Katie Wilding is an Executive Director - Program Director at DBS Bank, HK.
Can you tell us about your career progression to your current role?
I have worked in a lot of jobs across different sectors, industries and locations. I constantly strive for excitement, which is what drove me to move around in the past. I enjoy being in a high adrenaline environment with tangible results, so I am quite comfortable with change and roles like my current position, where I can do something completely different with each project.
Your career path has taken you to many countries across different continents, do you have any advice on how to navigate through the cultural differences?
Whenever I start off in a new location, I always make sure to first raise my own awareness of the similarities and differences between their culture and mine. I have found that asking questions is quite a lovely way to get that bond and understanding; it’s also a form of compliment and respect. I am personally quite curious about things like culture and art; therefore, it comes quite naturally for me when questions stem from that curiosity.
And how does company culture play a part in it?
A lot of companies have their own culture that extends globally. Therefore in my view, it really depends on how you do it. If it is enforced with a heavy hand, where you must follow the framework to the letter of the law then it’s probably not going to work. But if it is adaptive and carries a bit of the local flavour, that would resonate better and have the potential to become a more sustainable culture. It’s all about finding that compromise.
Have you had any mentors or role models in your career?
Yes, I have had mentors from time to time. To me, a mentor is someone I respect, have good communications with, and someone who has experience and wants to share with me.
Back when I was working on the trading floor, which had been a male-dominant space, I was working for the head of the desk, who happened to be a female. She was a terrific mentor. She was tough, which in turn made me mentally tough. Unfortunately, there was a lot of discrimination at that time, and particularly in that kind of environment, it was difficult to get on. She guided me and gave me tools to cope, tools that I have used a good number of times in my career since.
I think mentor relationships are all about the right chemistry. I myself mentor a handful of people that the bank has chosen as future talents. It is something that I enjoy investing my time in. Having a mentor to share the highs and lows and be a guiding hand could be quite valuable, especially when the mentoring is done right.
How do you balance work and your personal life?
I usually come in early at around 7am and not stay later than 7pm. I also make sure that I stick to my morning routine of clearing emails, making a to-do list, and getting myself prepared for the day, which would usually be by 9am. Lunch breaks are something that I try to preserve as much as I can – get out of the office to have a proper lunch. I think this is a way to keep ourselves sane and to stay focused for the rest of the day. If I ever need to do more work at home, I would only do it for an hour. This way, it allows me to have some quality time every day. It is incredibly difficult to cope, so being disciplined and organised is very important.
What advice would you give to someone progressing through their careers to better manage their time?
In my opinion, being structured and organised in your day would be key, and there are many ways to achieve that. For example, spending an hour in the morning to prepare for all your meetings for the day to make sure you stay on top of things, keeping a to-do list so you are always making progress on tasks, or have a side of critical items to roll forward from day to day to keep yourself on track.
It also doesn’t hurt to ask your boss about flexible working. As a manager and a leader, I try to be very supportive of that. I think it is built on trust and is a give and take, which will ultimately help with staff satisfaction and talent retention. I do believe we are starting to see a general recognition as well as increasing support for it in Hong Kong.
Do you find yourself gravitating towards male or female leaders?
I don’t really gravitate towards either gender. I gravitate towards people who I like to work for, those who are great leaders who inspire me. Some of those have been women and some of those have been men, so it’s been quite a mixed bag.
In general, I think women leaders are a lot more in tune with people management and their EQ tends to be higher, which is probably due to the way that they are wired, making them naturally predisposed to be good people managers. Male leaders on the other hand are incredibly tough and quite transactional, so while they might not be as good at people management, I can always learn from them.
Do you think gender hinders one's career progression?
For sure. If we look at the senior management of banks, particularly in the technology space, we see mostly men.
How do we go about changing that then?
I am a big believer in positive discrimination. One way would be to enforce a 50/50 so that when a new role comes up, it must be filled by a woman. I also believe that banks should create a “Women in leadership” forum in their organisation to create a support network for females and make the change sustainable. It’s all about making investments in strengthening that female framework and being persistent in sustaining that change.
What do you see as the benefits in having a diverse team?
I think with a diverse team comes a better balance. It gives a diversity of ideas because people have different viewpoints based on their varied backgrounds. It is important for organisations to strive for that balance, not just in terms of gender but in other aspects as well. Being able to embrace those differences would give a much richer experience at work and lead to a stronger and more sustainable outcome.
And it’s especially important in the change management space. For one, I consciously make sure that I have diversity when I put a team together for a project. I like to have a mix of people from different walks of life. For me, finding someone who is thoughtful and bright would be more important, while education and experiences would come second to that.
What advice would you give to leaders in trying to create a more diverse and inclusive environment?
A lot of organisations talk a good game, both with the media and their staff, but they don’t always walk the talk. Therefore, it is important to be authentic and action what you say, so that it gets embedded in the culture and ultimately helps create a sustainable change.