Based in London’s Canary Wharf, no day is ever the same for Elizabeth Mendes Da Silva, PA and project management for mobile payments at Barclays. Jade Burke finds out how winning a WATC Rising Star Award earlier this year has inspired her to launch her own business with her son, and now plans to offer more mentoring to women in the industry.
Known as London’s financial area, it’s unsurprising to find Barclays’ head office nestled between the glittering skyscrapers in Canary Wharf, home to a string of other banks, from HSBC and NatWest to Citibank and KPMG. Walking inside the grand doors to the reception, I am soon greeted by Elizabeth Mendes Da Silva, my interviewee for the day, who is a PA and handles project management for mobile payments at the bank.
Travelling up to the 30th floor, we find a break-out spot in one corner, providing us with a crystal-clear view of the City and its striking vistas, including The o2 Arena and the River Thames – what a view to be greeted with every day. But what is it like to work in this fast-paced environment? “It’s quite a tough one to answer because no two days are the same,” Da Silva explains. “Even my role at the moment has expanded so I’m not just a PA anymore, I’m a PA with planning support, but I would say a typical day is normally negotiating deals, diary management and overseeing projects. I try to fit in a bit of mentoring as well.”
Having previously studied fine art at university, Da Silva found herself taking on a part-time job at a private members’ club, which is where she found her talent for organisation after doing some PA work for the owners, striking up her interest for the industry. “I realised I was naturally quite assertive and good at organising, which steered me in that right direction. I then broadened on that and got the opportunity to work in a bank,” she reveals.
However, being a PA wasn’t always the career Da Silva had in mind, as inbetween Barclays and her part-time role, she was training to be a junior broker. She continues: “It’s quite fast paced and exciting, but when I had my son that made me think that the PA role would be a little bit more suited to me.”
It certainly looks like this career route was the correct one, as earlier this year Da Silva scooped a WATC Rising Star Award. Around 850 candidates were reviewed by a panel of 21 independent judges, which was followed by over 28,000 public votes that were received for the 200 shortlisted nominees. This was then whittled down to the top 100, which saw Da Silva secure the accolade.
Despite winning, Da Silva still remains surprised at the achievement, stating: “I didn’t think I would win it, with so many votes and such strong competition, but it was wonderful. The process was great to be a part of because, off the back of that, I’ve joined Twitter and some debates and have had my voice heard. Barclays had three winners overall and it made sure that our level was recognised and boosted our profiles.
“I have met some great people on the way – it’s really inspiring and has made me realise that being a PA is a great career path and there’s a lot to be achieved. We have come a long way from using shorthand and the stereotype that people have of us, as we do so much more than that,” she continues.
Recognising the rising stars in any industry is becoming increasingly more prevalent, with companies choosing to acknowledge the millennials striving to make an impact, something Da Silva feels is incredibly beneficial.
“I think it’s important because we are the next generation’s leaders. It makes us feel valued and that the work we put in is recognised.”
Clearly a memorable highlight in her career, Da Silva notes that not everything has been smooth running. Working at a bank comes with many restrictions she recalls, for example with budgets. However, she feels that these struggles are fundamental in making employees stronger.
“I think we have all experienced struggles and that’s what makes you good at your role,” she adds. “I would say try to be unfazed by changes and try to be transparent. If you are feeling uncertain, have that open line of communication – I think that tends to levitate some of the stress.
“A good bit of advice I was told was the five-year rule – if it’s not going to matter in five years don’t spend more than five minutes worrying about it – I like that.” Never one to rest on her laurels, Da Silva is committed to making a difference – she currently works with the National Childcare Trust tutoring young children with dyslexia, something that is close to her heart, as some of her family members also have dyslexia.
“It’s something I feel passionately about because my sister and my mum both have it. I love children as well, I have a six-year-old son, and it’s something that I wanted to help with because not everyone has the money to pay for private tutoring,” she explains.
“I have also extended my mentoring to get women back into work. As a single mum I found I lost quite a lot of confidence and here we have great access to so many things that others don’t, and I thought it was a good opportunity to give back.
“I think being a PA has definitely given me confidence and I think there’s a lot of aspects of business management in what we do, because we have to multitask and it gives you a hunger for it.”
“Because I think a lot of people don’t have access to that level of coaching and have that person they can look up to, so I think it’s great to offer it. Those are my two passions outside of work and they keep me honest and working hard.”
But that’s not all, as Da Silva recently decided to embark on another venture, but this time with her six-year-old son. The duo are putting their creativity to the test and are set to create kids’ designs.
To kick things off, Da Silva has enrolled in a short course to, as she puts it, ‘brush up on pattern cutting and art skills,’ to develop personalised designs for customers. She remains tight-lipped about the business’ name; however, plans are already underway for an upcoming website.
“I actually wanted to do a project with my son, he’s very creative and cool,” she explains. “I think being a PA has definitely given me confidence and I think there’s a lot of aspects of business management in what we do, because we have to multitask and it gives you a hunger for it.”
But with such a crammed schedule, what’s next? “I love working at Barclays, and I think in five years’ time I would like to stay as a PA but move up the ranks in terms of being an AVP, which is an assistant vice president and then after that a VP. If I reached one of those two I’d be happy,” she enthuses.
“I’d like to do a bit more training or speak at a few seminars, while continuing to volunteer and to write articles – but not profit motivated just for the love of being involved.”