Treasury Today Country Profiles in association with Citi

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Women in Treasury Singapore Forum 2018 panellists

On Wednesday April 25th 2018 over 150 senior treasury professionals from throughout Asia Pacific gathered at the Four Seasons hotel in Singapore to debate diversity at Treasury Today’s fifth Women in Treasury Singapore Forum.

Record numbers of treasury and finance professionals from across the region came together in Singapore to celebrate and champion women in treasury. If there was a sign needed that the topic of gender diversity is growing in importance it would be that in its fifth year, Treasury Today’s Asia latest chapter of our Women in Treasury Forums has never been so well attended or so buzzing with energy.

Treasury Today’s Women in Treasury initiative was established to pioneer women in our industry and to create a new professional community where we share our experiences and encourage each other’s professional development. Over the six years since the Women in Treasury initiative started, we have seen such a shift in the mainstream cultural consciousness, with companies across the board recognising a focus on diversity and inclusion as fundamentally important if they wish to be successful businesses of the future.

Singapore has played host to all of the Treasury Today Group’s Women in Treasury Singapore Forums to date and it is a particularly special place to host such events. Singapore is a great location to speak about gender diversity and equality, as there is just such fantastic representation for women in the country state at senior levels in corporate treasury and finance, and the support from the treasury community in Singapore for the Women in Treasury initiative has been so strong.

At a broader level, the Singaporean government has been incredibly vocal of its plans to push for better representation at board level, with a target of 20% female representation on boards by 2020. Although at board level female representation remains low, in corporate treasury there are a great number of women enjoying brilliant careers and sharing best practice in this region which can only facilitate a dialogue that pushes for progress at all levels.

Key themes of the day

The most recent Singapore forum, hosted in late April of this year, offered a platform for a diverse line-up of senior industry figures to share their experiences and insights on a broad range of issues affecting many women and men working in treasury across the region, whilst also offering some valuable advice to the audience.

During the pre-lunch reception, the forum was opened by Meg Coates, Joint Publisher & Head of Operations, and Sophie Jackson, Joint Publisher & Head of Strategic Content, who introduced the Women in Treasury initiative and presented the results of the most recent Women in Treasury Annual Global Study. Meg gave an overview of the study, presenting the following findings:

‘The 2017 online study was conducted from May to September 2017 and was the fifth Women in Treasury Study. The global study attracted 352 responses from a broad universe in terms of experience, age, geography and role.

Portrait of woman asking a question to the panel

Some of the key themes raised by the respondents to the 2017 study were as follows:

The majority of respondents were aged between 35 and 54 and 50% have dependent children. More than half have been in a treasury role for over ten years.

It was clear that flexibility in the workplace is integral to enabling both women and men to return to work in a way that supports them and their families, with 30% of respondents to the 2017 Study stating that their organisation had changed its approach to flexible working in the past year, which would imply that attitudes to flexible working are improving.

On the topic of gender parity regarding pay and opportunities, 41% of respondents said they felt they earnt less than their male counterparts, which has shockingly increased 12% on last year.

Only 6% felt there had been improvements in pay parity over the past year, with over a quarter of respondents feeling overlooked and ignored in the workplace because of their gender.

More encouragingly, the majority of respondents characterised their company’s approach to diversity, inclusion and equal opportunity as favourable, with over three quarters of companies already having strategies in place.

On the topic of quotas for board representation, over 40% of respondents felt there should be a quota for female representation on boards. 39% said no and 17% weren’t sure.

Portrait of Toni Weber, interTouch Pte Ltd, laughing

It is disappointing not to have seen more progress at board level over the five years since the initiative began. Will we still be debating the merits of quotas in 20 years? The case for having more women on boards is stronger than ever. Not only does research show that companies with more women in executive positions report stronger financial results, but the reputational and brand advantages are also significant. Yet, the numbers remain very small: on a global basis, just 9% of CEOs and Managing Directors are women. From our respondents, just 7.5% have a female CEO.

Mentoring and sponsorship programmes received incredibly positive responses. Over 70% of respondents to the 2017 study felt these were key to a successful career.

On the subject of networking and social events, 35% of respondents have felt excluded. The main reasons cited were gender and parental responsibilities.”

Deep discussion

With this, the introductory part of the afternoon came to a close as guests then moved through to a three course lunch and sat down to hear from our roll call of expert panellists.

The Women in Treasury 2018 Singapore Forum panellists were:

  • Florence Tan, Head, Treasury, APAC, M+W Group

  • Christopher Emslie, Asia Regional Treasurer, General Mills

  • Crystina Hickey, CFA, Vice President, BlackRock

  • Chédia Haddouchi, Treasury Manager, APAC, Uber

The panel discussion was facilitated by Treasury Today’s Sophie Jackson and the thought provoking debate included topics such as taking charge of one’s own professional destiny, mentoring, mobility and the value of building a strong and diverse team.

Portrait of Bonnie Yang, Alibaba during the drinks reception

Beginning with discussing the draw to the treasury profession, the panel discussion explored the motivations behind both Florence Tan of M+W Group and Chédia Haddouchi of Uber’s career choices to date, focusing on what makes a role in treasury unique. As Florence explained, ‘I think that the treasury skill set is very scalable. We need to learn about the company, the business and the product. It’s important to learn about the different infrastructures of the countries that the company operates in, learn about the different payment methods, regulatory environment, FX regulations and so on.’

Chédia added the following around her enjoyment and choice of the profession, ‘In treasury you have to collaborate with a lot of people from across the business. So I think as a treasury person it’s really in the DNA, to be able to collaborate, whether it’s people from legal, tax or other functions across the business. This is really a very central and unique position that only treasury people and a few corporate functions in companies have, and this is something I really enjoy! The other aspect of treasury that I’ve learned to love over the years is really the adrenalin rush that we have in our daily roles, because you never know what’s going to happen during the day! That was not so fun at the beginning of my career, but over time and with experience you become more comfortable with the “unexpected”, you know how to react, you know who to reach out to and that’s a part of the job I’ve really learned to enjoy.’

Flexibility in the workplace is integral to enabling both women and men to return to work in a way that supports them and their families.

Crystina Hickey of BlackRock spoke of her own career journey and of the critical importance of being clear and vocal about what you want to do with your career. From her own experience of requesting an interview for a position, she had learnt that being open and clear about your needs and career goals is important within your organisation. Crystina explained that whilst we may not always get everything we want, taking the initiative and voicing an opinion is something she reminds herself to do on a daily basis.

Portrait of man during the drinks reception

Chris Emslie of General Mills is a South African native and spent the majority of his career working there in treasury before a move to Asia in recent years and to his current role in Singapore at General Mills. Chris spoke of the changes and developments to the diversity and inclusion dialogue that he has seen over this time and the fantastic example his current employer is setting with regards to female representation, ‘I think it was about ten years ago I walked into my first treasury conference with ABB, out of 60 treasurers there were two female treasurers, and the rest were all support staff. Most of those senior positions were taken by men and everybody else just filled into those support roles. I think as I’ve seen over the years, and moving to Asia and of course moving to General Mills now, my direct boss is a woman, my Vice President Finance – Asia and Latin America is a woman, our Group President – Asia and Latin America is a woman. Forty percent of our senior management staff in Asia at the moment are women and overall per our staff complement 45% are women out of a total workforce in the region of 10,000. That’s the change that I’ve seen over the last 20 years as diversity has started to come in. It’s not everywhere, we all need to learn that, but it is coming.’

The panel moved to discuss broader concepts of diversity and inclusion, with Crystina speaking of the value of diversity of thought and diversity of perspective, both of which are critical in driving forward powerful collaborative ideas. Crystina added that the inclusion piece of the puzzle involves those diverse thoughts and perspectives being well received, with all members of a team feeling confident and comfortable that their views will be heard and their positions respected.

Conversation then swiftly moved to the critical and increasing importance of flexibility in the workplace. In our 2017 study the results indicated that 30% of respondent’s organisations had recently changed their approach to flexibility as this becomes more commonplace and accepted as central to the fruitful future of work. Our panel debated the difficulties involved with balancing flexibility and working from home with the need for visibility within one’s organisation when forging forward with an ambitious career plan.

35% of respondents to Treasury Today’s Women in Treasury Study 2017 have felt excluded. The main reasons cited were gender and parental responsibilities.

Issues around quotas, board representation and the tricky trailblazing that female board members across the world are having to engage in followed suit, before moving to discuss mentoring and the people that have inspired and supported our panellists’ careers to date. Other issues discussed included mobility, how we place value on different individuals and on our (hopefully) bright and inclusive working future.

Following the panel discussion, a lively and enthusiastic question and answer session took place, with many questions raised by the audience. This gave the panel the opportunity to share further insights from their own careers and the challenges they have faced and overcome. It was a fantastic dialogue, enriched by the candour and forthcoming approach to the afternoon that was adopted by both the panellists onstage and the (female and male) attendees from the world of corporate treasury.

Meg giving speech to guests

Thriving community

Against a backdrop of uncertainty and change on the global geopolitical scene, it is very encouraging to see the dialogue around diversity and inclusion grow in significance and the rallying cries for progress increase in volume. Commenting on the success of the event, Sophie Jackson said, ‘As we approached the sixth anniversary of Treasury Today’s Women in Treasury initiative it was fantastic in Singapore to take stock of how far our industry has come in that time. The Women in Treasury initiative is constantly growing and expanding, driven forward by the women and men who are part of our community and who lend their voices to our conversations around diversity, inclusion and representation in corporate treasury. It was a galvanising experience to see this community thriving in Singapore last April.’

Treasury Today Group’s Women in Treasury initiative recognises the importance of women in the corporate treasury profession and creates a means for women in treasury to communicate with one another, learn from each other and build relationships in order to help each other. The Women in Treasury initiative seeks to offer a platform to make women more visible and to bring people together to discuss and celebrate diversity in the corporate space.

As well as our forums Treasury Today Group also:

  • Profiles female leaders in our regular This Much I Know feature.

  • Conducts an annual Women in Treasury Global Study. 2018’s study, in association with State Street Global Advisors, will close for submissions on August 17th 2018.

To learn more about Treasury Today Group’s Women in Treasury initiative please visit: treasurytoday.com/wit