Having been in the financial services industry for almost three decades now, Evonne Tan has worked with various top-notch global financial institutions such as UBS, Deutsche Bank, Merrill Lynch and Morgan Stanley. Currently, she is Managing Director and Head of Barclays Private Bank in Singapore.
After earning her Bachelor’s degree in Sociology and Geography from the National University of Singapore, she started in the world of finance as a foreign exchange dealer in 1993. Since then, she has acquired experience in different roles within global markets and wealth management. Whilst working, she also took time to pursue her Masters in Wealth Management and Masters in Advanced Studies in Finance. In her most recent role prior to Barclays, Evonne was in a leadership position running the UHNW Singapore market for UBS Singapore. She shares the lessons learnt on being a woman leader in the financial services industry in this interaction with Women Icons Network.
Grooming Women Leaders
Evonne thinks that women industry groups that help to develop and promote women in finance have a very important role in helping to groom women leaders of the future. They can provide support to their members and are also a change agent, creating engagement and awareness.
She does think that we have come a long way in terms of having more women in leadership positions, especially in the finance sector. “There is a lot more awareness of the issue and many firms these days have programs to promote diversity and inclusion in the workplace. Personally, I feel formal mentorship programs are very helpful in providing inspiration and support, which is important for women,” she shares.
One concern for Evonne is that women themselves can be sometimes the obstacles of their own career path – sometimes they end up passing up good offers due to low self-confidence or because they feel that they are not up to it. This is where, she says, a mentor can be very helpful in providing guidance, advice and support.
She acknowledges, though, that the seeds of the accepting mindset with regards to gender equality need to be sown in childhood in schools and at home. It is also about a mindset change of what is already ingrained in cultural and societal norms of gender biases, she adds. Even though it will take time to change these things, we are definitely moving in the right direction, she feels.
Women as Leaders
It is important for us to understand and embrace the fact that men and women are different, says Evonne. A man and a woman bring different dimensions, approaches and styles to the same type of work or issue, she asserts.
As examples of these differences, she shares her observations about how women leaders differ. They tend to have a nurturing and empathetic leadership approach. They often focus on team well-being and engagement; spending time to emotionally connect and support their subordinates. They are also likely to mentor, coach and develop talent. All these, she believes, are positive leadership traits which many women leaders bring to their role and which they should highlight as their strengths.
She feels that women are sometimes too apologetic about who they are. “I often see women try to act or behave like a man if they feel they need to in order to fit in or advance in their roles. As women, we should be proud of who we are, believe in ourselves and understand that the different perspective we bring to the table is actually often to our advantage,” she advises.
Commitment to Gender Equality
According to Evonne, a company that is committed to the gender agenda needs to invest deeply in all aspects of diversity and inclusion. This does not only include actionable steps towards changing gender representation but also to invest into creating a culture that fully leverages on the benefits of diversity, she explains.
“As a start, companies need to put in place HR policies, practices and training to ensure hiring is not biased but also in terms of the performance review process. They also need to track representation, hiring and promotion outcomes and to address gaps if needed,” she goes on to say. More than that, senior level sponsorship is very important to not only model inclusive leadership but also to provide support through participation in training and events that promote gender diversity, she adds.
Coupled with initiatives to increase employee awareness and engagement are important towards driving a gender cultural change and mindset within the organisation, she feels.
Men as Allies
“Both men and women have equal parts to play in effecting change in the gender agenda, given its large scope especially in the area of cultural change and shifting mindsets,” insists Evonne. She feels that all gender equality initiatives need to involve both men and women as active and equal partners. We need to treat gender equality as a social and community issue, not just a women’s issue, she adds.
Engaging and building awareness among both men and women will help to shape social norms in gender issues, which in turn will contribute towards the promotion of gender diversity and inclusion, she asserts. She believes that men who are in leadership positions can also be strong and effective advocates and sponsors for women in the workplace. Leveraging their influence and power, she adds, male leaders can not only support an individual woman’s career, but also work towards creating inclusive cultures that allow everyone equal opportunities to advance.
Evonne informs that across cultures, one of the key challenges is learning how to overcome gender biases that are oftentimes subconscious and deep rooted cultural biases. That is why building awareness in gender issues becomes such an important exercise as it helps to make conscious what may previously be subconscious.
Another key challenge she faces as a leader is getting women themselves to advocate or champion gender diversity and inclusion. “Sometimes, I find that some women prefer to take a back seat through not voicing a concern or not stepping up to a bigger role, for example, because they have accepted the social norm,” she shares. This makes it even more important for everyone to work towards this cause together, she says.
The Barclays Approach
As an organisation that is fully committed to becoming a more inclusive organisation, Barclays works towards building and maintaining a culture that makes everyone feel included and supported, informs Evonne. It provides equal opportunities for people of all backgrounds.
“We are already implementing key actions across the bank to improve gender diversity. They include setting targets for gender diversity for each of our business areas, appointing diversity ´champions´, actively identifying female talent, monitoring our promotion process and building our internal pipeline to ensure the widest available pool of talent is considered for promotion, among others,” she states. The bank also ensures fairness and transparency in the pay structures through extended tracking of female representation and regularly providing leaders with detailed dashboards reflecting the gender and ethinic diversity of staffers, she informs.
The organisation recognises that being able to attract and retain top female talent is crucial, and that companies with gender diverse senior management teams perform better. Despite their vigilance to ensure the hiring process is free of biases and to provide targeted opportunities of career development to female staffers, Evonne says the company would like to further expedite their progress towards becoming a truly gender-neutral workplace.