As COVID-19 has necessitated rapid digitalisation for many, our Women in Treasury programme has responded in kind. This year’s Forum took place virtually on Zoom as our community came together from across the region for an exciting and insightful panel discussion with extra guest speakers, an interactive Question & Answer session and an open chat networking function at the end.
The 2020 Women in Treasury APAC Forum kicked off with Sophie Jackson, Joint Publisher and Head of Strategic Content, sharing some early insights from the 2020 Women in Treasury Global Study. Attendees were treated to ‘hot off the press’ data around parity, inclusion and representation.
Meg Coates, Joint Publisher and Head of Operations, sharing details of attendee demographics, highlighted that the virtual event delivery now allowed for women and male allies in treasury from across the Asia Pacific region to attend. Virtual delivery in this instance enabled the community to come together, bringing together people that may seldom be in the same physical space.
The panel discussion, moderated by Sophie Jackson, was laid out in an agenda, shared with attendees which consisted of three broad pillars of discussion tackled by the following heavyweight panel speakers:
Tiana Sheridan, Vice President, Sales & Relationship Manager, Cash Management, BlackRock.
Seng Ti Goh, Senior General Manager, Finance & Administration, Isuzu Motors Asia Ltd and President, Association of Corporate Treasurers (Singapore).
Rashmi Joshi, CFO and Whole Time Director, Castrol India.
Aigerim Bekzhanova, Business Controller, Vanderlande.
The first pillar focused on finance as a profession, probing issues of how to get ahead. Rashmi set about explaining her career path. She described her path as a long journey, where she knew that she wanted to be a CFO upon first qualifying as a Chartered Accountant in the late 1980s. Hers was not an isolated aspiration. In an audience poll, 40% of attendees said they were aspiring to be a CFO, and it was noted that the path from treasurer to CFO has become a lot more defined as the treasury role has become more strategic.
Rashmi continued, explaining that although a driving force for her was her “strong will”, her support system both at home and work was also key to her success. “Being able to get the required help and support from immediate family and extended family is something a woman needs to do if she wants to take on more responsibilities in her career,” she said. “My parents, my in-laws, my husband; all of them have supported me a lot.”
Professionally, she feels that support from colleagues and seniors is also needed. Rashmi, who told the audience that she had very recently become a grandmother, reported that Castrol has given her the space to work flexibly so she could assist her daughter and grandson who were staying with her. “If you really want to employ diversity and support women, then you really have to create this flexible environment,” she said.
On the subject of professional support, guest, Sonia Clifton-Bligh, Director, Regional Treasury Services Centre Asia Pacificat Johnson & Johnson, asked how, in a remote working environment, can mentees and mentors, find one another and establish a relationship?
As both a mentee and a mentor, Tiana has found that the most successful mentorships have come from reaching out to her managers at the time. “They often face off with more senior individuals than I might on a day-to-day basis, and given how well they know me, I think there’s no harm in asking someone to put you forward or suggest some names,” she explained.
Rashmi added that the move to virtual meetings for the largely foreseeable future also has some significant benefits, not least being much wider access to mentors online. “You get more variety of experiences and backgrounds and cultures, and you don’t have to restrict yourself to certain people,” she said. Video meetings can be just as effective as in-person, she believes, as you can still read expressions and body language.
Inclusion and diversity are issues that are incredibly close to the hearts of the Women in Treasury community, evidenced by another poll during the event. 76% of attendees said that D&I was “very important” to them, whilst 20% ranked it as “somewhat important”.
This second pillar was opened up by Aigerim Bekzhanova. Featured in the March/April edition of Treasury Today Asia in a This Much I Know profile, Aigerim is passionate about female representation. Being from Kazakhstan and having experienced a “hierarchical and masculine environment”, she has encountered a few challenges in her professional life. “I had to set ambitious goals from the beginning, because the outlook in society was that at some point I’d shift to be with a family,” she explained.
Key to realising her goals was her education, first with a Bachelor’s degree from an international university in her home country, before journeying to Scotland for her Master’s degree in Accounting and Finance. It was the support of both male and female leaders that encouraged Aigerim to aim high and push through societal barriers. “If I didn’t have that experience of diversity and inclusion, I wouldn’t be here right now talking about my journey,” she said.
Tiana also noted the importance of sustaining the conversation around inclusion. “When you look at diversity, you’re looking at representation. But when you look at inclusion, you’re looking at how to embrace those differences, those distinguishing attributes of each person,” she explained. Last time she counted, at BlackRock, she says there were eight different affinity networks, which she believes are critical when trying to support minority groups. “They range from veterans, to women, families, black professionals, and more recently the abilities network.” Creating a safe space for people to share experiences encourages employees to connect, which in turn promotes increased productivity.
The third and final pillar was opened by Seng Ti Goh, who explained that being an inclusive treasury leader should not be just “rhetoric, or being politically correct”. Instead, he said, “you have to really believe it, and it has to come from within. People are discerning, and they will know the difference.” There are three key things he’s learned on his journey. The first is the difference between hearing and listening. “You have to listen using your heart, not only having an understanding but also developing empathy,” he explained.
The second is to appreciate the importance of collaboration. “Unless you are on the track competing in the 100m sprint, you cannot achieve targets alone. And we are all working in teams – not as individuals,” he said. Lastly, is to accept that the world is likely to be a multiverse. “It’s not singular, it’s not bipolar, it’s most likely multiverse, and people come with different ethnic, racial and sexual profiles; different orientations, personalities and beliefs; different educational and social backgrounds; and you just have to accept that and appreciate that it is this differentiation that makes the world a better, nicer and more beautiful place.”
When it comes to top tips for women in the workplace, Tiana has learnt to have conviction in the things she believes in. “If you don’t believe it, then why should anyone else?” she said. Other key lessons were learnt from joining a ‘Taking the Stage’ programme, covered in more detail in Tiana’s This Much I Know profile.
Aigerim similarly felt that it’s important to be true to yourself, and also not to be afraid to show vulnerability. “It takes a lot of courage to be true to yourself, especially in a dynamically changing environment,” she said. On being vulnerable, she explained that it actually encourages closer bonds with colleagues. “We’re all on the same team and we’re struggling through the same times.”
Final guest, Toni Webber, Group Finance Director, interTouch Pte Ltd, asked the all-important question: with everyone working from home, how do you ensure you stay visible?
Tiana believes the answer is direct interaction. “Map out who you think are the most important stakeholders internally, who you need to maintain that exposure with, and set up regular updates,” she advised. These updates could be weekly, fortnightly or monthly, but it’s important to stay up to date and keep them up to date on individual accomplishments.
For Seng Ti, he shares the “Three Rs” that are noteworthy:
Relevance: we tend to digress and send convoluted emails. We should be mindful of that and keep out answers sharp and relevant. Be straightforward.
Responsive: if there’s a call to action or a deadline, whether you can meet it or not, you have to respond. “Don’t just go MIA and leave others hanging.”
Respectful: it’s important to be respectful of the audience and understand the value of their time. “You can’t write an email in the middle of the night and expect an answer, neither should you expect others to follow the same schedule as yourself – they might be busy with their boss or family.”
In lieu of a physical event allowing for attendees to network, a virtual chat room was kept open for attendees to interact with one another. As companies adjust to working from home and delivering digital events, it has become evident that they can be just as successful as physical ones.
The Women in Treasury community is committed to maintaining an open dialogue around inclusion and diversity, providing a platform for all those who want to be involved. This most recent forum proved that coming together digitally can be incredibly powerful and that staying connected is critical in challenging moments.