For this Inspiring Business Women interview, 3 female EXCO members from Lloyds Banking Group (Singapore) talk about their diversity programmes, and share their experiences with diversity having worked in different parts of the bank.
The interviewees are: Catalina Cadavid – Chief Operating Officer & Branch Manager; Di Mu – Head of Corporate Coverage, APAC; Belle Png – Head of Legal Asia.
Having studied or worked abroad, have you noticed any differences in terms of culture and do they affect your working/management style?
Di: Having lived in China, America, the UK and Singapore, there are definitely recognisable cultural differences and some of these may have led to different management styles. Being in a client facing role, I’m required to interact with many different kinds of external clients across the globe. The ability to recognise the cultural subtleties in the various parts of the world can help you become better connected with your clients and therefore more successful at your job. Recognising and adjusting your management style accordingly can also help you become a more effective leader of your teams internally.
And have you noticed any differences between the different countries in terms of diversity?
Di: Speaking from my experience working in Banking and Finance in the US and the UK, in the past it has been more male-dominated, especially within the Front Office functions and roles that may have required extensive travel or long working hours. Interestingly, I’ve seen Asian countries such as China, Singapore, Thailand, etc. do well in terms of gender equality in Banking, even among the very senior roles.
Catalina: I think it’s also because working mothers here seem to have access to a wider support system, something that may be less common in the US or UK. Outside of your family network it’s costly and more difficult to find someone you can trust with such an important responsibility. Also, I’ve seen that it’s more common for families to remain together here in Singapore, it’s very common to have grandparents, uncles and aunts living in the same city and everyone chipping in to support parents with the kids. This is a lot less common in the US, where people often move to other cities for professional opportunities away from their immediate family network.
In your experience what are the benefits of having diverse teams and organisations?
Catalina: Having diverse points of view generates better ideas. If you walk into a room where everyone has the same background, same life and professional experiences, it’s very likely that the ideas generated are going to be pretty much in line with the predisposed biased background. In my experience, breakthrough initiatives usually come from members of a team viewing things from different angles. When you bring together a diverse group of people, you are able to look at the same problem from completely different perspectives and the discussions and results can be truly fascinating. It might take a while to balance the way people work and differences will have to be calibrated in order for the organisation to operate effectively, but once you achieve that, it’s amazing to see the results.
Di: Being in a client facing role, my team meets a wide range of people externally. Having a diverse team then becomes important as it helps us become more flexible, adaptable and more well-rounded. Among the team of relationship managers in Singapore, we have nationalities from Asia, Europe and the Americas all sitting and working closely together. With their unique backgrounds, they bring to the table different life experiences, allowing us to learn from one another while enriching everyone’s experience.
Belle: I think diversity makes both the team and organisation much richer, culturally and in other ways as well. When you have a diverse team, you have a diversity of ideas, get different angles to solutions and it enhances the dynamism and success of an organisation. If you look at the Legal function, a lot of it is about great collaboration with other teams and stakeholders. By having a diverse team, you’ll find that you can have different people working together to achieve the most effective outcome, leading to greater success of the organisation as a whole.
In your opinion, what's important in helping women progress and is there anything you're doing to help these emerging leaders?
Di: Building up self-confidence and overcoming that Imposter Syndrome is so important. Imposter Syndrome is truly affecting women, especially ones that are progressing into senior positions, as we tend to spend a lot more time over-analysing and preparing ourselves because we want to feel confident about all the little aspects of thing we try to manage. However, that isn’t always necessary. As you get to a more senior level, you need to learn to delegate and develop a team with capabilities that can support you in the relevant function, instead of learning about every aspect of the job.
Catalina: And as a leader you have the responsibility of helping them build that self-confidence. I do this with my team by opening doors, by creating opportunities for them to demonstrate their value, by making sure they know I trust them, by pushing them to be brave and go outside of their comfort zone…and more importantly, by supporting them to get back on track when things don’t go as expected.
Belle: I think it’s also about sponsorship. What a lot of people need in their career is to meet the right sponsor. Finding and having someone who gives you the right opportunities to build your experience and confidence is also important. Hence, we actively sponsor talented colleagues, and profile and mentor them to senior stakeholders to help accelerate their careers and achieve their best.
Di: Less formally, we as female ExCo members would also reach out to junior staff on a regular basis to offer support when we see people feeling down. We would take them to lunch or coffee, either simply to hear them out or offer our help.
Where do you see Lloyds in terms of gender diversity?
Catalina: Five years ago, our CEO announced that the Bank was going to focus on increasing the participation of women in leadership positions. Now, we’ve gone from 18% to around 37% globally! The progress has been amazing and I believe we are above most of our industry peers on this metric which is very encouraging; we still have much more work to do though. I will be very happy when I see 50-50 metrics across all seniority levels and geographies.
Di: If we look at females across the branch, for director level and above, it’s currently 50% female, which is quite a significant achievement.
Are there any flexible working arrangements at Lloyds?
Catalina: We have a very good policy on flexible working arrangements, and even though the line managers play an important role in its individual implementation, we strongly encourage arrangements across the board that aim to support work-life responsibilities. I am a strong supporter of this initiative; however, I personally think that working remotely 100% of the time makes it more difficult for a team to operate and deliver consistently and effectively through time. Each team leader needs to be able to find the right balance between face to face and remote working that benefits the individuals and the team as a whole. There is not such a thing as a “one size fits all” approach.
Is there a Women in leadership program at Lloyds?
Catalina: Yes, it’s the Breakthrough network. It was founded in the UK years ago and is now one of the biggest and most important networks in the Bank. We recently launched the network in Singapore, with a focus on the professional and personal development of women in the branch, including working together to remove obstacles that could hinder such development. So far, we have only had a couple of events and it’s already making a difference. For many, it’s their first time sitting around the table to have honest discussions with other women at different seniority levels on the challenges of balancing their career progression with their personal responsibilities. Being able to develop a support network around these challenges is of extreme importance to bringing down the barriers that some women encounter in their careers and we are keen on taking this initiative further.
What's your advice to leaders who want to create a more diverse and inclusive culture?
Belle: Be supportive and walk the talk. Everyone experiences different challenges in life, and it is important to let colleagues know that it’s okay to take time off or adjust their working hours. Supporting colleagues at work and in life during such phases, and giving them the flexibility to organise work according to the way that suits them without having to take a step back in their careers is paramount. We’ve had junior colleagues tell us that they’re confident having the flexibility knowing it won’t derail their careers, and they are willing and want to stay here longer.
Di: In the first few years, you can set quotas, but the system would only sustain when you’ve created the environment where people can succeed in their job while meeting their other requirements and this is true for both women and men. Family flexibility needs to be accommodated under a sustainable framework. That’s the only way you’ll see a more gender-balanced workforce. Otherwise you’d find yourself setting quotas year after year and that’s certainly not the ultimate objective we are trying to meet here. By trusting your people with flexible work arrangement, they would be empowered to own their career and not just come in to clock a time.
As some of you are working moms, what do you think are the major differences between their generation and yours?
Catalina: I have a daughter who is starting her career. There is so much going on for young women right now in terms of support, opportunities and resources - a lot of these were not there when I started my career. I know she will still have to face some of the same challenges but I’m hopeful she’ll have a better shot of overcoming these. The enhanced awareness of the impact of gender inequality in the professional world is shifting everything in the right direction. It has been a slow turn and we are still far from being where we need to be, but I think the outlook is bright for new generations of women. I’m an optimist!
Di: My daughter is only three. I’m not certain what her generation will be like yet but one thing for sure is that they’ll be so much more in control of their own career while they will demand flexibility as well as higher social responsibility commitment from their employers.