Standard Chartered most gender-balanced commercial bank

An insight into the culture and conditions needed for women to succeed

Topping this year’s OMFIF Gender Balance Index ratings is Standard Chartered, climbing 26 places from last year as the most balanced commercial bank. Jerry Zhang, chief executive officer, China, spoke with Clive Horwood, OMFIF’s managing editor and deputy chief executive officer, about how and why the bank is a place where women can thrive.

Clive Horwood: Why has Standard Chartered been more successful than its global peers in promoting women to important senior roles?

Jerry Zhang: For women to thrive, you need the right environment. We have a very strong culture at Standard Chartered. I have worked here for almost 30 years and one of the reasons I have chosen to stay is that, at each and every stage of my career, there is something interesting to grow into. There’s no glass ceiling here for women. Just over 70% of our workforce in China is made up of women, and 50% of our senior management in the country. So perhaps on the balance side, we need to do more for men!

CH: What tools or policies do Standard Chartered use to promote the role of women?

JZ: We have a number of intervention tools. We have our own initiatives such as our global women’s network and our Women in Business Leadership Forum. We have strong connections with a number of external associations. And we also invite our C-suite female clients to share their views with our own staff.

CH: What role does mentorship play at Standard Chartered?

JZ: A very important one. I am lucky to work for our Asia CEO Ben Hung, who is a tremendous mentor. Our senior leaders – including CEO Bill Winters – are always there to share ideas and find ways to help me. Earlier in my career, I was lucky to benefit from the support and experience of other female leaders, such as our former CEO for China, Katherine Tsang and our former Regional Head of Financial Institutions, Margaret Lee. These were women running important profit and loss businesses, who were both teachers and inspirations.

CH: What’s the most valuable piece of advice you can share?

JZ: There are a couple of pieces. First, don’t set limits on your own ambitions and aspirations. If you think you can only do so much, then you limit yourself. Be confident in your own ability and the sky is the limit. Second, make sure you get your support system in place and work out how you can best take care of your family and your job. You need a stable background at home to help you focus on work. And don’t be apologetic when it is time to do so.

CH: Do you believe that a diverse business is a better business?

JZ: Men and women are different animals. Each has their own respective set of strengths. You need your team to have complementary skills and more diversity makes for a better team.

CH: China is seen in much of the world as a country where men still dominate, whether in politics or business. Is this perception wrong? Does it make it harder for a woman?

JZ: Some aspects of Chinese society – as in many other countries – still have a male-led hierarchy. But I have found that, for the vast majority of my clients, they only care about the quality of the work and advice we give them. But we can’t ignore the fact that for centuries, men had a dominant role, and some women continue to see their careers through the lens of how men view them. I remember one member of my team, who was extremely successful and talented, but who left the bank because her husband demanded she stay at home. When her husband’s business ran into difficulty, I suggested she come back. She did, and she continues to have a great career.

CH: Is there more that Standard Chartered could have done to keep her in the first instance?

JZ: Perhaps. Today we have a sabbatical programme which is available to our highest achievers. It shows our commitment to, and investment in, those individuals. We also have much more ability to work remotely, especially since Covid-19, although we find that many of our colleagues want to be in-person with their teams as often as possible.

CH: Investment banking, in particular, is a highly competitive industry in which work can be all-consuming. Does that rule out part-time work, which can be a useful way to keep women in the workplace?

JZ: It is a competitive environment. In senior roles, we are completely occupied. My team expects me to give 100% at all times, and I expect the same of them. But just as important is that they feel they can achieve 100% of what is expected of them. And that requires the right working environment, which we try our best to create.

CH: Have you ever felt being a woman has held your career back?

JZ: In this bank, no. My bosses have always been supportive and understanding, creating the right environment for me to be successful in work and supported at home. It’s also about mindset. I want to achieve more in my career. There is no glass ceiling here – just look at the number of women in senior positions. Of course, there are questions I ask myself. Am I of the right calibre to step up to the next level? Do I have enough experience internationally? Have I worked in a broad enough range of business lines? But this is nothing to do with gender.

This article was originally published in the OMFIF Gender Balance Index 2023.

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