Tell us how you arrived at your current role.
When I got my Master’s degree in Business Administration, I was based in Pennsylvania, and secured an opportunity at Mellon Bank. From there I moved to New York, where I worked at J.P. Morgan, then Citi and now HSBC. All of those assignments started in transaction banking, which I really have a passion for. I refer to myself as a ‘transaction banking lifer’ – in a positive sense, of course!
I moved to HSBC because I was looking to run an end-to-end product business and I wanted to be the executive in charge. I wanted to come in and run a business where I could create ideas from a strategic perspective, including the design of products, selling or distributing the products, risk mitigation and protecting the bank from any harm that could possibly come – as well as having a financial responsibility for the P&L.
How do you think the conversation around diversity and inclusion has changed?
I’m definitely positive about the progress we’ve made as an industry, but there’s always more to do. I also think it’s important that we don’t stop at gender, and we focus on every aspect of diversity and inclusion. A big area for us is ethnic diversity, and we need initiatives that allow us to take action, using successful lessons from our female inclusion work.
Would you say it’s more important to have a defined career plan or to be open and flexible?
I would say a little bit of both. If you want to go somewhere, you need to figure out what opportunities will help you get there, or deter you. But you shouldn’t be so firm that you won’t take a position unless it’s exactly the direction that you want. Being flexible allows you to explore things that you otherwise might not have done, and that may be lateral moves instead. Some people spend so long planning every micro-detail, they can then never execute on their plan because it’s too specific and unreasonable.
What is your motto in life, or your greatest inspiration?
My greatest inspiration is my father. I’m one of seven children, and he worked full time as a career businessman whilst raising us. He was always the greatest example of working hard and he taught me to be a force of resilience.
My motto is simple: practise, practise, practise. Too many people want something, but they don’t prepare for it, they don’t practise their elevator pitch, or what to say in an interview. If you don’t practise, you’ll forget what it is you wanted to say, and you’ll sound unnatural and insincere. There’s nothing to be embarrassed about practising, it just delivers greater results.
As a mother to four children, all of working age, Diane has experienced first-hand how the younger generation is shaking up the workplace. “They do things very differently, and they can educate us about what’s changing in the world,” she says. Additionally, she’s found that this generation has a very strong moral compass, and often don’t have concerns about speaking up. “As leaders we need to be the receivers of this new ‘speak up’ culture, and accept it and act on it.”
This can be especially true for women in finance that are looking to establish and develop a career. For Diane, this is something she feels she has learned the hard way. “If you don’t tell people where you want to go, they’ll make assumptions,” she says. Managers can often have up to 20 direct reports, so they may not know everyone’s individual career ambitions. Therefore, she says it’s important to raise your hand and ask for opportunities and explain the desired direction.
Additionally, Diane notes the importance of companies offering formal mentorship and sponsorship programmes. At HSBC, she sponsors the Accelerating into Leadership programme where, if they meet the performance criteria, women are taught the necessary skills to move further up in the company. The mentoring and sponsoring experience does, for many women, allow a focus on getting their voices heard in one-on-one situations with a senior employee, as well as in a broader context. “I think it’s about giving people the experience to know how to handle a boss, how to handle a difficult conversation, and how to go to people for counselling and advice,” she says. In fact, she adds, when the time comes for performance reviews, the bank’s HR department often gets involved to encourage all staff to be comfortable when reminding their managers what they’ve accomplished.
Strive for improvement
A global pandemic isn’t the most ideal of circumstances for many companies – and for Diane, it’s no different. She’s learned two main lessons throughout the period: resilience and empathy.
Diane notes that like many, she has been working even longer hours since working from home, as well as taking fewer – if any – breaks, and as such has had to focus on resilience – both physical and mental. “I’d be getting headaches because I hadn’t taken a break or eaten all day,” she says. To combat this, she began scheduling in lunch and exercise breaks to “re-energise and re-invigorate” herself. “I went for walks around my neighbourhood, and saw it from a totally different angle! I saw animals I’d never seen around before, and I learned that I live near some water that you can’t even see from the road.”
For empathy, Diane found it came from the ‘check-in calls’ with her team. “These are not about business, but about asking how everyone is doing,” she says. It was two months in when a team member realised that Diane always checked how everyone else was, but never shared how she was doing. “I didn’t expect it, but I decided I was going to be vulnerable and tell him that my sister-in-law had been in intensive care for a while and that it was very serious.” It’s this vulnerability that Diane thinks makes better leaders. “It shows humanity, and as a team, we become closer,” she says.
When not staring in the face of a global pandemic, Diane is a keen advocate for targets in the diversity and inclusion space. “The reason I’m a fan of targets is because you won’t know if you’re making progress if you don’t have a tangible metric to focus on,” she explains.
It’s all well and good having conversations around the topic, but if in five years’ time there’s still no progress with hiring or promoting minority candidates, then the conversations would not have been very helpful. The benefits of having diverse teams is that this allows for diversity of thought, broader skillsets and backgrounds that can help HSBC offer better solutions to its customers. As Diane explains, the customers make the bank. “I’ve seen a positive difference when we’ve implemented targets and included them on management scorecards,” she says. “They are an important part of building the right culture, where people are included and where they can speak up, which is what enables you to deliver the best outcomes for your customers.”