Chief Operating Officer at BPI International Finance Limited
Susanna has considerable experience in the areas of controls, compliance, operations, risk, audit and change management in the Financial Services industry, having worked in both global groups and boutique set ups with regional and local coverage.
Can we talk a little bit about work-life balance and how you manage it?
Being able to balance between family and career is important to me, especially that I have two children. It isn’t an easy task but having a supportive partner and a few good bosses along the way definitely helps. In this current age, we should not be bound by the traditional gender roles, child rearing should be a role shared, which is where the supportive partner comes in. It is important for the two to work out an arrangement where they can both balance family and career. Just as Sheryl Sandberg wrote in Lean In, “I truly believe that the single most important career decision that a woman makes is whether she will have a life partner and who that partner is. I don’t know of a single woman in a leadership position whose life partner is not fully—and I mean fully—supportive of her career.” On the other hand, having an understanding boss that supports both genders also contributes to a better work-life balance.
I am able to be a working mum because I constantly prioritise, and I know my limits. Not feeling the need to do everything perfectly is also a factor. Now, I learnt to just do what is important and what works for me and my family. I love looking after my children, but I also enjoy working, and I am honest with my children about this. It is always a give and take, you try to make sure that no element is overlooked, that is the goal.
Female diversity is a hot topic right now - what do you see as the benefits of promoting gender equality in the workplace?
It is really important. Many studies show that companies which have a more gender balanced senior management level perform much better commercially. We are progressing, but it’s not enough, and I hope that in my children’s generation, greater strides will be made. That being said, I don’t believe in “gender equality quotas”. If a candidate is a good leader, whether they are of a certain gender should not matter.
What do you think are the challenges for females working in a male dominant industry?
While we see more female leaders across the different industries in Hong Kong, like the banking sector, it is still rather male dominant. This is even more apparent the more senior you look at. I have a female friend who is a Managing Director at a construction company, which might seem unusual; but according to her, 60% of their building surveyor intake last year was female, which increased to 64% this year. There is clearly no shortage of female talent, which brings us to the question of what is stopping them from reaching the top. It seems harder for women to reach senior positions in many sectors, especially the traditionally male-dominated ones, which I see as a societal problem. Many women nowadays have as good an education and skill set as men, so there is no reason why they shouldn’t reach the top.
What do you think when people say that female bosses are harder to work for?
I don’t agree with that. There are good female bosses and bad female bosses, in exactly the same way as there are good and bad male bosses. It’s a stereotypical phrase that stems from a long time ago, when there were hardly any women at the top and maybe those that made it had to be particularly tough in order to succeed. However today, with more opportunities and progression for women, I don’t buy this at all. People are less inclined to describe a male boss as “difficult to deal with” or “a dragon”. Women should be more supportive to other women at work in this regard.
What is your advice for creating a more inclusive environment for women? What can companies do better?
Companies should hire based on qualifications, skill set and whether they fit in culturally, instead of looking at traits like gender, race and ethnicity. Senior management needs to practice what they preach and embrace diversity fully. It’s not about a policy, it’s about a culture that needs to be created from the top down.