This year’s International Women’s Day theme is “Choose to Challenge”, where all of us, not just women, are asked to challenge and call out gender bias and inequality and to seek out and celebrate women’s achievements.
Citi Philippines held a fireside chat last March 8 to commemorate International Women’s Day, and four women who have made a name for themselves in the challenging world of finance and other male-dominated industries, sat down to talk about how women today can actively and intentionally challenge norms to create a more inclusive society.
Just recently, the glass-ceiling in the banking industry was officially shattered with the appointment of Jane Fraser as the new CEO of Citigroup, Inc. She is the first female to lead a major U.S. bank.
According to McKinsey research, if women participate equally in the economy, global GDP could increase by 26 percent – or $12 trillion – by 2025. There is a large body of research that shows how diverse organizations have higher rates of innovation, greater returns and stronger talent retention.
Citi Philippines CEO Aftab Ahmed hosted the panel discussion with Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) Monetary Board Member Anita Linda Aquino; Executive Chairman of Insular Life Nina Aguas; Citi Philippines Head of Treasury and Trade Solutions Arlene Nethercott and Citi Philippines Head of Retail Banking Therese Chan.
Aquino is the first female banker to be appointed to the Central Bank of the Philippines (1949)/Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (1993) Monetary Board. It has been a decade since a woman was part of the Monetary Board.
She stressed the need for women to do their part in moving the needle, “I think creating a truly inclusive environment is a two-way street. Women need to do their part to be recognized. Being the youngest member and the only lady in the Monetary Board, I make sure that on issues which require one to speak up, I am able to do my part.”
A seasoned banker with three decades of experience in banking and finance before she joined the government, she acknowledges that her stint in the private sector has given her the broad experience and knowledge that have served her well in government, “The up and coming next generation should also do their part. This means crafting their careers and working on being visible in the industry. Beware of this ‘big talk, deliver little’ phenomenon as it can ruin a budding career. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes as it is a learning process. Patience is meant to add on to one’s experience.”
Aguas said being in a position of power and leadership means effecting change especially on issues like equal pay,
“We may not be paid equally enough or at the same level as men but that is for us to take on. We have to continue to support gender parity within our own organizations. We need to be very focused and deliberate in the way we strategize. The entire month that we are commemorating Women’s Day really points us to the economic dividends of having women in the workforce, to the intrinsic value of having different perspectives and positions.”
Aguas was named Executive Chairman of Insular Life Assurance in 2018 after joining the organization as Chief Executive Officer in 2016. A business leader with over 30 years of experience in retail, wealth, investment and private banking, she has been a member of the Advisory Council for Gender and Development of the World Bank Group since 2018 and she continues to progress women agenda in the global and local stage today. In 2019, she was recognized by Forbes Magazine as one of the 25 Asia Power Businesswomen, the only Filipina to have made the list.
“Speak your intelligent mind, create and add value so you get an invitation to the table,” stated Aguas.
She believes that women can have both a good career and family life, “Life is made up of many choices. I wanted a career and I wanted a family, so I had to work hard on both. I think I am a better person because of my family, and I am a better mother because of my work. Just find the strength and courage to do both.”
Nethercott has over 20 years of banking experience. She is now the Director and Country head for Treasury and Trade Solutions for Citi Philippines. She first joined Citi in 1999 and rejoined in 2012 after 5 years of working in Standard Chartered VN as Director and Product Head for Treasury &Trade Solutions as well as Securities and Funds Services. Prior to her banking career, she has had 5 years of diverse experience in supply chain and research and development from Unilever. She believes one can achieve the elusive “work-life” balance by knowing one’s priorities.
“You can call it ‘work life integration’, you can call it ’work life flexibility’, I think there are indeed many terms used to express work-life balance. For me, it all boils down to knowing your priorities and what matters most, at every life stage you are in. I believe that a satisfactory career is an outcome of a satisfactory life.”
She added that, “In the game of life where you continuously juggle various priorities, one will realize that as you drop the work ball, it has the ability to bounce back and somehow you will realize that you have the innate ability to juggle it back again while other aspects of one’s life may be forever broken, if dropped.”
With 25 years under her belt, Chan was appointed Citi Philippines head of Retail Bank just last year. She is responsible for the planning and execution of the bank’s overall business strategy, including sales and distribution, deposits, wealth management and retail segments.
Chan admits that women still need to overcome unconscious bias, “It has happened before that I would find myself in a room full of men and I say something and it’s like nobody heard it. What’s worse is another guy would probably say exactly the same thing I said minutes later and it’s hailed like a bright idea (laughs.) You know that’s the reality, women just have to speak louder. Silence will not help, so it’s our role and our duty to actually speak up.”
She adds, “The initiative of engaging women and uplifting women is not meant to overthrow men or to attack men by any means. It’s really a move to provide equal opportunity to everyone in the spirit of diversity and inclusion. So we should celebrate wins, especially for women who tend to hide or be humble with their achievements, help them recognize this and uplift them so that they, in turn, can also be a greater influence to others.”
Ahmed thanked them for sharing their stories, career journeys and valuable insights, “We are privileged to hear from extraordinary female leaders whose hard work and achievements demonstrate that there is no limit to what women can accomplish. In their personal and professional lives, these women have demonstrated strength, grace, commitment, empathy and fairness.”