, Singapore
From Left To Right: Dean Tong, Head, Group Human Resources, UOB; Lee Hwee Boon, Head of Group Human Resources, OCBC; and Lareina Wang, ED, head of digital & innovation, Institutional Banking Group of DBS Hong Kong (Photo courtesy of UOB, OCBC, and DBS).

Banks offer flexiwork, mentor programmes to uplift women’s careers

This International Women’s Day, we spoke with Singapore’s big three banks on how they are helping close the gender gap in their workforces.

Asia has come a long way in closing the gender gap; according to a 2022 report by the World Economic Forum, the East Asia and Pacific region— which includes Southeast Asian countries– has closed 69% of the gap. But even with 13 of the 19 countries improving their performances, it will still take 168 years to fully close the gap at its current pace.

In the banking sector, a 2021 report by Deloitte observed “divergent numbers and uneven progress” when it came to the share of women working in the financial services industry. Notably, Singapore bucked the trend, and is expected to reach parity in next generation roles by the end of the decade.

Despite this, Deloitte estimates a reduction in the share of women in C-Suite roles by the end of the decade: from 20.8% of all current C-Suite positions as of 2021, to 15.3% by 2030. Meanwhile, the share of women occupying senior roles is estimated to remain unchanged at almost 1 in every 4 roles, or 24.5%.

The three banks that Asian Banking & Finance spoke with all outperformed in various diversity metrics, according to data shared.

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Female directors make up 4 out of 9 of OCBC’s board, or 40%, the bank shared. This is 15% higher than the Council of Board Diversity’s target of 25% by 2025 for Singapore’s top 100 listed companies. Representation in OCBC’s management committee is also at 40% (9 out of 23).

DBS’s Hong Kong branch touted its even split in gender with 52% of its staff being female, whilst 45% of its management team in the city are made up of female leaders.

UOB meanwhile highlighted the contribution of women to its revenue, noting that nearly 60% of its revenue producing colleagues are women. In terms of new hires, over 55% were women, the bank said.

Role models
Having women in senior leadership positions is important to foster more women to enter the financial industry, a reality echoed by Lareina Wang, ED, head of digital & innovation, Institutional Banking Group of DBS Bank Hong Kong.

“I have been fortunate enough to have had many female senior leaders that I look up to and learn from, they all have different backgrounds, different styles and different personal life setups, which is brilliant because that sends a strong message that success comes in many different formats and shapes,” Wang said.

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In a separate statement, DBS Hong Kong said that the bank embraces gender and cultural diversity, which the bank believes is key to a conducive working environment where individuals are respected, supported and included.

“We hire based on merit, competencies and organisational fit, regardless of gender, race, religion or physical attributes. This allows us to tap into a wider talent pool and have a multiplicity of views and perspectives,” a DBS spokesperson said.
DBS Hong Kong further shared that it achieved a high engagement score of 95% for diversity and inclusion in its annual engagement survey. “Our people find DBS is a workplace accepting diverse backgrounds and ways of thinking,” the spokesperson said.

A key issue faced by women in the banking industry–echoed by both WEF and Deloitte— is the struggles to return to working full-time, an issue that came to the forefront especially after the pandemic.

“Women bankers may face the challenge of transitioning back into full-time work while juggling their personal commitments, such as parental care or elderly caregiving duties,” Dean Tong, Head, Group Human Resources, UOB, told Asian Banking & Finance.

UOB has permanently implemented flexible working arrangements, enabling its employees regardless of gender, to work remotely for up to two days a week. The bank also now offers staggered working hours and Flexi-2, where employees can take 2 hours off each month to tend to their personal matters, Tong shared.

“In 2023, we are also committed to providing at least 16 weeks of paid maternity leave and 2 weeks of paid maternity leave for our colleagues across the region. Colleagues based in countries where there are lower parental leave days prior to this year will now have more days to spend time or take care of their children. These include staff in our Thailand, Vietnam, Hong Kong, and Malaysia markets,” Tong said.

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Advancing Careers
OCBC’s Lee Hwee Boon, Head of Group Human Resources also shared their various initiatives to bring awareness to the importance of gender diversity, amongst other topics, as well as develop the skills of the women in their workforce.

“We offer more than 100 diversity eLearning courses with the aim of boosting our employees’ awareness about different types of diversity, encouraging them to appreciate differences among co-workers and providing knowledge and strategies to enhance their interpersonal and communication skills across diversity to help build a positive work environment,” Lee told Asian Banking & Finance.

OCBC also now has a MentorMe Programme, which provides mentorship opportunities targeted toward mid-career female colleagues.

“The programme provides female colleagues with a platform to receive support and advice, enabling them to develop practical skills to advocate for themselves and navigate their careers,” she said.

The bank has also created a women's network that aims to help OCBC’s staff build connections, share experiences, and enhance perspectives of their role in the Future of Work. 

This network is reportedly open to both male and female employees, and runs events and conducts training and mentoring initiatives by both internal and industry experts.

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