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.


State of the Art: Symposium on Women’s Leadership in Asia

Thursday, 11 April 2013, 5:15-6:30pm

Seminar Room 3-5, Manasseh Meyer, Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy

A year after the release of the report, Rising to the Top? Women’s Leadership in Asia, a joint project of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy and Asia Society, WPLA continues the discussion of the opportunities and challenges confronting women who aspire to lead. How is the situation of women changing in Asia? How has international diplomacy influenced the globalization of gender-related issues?  What new ideas are worth considering for advancing women’s leadership?

Three keynote speakers will briefly speak on these themes:

Dr. Astrid S. Tuminez, Regional Director, Microsoft Asia Pacific; Adjunct Professor, LKYSPP

Ambassador David I. Adelman, United States Ambassador to Singapore

Jessica Tan Soon Neo, General Manager, Microsoft Asia Pacific; Member of Parliament, East Coast GRC

The symposium will include an interactive session which will be followed by cocktails and a brief reception. Please click on the following link to RSVP for the event: WPLASymposium 

Do We Have Enough Women Leaders? Google’s Aliza Knox Weighs In

Ms. Aliza Knox, Managing Director at Google APAC met with a group of graduate students at the Lee Kuan Yew School on October 30, 2012 to address the global state of women’s leadership in the public and private sector. In an interactive session titled “Do we have enough women leaders? If not, what we should do about it?, Ms. Knox opened her presentation by outlining the progress of women’s leadership in the last 10-15 years. However she noted that despite the progress, women still confront a number of challenges to become a significant key player in the enterprise. Women have come up to assume various leadership roles in the board and executive committees and women’s rights are already being observed. Statistics however, shows that their representation is still minimal.

Aliza Knox and Suzaina Kadir 

In Asia, women’s representation on board committees is 6%, while Europe has 17%. For executive committees, women membership in Asia is 8% compared to Europe with 10%.  Australia has demonstrated the largest women representation on boards (13%) and executive committees (12%).  China is 8% and 9% respectively while Singapore is 7% and 15% respectively. The numbers above are relatively small compared to the percentage of all male boards in the region. In Singapore, 60% of board members are male. Australia has 29% and China has 39% male board members.
In media, most of the G-rated films reviewed from 2006-2009 clearly identified the lack of women’s participation as doctors, lawyers, and other professionals in these films. Women also face the problem of double burden. Aside from their professional and occupational work, women have to face the additional burden of household work and child care.

Thus the problem of “leaky pipeline” emerges. The speaker explained that the problem involved variations in female labor participation rates across Asia. Currently, India stands at 35%, Norway is at 78% and Singapore is at 60%. There is also Talent Gap in women’s participation in the workplace. As a result, women don’t get to the top management positions and there are losses along the corporate pipeline. This becomes an issue as companies are losing talent and staff development incentives have been invested for these women.

Women directors have better return on equity for companies. Women executives show on time for the board meetings and they do their research before a meeting. Men on a mixed women-men board show up more often as compared to the men on all-men boards. In the case of Google, a gender leadership program, Women@Google was implemented to develop women’s potentials and address their concerns that hamper their effective delivery of work, and provide opportunities for their empowerment in the workplace.

The Google executive offered valuable advice to soon-to-be-graduates of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy:

  1. Women should do what they want to do, what they are passionate about.
  2. Give up on the idea of work-life balance. There is no balance – there is just what you can live with. Find a mix of whatever works for women to be effective in their roles.
  3. Relieve the extra burden by spending on domestic help and child care, to focus on the more important aspect of their profession and career.
  4. Find a mentor/sponsor. He/she should be able to reach out for you. And when there’s opportunity, women should also mentor and provide guidance for others too.
  5. Be confident. Women have a tendency to step back when bigger responsibilities come or when multiple responsibilities in their present lives prevent them from pursuing it.
The session was followed by an interactive Q&A session where participants were able to discuss the issues related to their advancement in the workplace as well as advice for promoting and fostering women’s development in their future careers.
 Aliza Knox meets with students of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy
The keynote speaker commented on the success of the session by stating “I was delighted to find both men and women with quite a mixture of ages and nationalities at the session. Indeed, this mix made for quite an interesting discussion.” Students found the speaker’s advice relevant to their future careers in both the public and private sector.
Post courtesy of Bridging GAP (Gender and Policy), a student led group from the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore.