Citigroup Executive on the Role of Institutions as Equalizers of Opportunities

Zeger van der Wal and Michael Zink 

Under the broad title ‘‘Can Institutions be an Equalizer of Opportunities?” Michael Zink, Singapore Country Officer for Citigroup, began his lecture at the LKY School of Public Policy on April 2nd, 2013.  He started by giving a brief introduction of the banking and financial operations of Citi in Asia and also shared how the network has expanded from three generations in the region, emphasizing on how Citi uses leadership to enhance the role of women in organisations, not only in Asia, but also in other parts of the world. Currently, 54% of Citi workforce is made of women. His leadership focuses on the development of staff to strengthen their role in the important hubs and centers, ensuring that women are given equal chance without underestimating their capabilities across different levels of the organisation. He also stressed that one in five women in executive positions.

Learning to develop talent across to the organisation has enabled Citi to recruit and retain talented professionals. For him, it is critically important to have equal opportunities plans and a clear succession plan, based on meritocracy, skills and competency.

Why Care For Women?

Quoting McKinsey’s report, Mr. Zink said that ‘‘When women have influence on top of the house the institution performs better’’. Today’s organisations are made of young men and women who can make choices and decisions. Gender diversity is now often used as the reason why major firms have done better, especially if  more women are involved. Although, increasing women’s numbers in an organisation is not necessary the definition of women emancipation, this contributes to a leadership that celebrates diversity. He cited few examples of capable women leaders who currently holds important positions in Citi and how their performance is linked to specific characteristics women are known to possess (e.g. attention to details, etc.) that are critical to any organisation.

Women and Globalization

Mr. Zink explained that there is an emergence of a whole new set of companies from the G20 countries, whose ambition is to follow the same path as Citi. Most leaders have recognized that including women in executive positions reduce the risk and challenges found in the business world. However, the big challenge is that, according to McKinsey, organisations lose women leadership along the way especially from mid-to-senior management levels and even more at the – at thesenior level Citi has addressed this challenge creating an atmosphere of empowerment for women and encouraging them to rise to higher positions. Empowering is an act that is consistently tied to hiring, retaining and promoting women. Citi has succeeded in doing this by providing a whole range of modern working practices, such as flexi-time, telecommuting, job-sharing, mentoring, and 2 skills building programs for women. Setting clear and gender sensitive hiring goals and programs have recently increased the chances of getting into leadership roles.

Most of the participants shared their views on how women do not work towards fulfilling their aspirations for open senior positions because they lack self-confidence. According to him, once women are empowered, they are able to drive change and make system-changing decisions such as the ability to use different approaches to get the buying of great ideas which may not have been the case if driven by men. Mr. Zink concluded by saying that the main way to address this challenge is to create opportunities for women at every stage of their career, a system which has worked well at Citi.


Post courtesy of Hortence Baho, Master in Public Policy Candidate at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy.