Financial services has long been considered to be male-dominated and thus perceived as notoriously difficult for women to infiltrate and succeed in. Certainly, women are still underrepresented in the sector, particularly at the executive level, which can be off-putting from the outset. However, thanks to industry-wide and company-specific efforts, the gender-gap is definitely narrowing, with success increasingly determined by merit over masculinity.
For three senior women working at HSBC, their gender has not defined their success in treasury and it is their stories that the generations of the future need to hear.
In her role as regional head of international countries of global liquidity and cash management in Asia, Yvonne Yiu looks after 11 markets, providing leadership support to help shape their strategic direction and business performance. Her succession to seniority has not been without its challenges.
“The work/life balance is a constant challenge, particularly as my job requires a lot of travel. Being able to be fully committed to the job whilst simultaneously providing support to my family is always going to be difficult, but you learn to prioritise and make time for everything,” Yvonne explains.
It’s a sentiment Bonnie Chiu, regional head of sales for global banking corporates, agrees with. “Balancing family and work, especially with travel and evening conference calls, is difficult but so important.” In addition, she cites making her voice heard as one of the keys to success. “Being assertive enough to speak up in a second language and amongst an organisation where much of the senior management are non-Asian was initially intimidating, but is really essential.”
Indeed, shyness and a lack of confidence is often claimed to be one of the reasons women don’t get ahead – but is the best way to get noticed. Silence in a meeting can sometimes be misconstrued for apathy or laziness, neither of which are qualities we look for in our leaders.
For Jennifer Doherty, head of innovation, Asia, based in Singapore, bravery was at the heart of her progression. “Ask for what you want and don’t be afraid to ask for help,” she states. “A mentor has also been critical to my progression in the industry.”
“In developing markets, diversity and perceptions about the role of women can be very different. You need to change the mindset and play a role in breaking down internal barriers”
A guiding hand can be hugely valuable when it comes to getting ahead. Speaking to someone senior to you who has succeeded in the system, understands the difficulties and through their own experience, knows how to conquer them, is a good way to fast-track your development.
Yvonne, Bonnie and Jennifer have all been fortunate enough not to experience discrimination at HSBC, which they all cite as a very open organisation that champions female leadership – indeed, the head of global liquidity and cash management globally is a woman (Diane Reyes), and the company has a high awareness of the value of diversity and inclusion. However, they all appreciate that others are not so fortunate, and prior to HSBC have witnessed discrimination at work.
“If there are women who feel disadvantaged then there needs to be an outlet or support to help them navigate that,” explains Jennifer, who mentors at the bank. “Being a mentor is not a responsibility to be taken lightly – you are there to support someone who needs it.”
Yvonne has never felt disadvantaged with regards to her gender but appreciates that it is a company’s responsibility to accommodate women’s needs, such as returning to work after maternity leave and support. She also notes that it’s important for leadership to view you as a colleague and not through the lens of gender. “I have worked with a lot of male leaders and I don’t feel there is any difference to how they talk to me versus other colleagues because we don’t focus on gender here. We focus on output.”
Whilst it is important to focus on the individual and not on their gender, Yvonne, Bonnie and Jennifer all acknowledge that men play an important role in supporting women at work.
“We cannot create diversity alone,” explains Jennifer. “It must come from both sides. Male mentors have been as helpful to me as female ones. Support and mentorship across the board is helpful to provide different perspectives and views and enables you to grow both personally and professionally.”
So what does financial services need to do to attract and retain more women?
For Yvonne, it varies market to market. “In developing markets, diversity and perceptions about the role of women can be very different. You need to change the mindset and play a role in breaking down internal barriers.”
Beyond this, companies shouldn’t be afraid to show off their best female talent. “Showcase more female leaders,” stresses Bonnie. Jennifer agrees, stating that “the more vocal senior women there are, the better.”
In financial services, it’s easy to assume the industry is totally dominated by men they get all the attention.
“The more of us who speak out and address the topic, the more obvious it becomes that women can also be very successful in the industry,” says Jennifer.
She’s not wrong. You just need to look across the HSBC network to see the array of strong female leaders that have made their way to the top. The demographics of financial services is changing. It’s time to get on board.