in Sweden, but both my parents are from Estonia, from where my grandparents fled at the end of the Second World War. So I never felt part of the Swedish establishment. Also, I didn’t fit the bill in terms of expected girlish behaviour. I preferred hanging out at various museums with my dad rather than go to the cinema with friends and shunned dolls for building dens in the forest.

We want to show young people that they can make it regardless of their background or gender, and inspire them to have smarter, happier, richer lives.

As I grew older, it slowly began to dawn on me that there were unwritten rules for getting ahead that I didn’t know. I worked my rear end off but watched other people who did half as much making it much faster than me. When I was growing up I’d been told that if I was a good girl, worked hard and didn’t make a fuss then the rewards would naturally come to me. But that wasn’t the case, and that made me angry.

Sadly, things haven’t changed much today. After I took part in a panel discussion for International Women’s Day this year, several young women in their twenties came to tell me they’d been told the same things when they were growing up. Women need to know what it takes to get to the top, because otherwise they’ll work themselves into the ground trying to get ahead but not understand they’re playing by the wrong rules.

Tips for the top

At What I Learnt on Wall Street, we post a weekly blog that one of us has written with advice about career progression or how to better run your private life, and there is a lot of other material on the website people can access, such as ebooks and an ecourse on networking.

We run lectures every quarter in which we share our experiences, and we’ve also done talks at universities, including Oxford, Cass Business School and London School of Economics. We also mentor talented young people who we think could use an extra pair of hands to realise their full potential.

At first, my partner's ambition was modest: he wanted 100 readers. Now we have over 6,000. Our aim is to grow our audience so we inspire and help as many young people as possible.

In my first week at Hiscox, I told Georgina [Roberts, Hiscox London Market’s Head of HR] about the platform and explained to her that this was my great passion outside of work. That has led to me being asked to speak to the Women at Hiscox community.

At first, my partner's ambition was modest: he wanted 100 readers. Now we have over 6,000. Our aim is to grow our audience so we inspire and help as many young people as possible. Our plan is to add other channels, such as YouTube and podcasts, to help get our message out. 

Not giving up the day job

I’m not interested in giving up my job to concentrate on What I Learnt on Wall Street, because for me it’s a way of exercising leadership in conjunction with my work. I’m passionate about leadership and how to help people to grow, but it took me a long time to understand that you don’t need to be someone’s boss to lead or inspire them. I see more value in having a day job as well as running the platform, because I think it gains a lot of legitimacy from us working in this sector. We’re in touch with what’s going on in financial services and much of what we write or talk about comes from our everyday working experiences.

I’m passionate about leadership and how to help people to grow, but it took me a long time to understand that you don’t need to be someone’s boss to lead or inspire them.

Also, the platform offers me a way to keep up with the challenges that young people now face. They’re confronting problems that I didn’t have to contend with when I was their age, and it’s all too easy to get stuck in a privileged bubble once you get to a certain age and lead a particular lifestyle.

We don’t have a lot of spare time because our day jobs are pretty demanding. Last summer, one of my holiday weeks was dedicated to writing my first ebook Networking Demystified: The Ultimate Guide to becoming a Successful Networker. But because it’s a passion it doesn’t feel like a lot of work at all. 

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