Women in Treasury

Diversity in action

Published: Apr 2016
Women in Treasury Singapore Forum 2016 panellist group photo

Our recent Treasury Today Asia Women in Treasury Forum saw over 130 senior financial professionals gathered in Singapore to discuss what must be done to further drive diversity in our industry.

It is undeniable that in recent years the forces driving gender diversity in the workplace have gained real momentum. The numbers speak for themselves with many countries highlighting an increase in the amount of women now sitting at board level. Yet there is still much more to be done.

Treasury Today Asia are proud to be championing gender diversity in our industry. Since the launch of our Women in Treasury initiative, the response has been overwhelming and representative of the need for action. Now in its fourth year, the Women in Treasury initiative spans a number of platforms including our global study, webinars, corporate profiles, and our LinkedIn networking group.

Women are a formidable force in the workplace. As individuals, we can make a difference if we want one day to see as many women in top management positions as men.

Wei Ling Chong, Corporate Treasurer, Agoda

Our annual Forums spearhead the initiative, the most recent taking place on April 14th at the South Beach in Singapore. Kicking off with a pre-lunch reception, guests came together to share and to learn from each other’s professional experiences. Key highlights from the findings of our latest Women in Treasury Study were outlined by Sophie Jackson, Associate Publisher, Treasury Today Asia, in her opening address to our guests.

Gender equality – striving for more

The post-lunch panel session was facilitated by Jaya Machet, Founder and Managing Director of Coaching Tiger and former Regional Treasurer for Asia Pacific at Nokia. As in previous years, the dynamic discussion was honest, lively, insightful and inspiring, offering thoughtful views on gender diversity across the region, the progress that is being made and what more needs to be done.

Women in Treasury Asia Forum 2016

Deepali Pendse, Head of Corporate Treasury Sales, Southeast Asia, Bank of America Merrill Lynch, presented her views on gender equality. In her opinion, although progress has been made in the workplace to foster gender equality at all levels, a lot more needs to be done to see the real benefit. It has already been proven that gender equality is more than just an added bonus; it actually provides businesses with a different perspective and a competitive advantage.

Quotas are often mooted as a way to build a more equal workplace, yet they remain a somewhat contentious issue. Highlighted by Deepali and picked up by the rest of the panel, there was a broad agreement that more structural changes within companies would provide a more prudent method of driving sustainable long-term gender equality in the workplace.

For Deepali, a large part of this structural shift will come from removing unconscious bias, which she believes we are all guilty of holding in one form or another. “Unconscious bias can come into play when we are hiring, promoting, or in our day-to-day interactions with other people, so it is important to be aware of these and try to find solutions that are better for the firm.” Deepali’s advice was to question and evaluate the decisions being made in light of the bias that exists. In doing so, it will help managers to understand their staff better and help them flourish in the workplace.

Women in Treasury Asia Forum 2016

Whilst business, and society in general, needs to make more changes, Deepali was keen to point out that women also have a big say in building an equal and inclusive workplace. “These changes won’t happen by themselves. I encourage women to engage their managers should they feel an unconscious bias exists, or if support is lacking,” she explained.

Ultimately, Deepali believes that women have to want to move further in their career – it shouldn’t be forced upon them. “You won’t, and shouldn’t aspire to become a CFO/CEO if you don’t want to be one,” she said. “We all need to understand our own aspirations and what drives us, and then work with the business to make sure these are met.”

Team spirit

Treasury Today Asia’s Woman of the Year, and also the leader of our Top Treasury Team – Vivian Peng, Asia Treasurer and VP of Treasury, Flex – was perfectly placed to pick up the next topic: building a talented and diverse team. There may be a plethora of information available on this subject, but Vivian was able to provide some valuable insight based on her own experiences.

In her view, the key to building a talented team lies in ensuring that its ethos and attributes match what you want it to achieve. Vivian, for instance, told the audience that she wants her team to work together to drive the treasury department forward. This relies on the team having three attributes at its core: team spirit; a willingness to take on a challenge; and the ability to deliver.

Of course, in practice this is not always an easy ask – these attributes have to be built into every aspect of how the team operates. Vivian discussed her approach when hiring a new team member. She looks to the attributes that she wants from the team and applies these to each candidate, looking beyond their CVs and the qualifications and experiences each individual has and instead focusing on their cultural fit within the team.

A diverse team brings new energy and a fresh approach to the organisation. It almost rounds off the treasury: the ideas are more creative and free flowing, and it creates the value-add that so many treasury departments are looking for on a day-to-day basis.

Christopher Emslie, Country Treasurer, Singapore, ABB

“I am looking for people that reflect the attitude of the team, work hard, who are up for a challenge and who can perform in a high-pressure environment – you can’t always tell this from qualifications and experience alone,” she explained. “But it is important that they have these qualities because it means they will buy into the ethos of the team that I have built.”

At the heart of all of this is teamwork. “My staff are aware that I am more focused on team performance than that of individuals,” she commented. “For me a successful person is somebody who helps the other team members and looks at more than just what they are doing. The ones that get ahead will be those who do this the best.”

Making your way to the top

Building a dream team is also an effective way to push forward your own career, according to Lillian Sim, Head of MNC Regional Coverage & Sales, Singapore & Hong Kong, Global Corporate Bank, J.P. Morgan, who tackled the subject of career progression. “Surround yourself with people that are passionate about their job and their work,” she advised. “If you do this then you will find that challenges quickly turn into opportunities.”

“Women should challenge themselves more often,” she continued. “In the current environment, where organisations and the world around us are changing, you cannot stick with the status quo. I like to encourage people in my organisation to be proactive. This is not only beneficial to the organisation, but it is a lot more exciting and will help individuals’ careers to progress. People will sit up and take notice.”

Women in Treasury Asia Forum 2016

In doing so however, it is important to remain true to yourself. “Stand up for what you believe in,” advised Lillian. “I always base my decisions on my principles and it is key that you do what is right for yourself.” It can be good to say no from time to time – as long as you have a valid reason for doing so. “Be brave and speak up, this will help you achieve more respect within the organisation.”

Lillian is aware that there is only so much guidance one can offer and that ultimately women need to take charge of their own careers. “I have had many people ask me what I think they should do next and I tell them it is what you want to do next that is important,” she explained. A career should be viewed as a journey. It is important that there is a plan and a final goal that fits into what you as an individual want to achieve from life as a whole. On this journey it is important to celebrate the good times: “When you reach a milestone, make sure you recognize your hard work and mark it in some way.”

Success at what cost?

Of course, to have time to celebrate you need to have time for yourself outside of the office. And, as always, striking a work/life balance was one of the most popular discussion points.

For Pratibha Advani, CFO, Tata Communications, who spoke on this topic, the key is to seek personal fulfilment. “While life is all about the choices we make on a day to day basis, it is also about seeking fulfilment,” she said. “I am personally not a believer that gaining success in professional life alone can be fulfilling.”

Calling on her own career as a candid example, Pratibha explained that she has enjoyed her work as much as her personal life. “I have not had to compromise one for the other,” she stated. True fulfilment has come by “striking a balance between being a responsible employee and playing the role of a spouse, daughter and mother”.

We need to be brave to speak up. Our career is in our hands and we know better than anybody what we want.

Alice Chan, CFO, NETS

Yet with 38% of respondents to our Women in Treasury study indicating that they still do not have flexible working arrangements in place, it seems that striking a balance remains difficult. And even when these working arrangements are available, there will still be times where the two worlds clash.

Yet for Pratibha this is not necessarily a problem. “I am a believer that it is the quality of time and not the quantity of time that you spend with your children that matters,” she explained. “You should have the ability to find the time to be truly present with your kids when they need you and find things that unite the family.”

She also advised people to plan for the times when they need to be away from work well in advance. “One of the things I would urge to you all to do is stand up for your rights, in just the same way that men can. If a male chairman or CEO can say,’ sorry I am unavailable,’ then so can you. Don’t compromise your personal life for your professional life.”

Women in Treasury: get involved!

We would like to thank all those who took part in, attended and supported our Women in Treasury Asia Forum and would like to invite all others in the industry who are interested in the initiative to get involved. Join our LinkedIn group, participate in the 2016 Women in Treasury Study. We hope to see you at our next forum in London on Thursday September 15th in London.

For any general enquiries regarding the Women in Treasury initiative in Asia please contact Sophie Jackson, Associate Publisher, Treasury Today Asia – sophie.jackson@treasurytoday.com

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