It involves having the tireless willingness to take risks and a bank that values gender balance.
Hsiu-Yi Lin is the Managing Director and Commercial Bank Head for Citi in Singapore since 2013. Prior to this role, she was the Head of Product Management & Marketing for Citi Commercial Bank Asia Pacific, based in Hong Kong. She was also the Global Transaction Services Head and Head of Corporate Finance Strategy & Analysis for Citi in Malaysia before her stint in Hong Kong.
In an exclusive interview with Asian Banking and Finance, Hsiu-Yi shares how she has achieved her professional goals and offers advice on how to realise one’s potential for leadership.
What are some of the highlights in your career in the banking industry?
I believe that one of the things that contributed to my career success is my willingness to take risks. Women in general have had to work a lot harder to prove themselves at work, even if they may not be working in a male-dominated environment. I strongly believe that it is necessary for women to take risks and challenges in their career and more importantly, believe in themselves.
I like challenges and I believe it is important for one to keep learning for personal growth and development. This is the reason why I decided to leave my first job at Citi, a Financial Control role at Citi in New York, to pursue a Master of Business Administration (MBA) at the Harvard Business School (HBS) in the early part of my career. The MBA has been instrumental to my career progression as it gave me credibility, helped build my confidence, and opened the door to many opportunities for me.
I am also grateful to have had supportive bosses, who happened to be all men, throughout my career at Citi who believed in me and gave me the encouragement to take risks and different roles, each with more responsibilities.
Citi offers many talent development and leadership programmes as well, to nurture and cultivate employees across all levels within the organisation to help them realise their potential for leadership. I have attended a number of these programmes and benefitted not only from the curriculum, but also from the network of high performing women at Citi with whom I have formed firm friendships over the years. This close-knit network of women has been my core support group and has influenced some of the important decisions that I’ve made in my career.
As a woman in the banking industry, what are the challenges you’ve had to face over the years, and how did you overcome those challenges?
What I’ve seen and experienced first-hand over the years is how hard it is for women to make themselves heard in meetings, especially if they are the only woman in the room. My advice to women on this would be to always look for opportunities to contribute to the discussion. It is very important to be well-prepared, so that when the opportunity arises, they will be able to speak with confidence and demonstrate the value that they can add to the conversation. It is also important for women to be physically visible, so they must find a seat at meetings where they can be prominently seen and heard.
As I have mentioned earlier, my experience at HBS had helped me build my confidence. During those years at HBS, women only accounted for 30% of the student population and class participation accounted for 50% of the total course grade. As a result of the need for me to participate in these discussions, I was able to overcome my discomfort and fear of public speaking.
Through this experience, I’ve learnt that it is important to understand one’s strengths and weaknesses. But it is also useful to know that the only way to overcome one’s weaknesses is to tackle them head-on, which is what I did. It was daunting at first, but over time it got easier.
What can you say about the notable progress in the number of women joining different highly-competitive industries such as banking?
I am of the view that women continue to remain under-represented in corporate decision-making positions despite studies showing that there is a positive correlation between gender diversity and financial performance. Companies have an important role to play in achieving gender balance especially in senior roles, and equally important is the support from the management team in setting the tone, investing in the company’s diversity efforts, and soliciting engagement at every level of the organisation.
At Citi, we recognise diversity as one of our competitive advantages. We believe that in the global marketplace, it is imperative for us to provide a wide range of ideas and solutions to our clients, and having a diverse workforce provides the potential for us to better understand and serve our clients as well as achieve our business goals.
Some of the initiatives that Citi has taken on this front include fostering an inclusive work environment, offering flexible work arrangements, establishing employee networks, and providing women with customised career development and training programmes to develop their full potential and realise their professional aspirations. Citi’s Asia Inspiring Women Leaders Programme, for example, aims to inspire women leaders to take charge of their professional growth and development at Citi. To date, around 150 women from 16 countries in the region have participated in the programme.
There is certainly much work to do, but with the growing number of corporations committed to increasing the representation of women in leadership roles and opening up more opportunities, I am optimistic for our future.
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