Women in Treasury

The power of community

Published: Dec 2021

At the 2021 virtual Women in Treasury US Forum, a panel of experts discussed their career journeys and spoke about the importance of everything from mentoring and representation to the value of building communities of like-minded individuals.

Women in Treasury US Forum 2021

Treasury Today’s Women in Treasury US Forum took place on 17th November as a digital event. Hosted by Sophie Jackson, Treasury Today’s Publisher & Head of Strategic Content and Meg Coates, Publisher & Head of Operations, a panel of experts from the treasury and banking community discussed a range of important topics, including representation and visibility, the complexities of intersectionality, and the value of building communities. The panel included:

  • Danette Le, Vice President and Assistant Treasurer, Corporate Finance, Host Hotels & Resorts

  • Karina Inga-Kamienski, Senior Director, Capital Markets, Gilead Sciences, Inc.

  • Phung Ngo-Burns, Chief Accounting Officer and Treasurer, NexTier Completion Solutions

  • Dorothy Musho, Executive Vice President, Head of Commercial Banking Sales, Global Liquidity & Cash Management, HSBC

  • Lisa Davis, Global Head of Digital Channels, J.P. Morgan Wholesale Payments

Routes to success

The panellists gave an overview of their career paths to date. Phung explained that she comes from an immigrant family – “We came to the United States in the 1970s” – and that mentoring has been a recurring theme in her career ever since high school. She added that much of the value of working with a mentor has come from being open minded about suggestions from people who are interested in her progress.

“The question, ‘Have you ever thought of…?’ is one that has resonated with me throughout my career – from ‘Have you thought of accounting?’ to ‘Have you thought of joining the aviation industry?’ to ‘Have you thought about getting your MBA?’” said Phung. She added that as a result of benefiting from the encouragement of many mentors along her career journey, she is now keen to be a mentor herself.

Lisa, meanwhile, spoke about her childhood in Brooklyn as the only girl in a family with five brothers. Without the means to go to college, she joined the United States Air Force and later attended night classes and worked in hospitality before making the move into banking. “What I said in the job interview was that at the end of the day we’re serving clients’ needs – whether it’s serving them a bowl of soup, or serving up a bank account,” she recalled. “We all have to learn how to service our customers, and we all have to learn what that means in the particular industry that we’re in.” Lisa subsequently spent 22 years at Citi before moving to J.P. Morgan.

Dorothy talked about her early sporting ability, and the insights she gained about the importance of teamwork. “I played sports all through high school and college, and I think that helped me when I first entered the workforce,” she said. “I was always in banking – I started with Chase Manhattan Bank – and my skillset helped me get those initial roles. People would ask during the recruiting process, ‘You were part of a team – tell me about that.’”

Turning to the value of mentorship, she reflected that many people have had mentors without necessarily regarding them in that way – and that some of her most valuable mentors have been men. Today, she added, one of her most important activities is to have Zoom meetings with people who are about to graduate and want to know what they should be thinking about. “The best part of being able to sit at a forum like this is to talk about that, influence other ideas, and help others along the way,” she said.

Building communities

Danette described the work she has done in setting up the Women’s Inspirational Network at Host Hotels & Resorts. With the planned launch event delayed by the beginning of the pandemic, it became clear that a change in direction was needed: “We realised we needed to pivot, because our female colleagues really needed us, and we needed to provide that supportive community.” Following a virtual launch, 2021 has seen numerous developments, from a virtual fireside chat with some newer female leaders of the company to virtual community service events. “We wanted to ensure that throughout the year, whether virtual or in person, we continue to have regular cadence of communication with our members,” Danette added.

Karina, meanwhile, explained that she had been looking for an organisation that would help build strong connections with other women in finance and treasury – “and I didn’t find one – so the idea came up about creating one.” She began speaking to women she knew to gauge interest in the idea, and found considerable support. “Three years later, Women in Treasury in the San Francisco Bay area is still going strong,” she said. “It’s a venue where we can build connections, support each other with career advancement, and inspire the next generation of women.” Following a recent career panel for young, female finance students, the group is now also helping to build mentorship relationships.

Alongside this community, Karina has also created a Latinas in Finance and Treasury circle. “I love this circle, because it brings that intersectionality between being a woman, being Latina, and being in a field where we’re not very much represented,” she comments. “So our focus is to increase representation, share and learn from each other, support our growth in our careers – and bring more Latinas to the table.” She explained that while this type of initiative does take considerable energy and dedication, “there’s power in building that community.”

“It is inspiring to be part of this community of women who are passionate about growing their careers, mentoring the younger generation for success and bringing women together to ensure we continue to have a voice in this industry.”

Leslie Berman, Vice President – Trade & Treasury Solutions, BNP Paribas

Representation and visibility

The conversation turned to the importance of visibility and representation. Phung noted that visibility is more important than ever, and that it plays a critical part in “getting everyone to be able to share their story, and to help you to know that you are never alone in your journey.” She explained that meeting individuals with a similar background to hers has helped her to understand where her aspirations come from.

Returning to intersectionality, Lisa observed that the community she goes home to is very different to the community she works with, and that being a black woman in banking and finance is much rarer than simply being a woman in banking and finance. “Diversity comes in so many colours and so many facets – it gets down to what you believe, and religion, and being LGBTQ, and all these other facets of our lives,” she continued. “If we could figure out a way to bring all of that into the pot, I think we’d find we’re only tapping a little bit of how to make every individual feel like they belong.”

Achievements so far

Sophie asked the panel about the progress that has happened so far. Dorothy said that people are becoming more comfortable about having this type of conversation and asking questions. “The Covid environment has helped that,” she commented. “Look at this – we’ve brought together people that wouldn’t have been in New York; we’ve opened this up to an audience that would not have been able to participate in the past.” But as she also pointed out, another outcome of the pandemic is that a significant number of women have left the workforce.

Danette noted that the US is one of the only wealthy countries that doesn’t offer parental leave at a national level – “But the good thing is that individual companies are improving what they’re offering for their employees. Having time to adjust to the new reality of being a working mom is really important.” Likewise, she said that the flexibility that has arisen during the pandemic in terms of being able to work from home or adjust working hours to accommodate childcare “has been an important and positive shift.”

For Karina, understanding the power of community is another important development. “What I’ve learned is that people really appreciate being part of a community, and the sense of belonging,” she explained. “If you don’t see something offered in your community, then go create it and surround yourself with people that are like minded and positive.”

The Great Resignation

One trend that companies have experienced this year is the ‘Great Resignation’ – in other words, a spike in employees quitting their jobs. In the US, for example, 3% of the workforce left their jobs in September alone. Against this backdrop, Sophie asked the panel about the challenges women may face when moving to a new organisation.

Dorothy noted that HSBC has a people committee that provides help not only with signing up for the right systems, but also with introducing new starters to the resources they may need professionally and personally. “In the first 30 days, that means making sure they’re being introduced to the right group of individuals across the organisation, as well as finding out their interests and helping them understand the culture,” she added.

Looking forward, Danette emphasised the importance of avoiding complacency. “Think outside the box and take risks, because that’s how you’re going to grow,” she concluded. “Clearly this has been a long journey for all of us in terms of gender equality, DE&I – and it’s going to continue. As long as we are never complacent, we will make progress.”

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