Women in Treasury

Strength in numbers

Published: Jan 2023

On 25th November, senior financial professionals from across the Asia Pacific region gathered at Raffles hotel in Singapore for the ninth Women in Treasury APAC Forum. As well as celebrating women in the world of treasury, the annual event has also become a powerful voice in furthering diversity and inclusion.

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After running as a virtual event for the last two years, the Women in Treasury APAC Forum returned as an in-person event on 25th November 2022. Held at the iconic Raffles hotel, the event was hosted by Sophie Jackson, Publisher & Head of Strategic Content and Meg Coates, Publisher & Head of Operations at the Treasury Today Group.

Attendees representing companies across APAC, together with their banking and technology partners, came together to share their experiences and discuss the topics highlighted by the findings of Treasury Today’s Women in Treasury Global Study 2022, sponsored by State Street Global Advisors.

After welcoming attendees from the region’s corporate treasury community, Meg presented the key findings of the study. These included changes in attitudes to flexible working brought about by the pandemic, perceived lack of gender parity regarding pay and opportunities, the importance of mentoring and sponsorship, and age-related discrimination.

In her opening address, Sophie paid tribute to the overwhelming support that Women in Treasury has received from the community in Singapore over the past decade. “We’re very proud of the success of the Women in Treasury initiative. And we are really inspired by the many relationships, conversations and changes that have been created out of this community,” she said.

Speaking about the volatility and dramatic developments of recent years, Sophie emphasised that although these events were global in scale, each person had their own unique story to tell.

With the Women in Treasury Forum returning to Singapore as an in-person event, she continued: “This is an important moment to come together to celebrate progress, to acknowledge the challenges that you have faced, and to be part of a community that supports and inspires each other. Our initiative is constantly growing and expanding, driven forward by the people who are part of our community, who lend their voices to our conversations around diversity, inclusion, equity and representation in corporate finance.”

Career journeys

After a three-course lunch, guests were treated to a lively and thought-provoking panel discussion moderated by Sophie. This year’s panel consisted of:

  • Winnie Yap – Country Head, Global Payments Solutions, Singapore, HSBC.
  • Indira Sahab – Managing Director, J.P. Morgan.
  • Shilpa Narula – Director & Head, FX, Derivatives & Investments, GE Treasury.
  • Juanita Woodward – Founder, Connecting the Dots.

The discussion began with the panellists explaining how they had reached their present roles and responsibilities. For the first 15 years of her career, Winnie Yap had front line roles in banking, working in product and sales, and relationship management. After taking a break for a few years to establish and operate a boutique hotel business with her husband, she returned to HSBC in 2017 in a very different role to head up the client management team. “So now it’s the end-to-end full spectrum, from sales, product, implementation and service,” she explains.

For Indira Sahab, banking has always been the career of choice. Coming from Indonesia, she started her working life in Jakarta as a management trainee before moving into relationship management. Recruited by a bank that was newly establishing its global transaction services, she had the opportunity to be involved in all aspects of the business, from sales to product management, implementation and service. “It was a fantastic learning experience to be part of establishing a new business,” she recalls.

Growing up in India, Shilpa Narula took great inspiration from her father, the CFO of a state-run enterprise. It was her mother, however, who supplied her with the encouragement to set herself important goals. “As I grow older, I understand why my mom was so focused on the fact that I should have goals and that I should be equipped to achieve them.” While studying for her master’s degree, she became drawn to the world of finance. Moving to GE’s corporate treasury, she found it “an amazing place full of inspiration,” a place where she could combine the management techniques and skills she had acquired with her enthusiasm for financial markets.

Juanita Woodward grew up in the US, and was surrounded by strong female role models including an older sister who started her career at IBM, a female tech pioneer in her day. Juanita arrived in Singapore in 1991 as a trailing spouse, and spent the next decade and a half working in AP regional and global roles in the banking industry. A community outreach project on microlending for women in emerging markets inspired a career pivot, and in 2007 she shifted to a cross-border payments network focused on serving migrant worker payments. In 2014, she launched her own consultancy based in Singapore focused on Fintech and Financial Inclusion and has never looked back. Throughout her years in Singapore and working across Asia, she has been engaged in many initiatives to advance women’s social and economic empowerment. In Singapore, she has been awarded for her work as Founding President of PrimeTime, launched in 1997 as a multi-national business women’s association to advance women’s professional skills and network, as well as Co-Founder of BoardAgender, launched in 2010 as a Singapore initiative to promote the advancement of women into senior leadership roles and the boardroom.

Interesting times

When the pandemic hit in March 2020, its effects were devastating and far-reaching, impacting virtually everyone in both their private and their professional lives.

Shilpa believes there are important lessons to be learnt from the experience. As her career has developed over the years, she has been able to live and work in different countries. “We were just settling down as a family when Covid started. For me, Covid was very tough: the loneliness and the lack of in person social connections, worrying about family back home.” Her biggest learnings from the experience, she added, were about the importance of mental health and friendship.

Having had two very good years previously with her consultancy, Juanita had expected 2020 to be even better. Suddenly, projects which had been lined up were postponed, and by May 2020 her pipeline of work had stopped. “The pandemic was a major hit to my income as a travelling consultant in emerging markets, but my reaction was to pivot and look at my business with a new lens,” she explained.

Taking a look at new opportunities, she used this time to expand her work with different types of fintech companies, including an overseas data analytics company looking to expand into the AP region. She also enjoyed the opportunity to work as a consultant via Enterprise Singapore, the government agency championing grants to help businesses ease their cash flows and deal with disruptions caused by Covid. “The Covid challenge created an opportunity for me to expand my work, keep abreast of the digital transformation that is impacting all industries, and I was delighted to (by Zoom!) act as an Advisor for the set up and launch of the Women in Business network at the National University of Singapore Business Schools,” she explained.

For Indira, the imposition of Singapore’s first Covid ‘circuit-breaker’ found her having to juggle her work and home responsibilities. With two children at home, “I soon discovered that I’m not talented in terms of teaching,” she recalled. “It’s a very tough profession.”

However, she also believes there have been benefits as well. “The fantastic thing that has happened from Covid is that now companies, including J.P. Morgan, are open in terms of giving flexibility to working from home,” she observed. “Especially for all the female employees, having a few extra hours to save from your commute is actually a huge help. It is important that we also have time to focus on our physical health and mental health and on the family.”

Global diversity

Although organisations around the world are promoting the value of diverse workforces and equitable and inclusive workplaces, different regions of the world have their own histories and cultures.

For Indira, these differences stem from the traditions and beliefs that individuals absorb from their families and environments. Whilst she acknowledges that in the past the topic of diversity, equity and inclusion was not readily discussed, she believes that diversity is now at the top of the agenda for many organisations. “I think now people are feeling more empowered and more comfortable to talk about it,” she said.

“I think from a diversity standpoint, we’ve come a long way as a society,” commented Winnie. She added that growing up in Singapore – with its multiracial culture and equality across religion and race – has been an extremely positive experience in terms of diversity and inclusion. “Whatever culture, race or religion you come from you are seen as a three-dimensional, complex being and not just a stereotype,” she commented.

Seeking support

Shilpa began her career in the corporate world working late nights. Although this brought significant challenges, she found the workplace very welcoming. When she ran into the company’s female leaders in the elevator, “It would just make my day,” she confesses. “I would snatch every opportunity to seek their advice.”

While she’s seen an improvement in gender bias in the workplace, the environment outside can be a different matter. “There are biases. The roles of man and woman are sometimes not defined equally, due to traditional and other reasons,” said Shilpa. “It’s very important to have an inclusive environment where anybody can walk up to you and share their story.”

Shilpa related how, when she was finding it impossible to arrange post-school care for her son, a sympathetic team leader was able to change the work schedule so that she could finish early. “So, I always keep that in mind. I make sure that I’m approachable and warm enough for everybody to be able to share their stories with me.”

“I am sure many of us have heard of imposter syndrome,” said Winnie. “As I move up my career and taking up bigger roles, running bigger and bigger teams, I do often ask myself – ‘am I the imposter here?’”

Winnie believes that friends and colleagues have played a major role in her career journey and urged everyone to actively seek out support. “Through a platform like this, you are able to network and find the support you need to develop your skills.” She concluded: “Life is a journey. A friend told me that you can have everything – but not all at once. So then pace yourself and just enjoy the journey.”

Getting involved

We would like to offer our thanks to all who attended, participated in, and supported our Women in Treasury APAC Forum. If you are interested in our Women in Treasury initiative, you can get involved by taking part in the 2023 Women in Treasury Global Study, joining our dedicated Women in Treasury network on LinkedIn, attending our global forums, or by nominating yourself or a colleague for the Woman of the Year Award in 2023.

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