As originally published in Synergyzer Issue 2, 2018 – ‘A Force Within’

What is the strategic people agenda for AME – Africa & Middle East, and how is it different from other markets?

Our people strategy across AME, which includes Pakistan, is not particularly different from other markets. The pillars are the same, yet how we execute those strategies may be different at times.

A major focus for Standard Chartered in AME is developing our executive, middle management and emerging talent. We have an “Accelerator Program”, which is a talent development program for our middle managers to be equipped with the necessary skills and network to excel in their careers. Another focus area is our culture: The Bank launched 3 core valued behaviors that define what we expect our people to uphold. A third important area that we focus on is the conduct agenda, which is extremely important to the Bank. Through this, we ensure appropriate risk governance and control culture is embedded in the organization.

Personally, I want to focus more on the diversity and inclusion agenda, which is one of our key deliverables for the year. Currently, we have people from about 130 nationalities working in the Bank globally and I strongly believe that it is important for us to focus on the strength of our diversity. Our major agenda covers gender inclusion and I am proud of my team for achieving related targets such as having close to 50% female employees in AME, including 26% in Pakistan. Also, 23% of Standard Chartered Group’s board of directors are women. There is more we can do but we are definitely heading in the right direction. The agenda is to ensure that there is a year on year improvement in the number of women we have in decision-making positions and we have a number of initiatives to help us get there. For instance, we have a commitment with the Women in Finance Charter of the UK that by 2020, we will have 30% of women in senior positions. Currently, we are at 26% but I’m sure we will be able to make the target.

 

Currently, we have people from about 130 nationalities working in the Bank globally.

 

Other policies and procedures include the Fair Pay charter which ensures a no-gap policy between salaries of male versus female employees. A small gap does exist at the moment, but we already have initiatives in place to bridge it. We have global networks to help support our women at work and we have the Goal program, the Bank’s leading education program that provides financial literacy, life skills and employability training to adolescent girls from low-income backgrounds across its footprint. We start from high school, ensuring that we give these girls the skills and confidence to understand that they can contribute to the economic development of their respective countries.

What kind of edge did leadership programs at INSEAD (France), IMD (Switzerland) and SAID Business School (Oxford, UK) add to your personality and helped you get ahead of your peers?

Education is important and I believe it sets our foundation, giving a theoretical understanding of concepts and how they can be applied. Standard Chartered encourages us to attend professional educational programs including those that aim at improving our leadership skills and performance as leaders, and yes, these programmes have helped me develop my leadership skills and also to overcome areas of weakness.

But personally, what I believe has helped me throughout my career and leadership journey has been a robust work ethic. I have practiced persistence in achieving my goals, always putting my hand up for new challenges; going ahead and taking risks where most of my female colleagues have been risk-averse. I admit, as a woman I have had to work harder than my male colleagues.

Also, I always advise young women who want to climb the corporate ladder to have a mentor – someone who can give them advice on how you are doing in your career and help in building your network. We women do not always network as well as men do, but it is important to know who is who and where they are placed. Then it is important to have a sponsor; someone who will talk on your behalf when you are not there, a person who can vouch for you and is really interested in seeing that you can do the job etc. Those are some of the things that I attribute some of my successes to, not just my educational and theoretical understanding of concepts.

 

I always advise young women who want to climb the corporate ladder to have a mentor – someone who can give them advice on how they are doing in their career and help in building their network.

How different is Pakistan in the Human Resource context from other developing markets that the Bank operates in, for instance, Africa, and how can the situation be improved in the region?

I believe that in Pakistan we need to focus more on creating diversity and inclusion in the workforce. It is one of the countries where the women inclusion agenda has to be ingrained in our DNA.

Having said that, I am very happy and satisfied with the progress that our team is making. For instance my team recently won 5 awards at the Global Diversity and Inclusion Benchmarks awards by HR Metrics Pakistan for Best Practices in D&I (diversity and inclusion) Vision, Best Practices D&I Benefits, Progressive Practices in D&I Communication, Progressive Practices in D&I Sustainability, and Best Practices in D&I Social Responsibility. I am proud of what the team has achieved and I am confident we can do more.

In your opinion, how has the corporate landscape transformed for women over the years?

I think the corporate landscape has changed significantly for women over the past few years and diversity and inclusion are now being looked at as critical and holistic practices rather than a choice. Banks are now clearly communicating D&I ideas, agenda and strategies globally. Also, organizations are introducing new ways of working where policies and procedures are more flexible.

We have introduced a flexible working policy for employees who prefer a more flexible working arrangement to support their personal commitments. We have also revised our parental leave policy to support our employees and their families around the time of childbirth or adoption. The new policy includes fully paid maternity leave from a minimum of 20 calendar weeks. We are the only bank that has the 5-months maternity leave policy and I am quite proud of that. Plus we provide daycare facilities in Pakistan as well as women networks to support our female employees.

So personally I believe that women who are currently a part of the corporate world or about to enter it are very lucky to have these opportunities available and the infrastructure to support us. As a bank, we aim to create a culture of inclusivity and therefore all this is very important to us.

For Pakistani women, it is always imposed by the society that family comes first then work. How do you look at this as a mother of two?

In my capacity as the Regional Head of HR for AME, I come across many different cultures and I am always amazed at how differently every culture approaches D&I and specifically, their women agenda.

As a working parent with a demanding work schedule, I realize the importance of an organization that provides the necessary support. But as a mother, whether you are a Pakistani woman, an American, an African or any other nationality I think putting the family first always comes naturally to us. And it is how our families support us that makes our commitments at work easier for us to deliver. Hence I always talk about a secure base; if your husband, children, parents etc. are supportive of the work you do, you are able to flourish in your work environment, and without our family’s support system we might struggle at work. Also, I always encourage young mothers to spend more time with their kids because they are young.

Having said that for me and where I am in life now, my daughter being in final year at university and a son who is a teenager who does not want to talk to his mother every day (laughs), it works for me. They know I am close enough, but they do not want me to be around every day. And having seen this, I always tell women to look at their circumstances and if they can, simply work around them. Once there is a robust infrastructure around you, you can do anything that you want to do!

 

Challenges like unconscious bias and the existence of glass ceilings where women have told me they are not able to get through them, still exist.

What drives you to be one of the leading women in the banking industry?

The fact that gender diversity and inclusion are one of the top priorities for companies and CEO’s across most industries now.

As a child, my father instilled in me and my three other sisters that being a woman does not mean that we cannot do what we want to do and you can be anything that you put your mind to.

So today when I compare mindsets and thought processes I realize that they have changed drastically because people appreciate the diversity of ideas women bring to the table. We are nurturing by nature and that’s why those teams with women in them are high performing ones. Although challenges like unconscious bias and the existence of glass ceilings where women have told me they are not able to get through them, still exist. They are usually the product of societal pressures – example, women sometimes being frowned upon if they are extremely ambitious and career oriented.

But since we have started talking about these issues, you can see that people are interested in addressing these challenges. I’m very happy about that.