Women in Treasury

Leadership, relationships, and the importance of one step back for two forward

Published: Oct 2022

At the 2022 Women in Treasury EMEA Forum, four experts discussed their career journeys and shared insights on how they have shaped their own leadership style. They also spoke about the efficacy of quotas and some of the enduring challenges for women in treasury including the stigma of maternity leave in the US, and concerns about returning to work after a break.

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Women in Treasury EMEA Forum 2022

On 14th September, Treasury Today’s Women in Treasury EMEA Forum took place in London. Sophie Jackson, Treasury Today’s Publisher & Head of Strategic Content and Meg Coates, Publisher & Head of Operations, hosted an informative discussion about navigating a successful career, leadership styles and nurturing self-confidence in the workplace.

Four expert panellists joined them:

  • Yang Xu – Senior Vice President, Global Treasurer & Corporate Development, Kraft Heinz
  • Malcolm Grant – Chief of Treasury, International Organization for Migration
  • Amber Henderson-Smart – Global Head of Client Implementation, HSBC Global Payments Solutions
  • Kellie Scott – Global Product Head for Sales Finance, eCommerce Finance and Inventory Finance, Trade & Working Capital Solutions, J.P. Morgan Payments

Treasury journey

The panellists began by sharing their different treasury journeys and the key decisions they had made along the way. Amber explained that she moved into transaction banking after the GFC, landing a role in Hong Kong with HSBC after a stint in her native Australia with ANZ. “Everyone in Australia knows ANZ, but when I moved to HSBC in Hong Kong, people hadn’t heard of ANZ. One of my challenges was establishing credibility and proving I did have experience,” she recalled.

Yang, who grew up in a small town in China before a scholarship took her to study in Europe, spent a number of years working in finance roles before joining Kraft Heinz as Global Treasurer. More recently, a promotion led her to move from Chicago to the Netherlands.

Kellie started out studying medicine; after which she switched to a law degree. She began her career at Clifford Chance in 2001 and two years later switched to White & Case; she worked for nearly a decade in private practice specialising in acquisition finance and asset finance.

Like Amber, the GFC proved a pivotal moment. “I was able to raise my head above the parapet; I didn’t think I could go back to those crazy hours.” Cue a move into treasury when she followed an opening in trade finance with J. P. Morgan in what grew into her current role. The move required an unusual first step, she explained, “They asked me to go off and write myself a job spec. It was the best advice ever because it required me to think about my skill set and what value I could bring to the business.” She added that moving into something new won’t happen overnight, and takes perseverance.

Malcolm explained that after 15 years as a chartered accountant, he reached a crossroads in his career. His move to the IOM involved starting out in a junior role, taking one step back to take two forward. “This is something we might all have to do one way or another, but I had found a natural home in treasury,” he said.

Leadership style

The conversation turned to treasury leadership, and panellists discussed how they have developed their own leadership style. Yang, who recounted how a working mother offered early inspiration in her career, explained how she found her true leadership style by identifying key personality traits. “I couldn’t find my own style; I was often coached on how I should behave as a leader,” she said.

The process involved discovering her core values and choosing two words to best describe her. “I chose responsible and grateful. I realised this is me – it is what I am and what I value. I am quiet, but highly responsible and I see the good things in people. This became my badge going forward.”

Kellie espoused the importance of bravery and avoiding self-limitation. It led her to recount her own story, growing in confidence in a new role with responsibilyt for P&L that was outside her comfort zone. “As a recovering lawyer, I had got it into my head that I was terrible with numbers.”

Of course, she proved more than capable, quickly garnering the technical and analytical skills required. “Two years ago, if you’d asked me the difference between NII and NIR I’d have looked at you like you were crazy. Now, I’m all over my P&L. It was a learning opportunity for me that you can do it, if it’s something you want to do.”


Reflecting on progress in DEI, Malcolm voiced his concerns that the debate has plateaued and risks fatigue. “We need to push it to the top of the agenda,” he said, citing the importance of changing attitudes. For example, at the IOM, parental leave now applies equally to both parents. “We want to make a clear statement that parental responsibility is shared, and not put women in a position to have to choose between their career and family.”

As for quotas, he argued that although they risk replacing one kind of favouritism with another, quotas provide a framework that tackles the issue of diversity from the top down. “Unless we take action to facilitate opportunities for women from the top down, we will always have the problem that women are not seeing role models. I support quotas and sensitive mechanisms to facilitate fast tracking women in senior roles.”

Malcolm also stressed the importance of offering support to colleagues returning from parental leave. “Rather than prejudging we should focus on listening,” he said.


Yang explained how she has helped lead DEI initiatives in finance at Kraft Heinz. Research at the company revealed that gender diversity was strong at entry level, but tailed off at middle, managerial levels. At a higher level, candidates for most job openings tended to be predominantly male, she said. The company decided to introduce a new guideline ensuring that female candidates are always considered in roles at a high level; the interview panel must also have a minority. Kraft Heinz has also introduced a sponsorship scheme, allowing employees to voice their concerns in a supported environment. “We haven’t introduced quotas, but we have set up a process and are measuring progress so that it is quantifiable and visible,” she said.

True self

Kellie reflected on the importance of bringing our true self to work – and celebrating the diversity of the workplace. “We don’t sound the same; we come from different lived experiences and socio-economic backgrounds,” she said. She stressed the importance of being kind to ourselves and banishing the self-limiting voice and inner-critic – particularly when we make mistakes. “We all make mistakes,” she said. “What is important, is how you respond. If you see someone struggling, reach out. Some of the best work places that I’ve worked in have been because people helped others, people reached out.”

Amber explained that she has grown in confidence through sponsors advocating for her to lead. They stood up for her when other stakeholders were openly sceptical of her ability because she looked different to her predecessor. “This can alter your confidence; you start to act like someone else.” She also stressed to audience-members the importance of believing they have been hired for a reason – and getting stuck in. “Be confident; I don’t think anyone analyses you more than you do yourself. Go for it – give it a go.”

No hiding

In a personal anecdote, Yang explained how the harmful concept of hiding impacted her. When she fell pregnant, rather than celebrating the prospect of motherhood she hid her belly from colleagues. “Somewhere in my head I felt I wasn’t effective anymore because I had to take maternal leave,” she said, noting the lack of national paid parental leave at that time in the US where maternity leave is often called short-term disability leave, exacerbated the feeling.

She returned to the office two weeks after having a baby in a decision that impacted her confidence in her ability to be a good mother, wife, and colleague. “Now, whenever I see a lady expecting, I congratulate her, and encourage her to take the necessary time to adjust to a life changing chapter,” she said. Other lessons from the experience include giving herself time to focus on important life goals and always looking beyond short-term timeframes because over time, it “always evens out.” She continued: “I wish I had known this at the time. I wish I had had someone to talk to about this.”


Kellie voiced the importance of nurturing relationships in the workplace. Rather than seeing it as networking, she urged attendees to see it through a simple lens of relationship building. “You do this every day,” she said. “If I could go back 15 years, I would be so much better at this. There is no point sitting there, doing the work, and expecting others will notice. It doesn’t work like that.” Yang echoed the importance of proximity to senior colleagues for career development and a mentorship scheme, allowing employees to seek individualised career counselling in a supported environment.

Amber said she wished she’d put less pressure on herself in the past, particularly following a promotion when she felt compelled to prove to others that she wasn’t just promoted because she was female. “Whenever I’ve been promoted, I’ve put pressure on myself to prove that I’m the right choice. It took away the enjoyment and satisfaction because I was too busy worrying if I was the right choice.”


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