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Lareina Wang, ED, head of digital & innovation, Institutional Banking Group of DBS Bank Hong Kong.

DBS’ Lareina Wang on why role models matter to women in banking

Only 20% of bankers in C-Suite and senior leadership roles in Hong Kong are women.

Women’s representation in banks has come a long way, but much work still needs to be done. In a report, Deloitte noted that barely two in 10 C-suite and senior leadership roles in Hong Kong are occupied by women, at 17.9% and 23.9%, respectively. This is below the already dismal global averages of 21% and 19% for each; and the share is not expected to change through 2030. 

Having women in senior leadership positions is important to foster more women to enter the financial industry, a reality echoed by Lareina Wang, ED, head of digital & innovation, Institutional Banking Group of DBS Bank Hong Kong.

“I have been fortunate enough to have had many female senior leaders that I look up to and learn from, they all have different backgrounds, different styles and different personal life setups, which is brilliant because that sends a strong message that success comes in many different formats and shapes,” Wang told Asian Banking & Finance.

Wang makes it a point that this applies not just to women, but to any underrepresented groups– be it different ethnic groups, neuro groups or LGBTQ groups.

“We need to be mindful that all of us have [an] unconscious bias, [and] it’s important to acknowledge that and educate ourselves so we can overcome them. Resist the urge to box anyone in any stereotypes, be empathetic and if you are fortunate enough to be in a decision-making position, be extra generous with the opportunities you could give to under-represented groups,” Wang said, noting women, introverts, people who are non-native English speakers amongst the underrepresented.

In celebration of International Women’s Day, Asian Banking & Finance spoke with Wang to learn more about the challenges still being faced by women in the industry–and what Wang and DBS are doing in order to help them thrive in the banking sector.

What are the current concerns and challenges faced by women in the banking industry?
Regardless of geo-locations, the challenges have always been: one, the lack of representation at senior levels, which means the collective female voices are not as loud as their male counterparts, and also means younger women have fewer role models to look up to and be inspired by.

Second [is] the conscious and unconscious biases that form unnecessary stereotypes—for example, people tend to associate tech roles with males, and as a result, fewer females choose to enter this field and the vicious cycle continues.

Over time, as awareness and efforts in this area grow, both these areas have seen big improvements, however, the challenges are still very prevalent today.

Your career in banking and finance has spanned different continents–from Europe to Asia. Could you tell us about how you began your career in the banking industry?
I’m a marketeer by training and only stumbled into the world of “digital” with Ogilvy London because there weren’t that many roles around in the depth of the financial crisis. At that time, digital marketing was only just emerging and I was fortunate enough to catch that trend and see my career progression accelerate as “digital” became more and more mainstream. 

As head of Digital, I see myself as a business leader rather than a tech leader, because digital is at the core of how DBS operates, and as customers become more and more digitally savvy, digital is increasingly becoming our competitive advantage to attract and engage with our clients.

Are there differences in the needs and challenges faced by women in Asia compared to Europe? 
I definitely see more senior female leaders in Hong Kong than in London, and I think it has a lot to do with the “support network” women have here, be it the easily accessible paid-for help or help from family. 

This is not the case for London as childcare or elderly care are extortionately expensive, and culturally families are not as involved to provide care. As a result, mothers often face a tough choice of whether to return to work after childbirth, particularly after multiple children—the childcare cost will very likely outweigh the mother’s income and because of that a lot of new mums choose to either delay the return to the workforce or only doing it on a part-time basis. Needless to say, this has a knock-on impact on these mothers’ career development in the long run.
 
How is DBS helping women in the workforce address and overcome challenges?
We have launched an initiative namely “Lean In Circle” in DBS HK in 2022. It aims to provide a safe space to build communities for employees, both women and men of similar career stages and interests, where they provide mutual support amongst circle members and for their social learning. We will scale up the programme this year by recruiting more colleagues to form more circles in HK to further strengthen their sense of belonging and be connected with the bank.
 
To support our employees, we revamped the employee assistance programme to be the iOK programme last September. iOK is a round-the-clock work-life support for employees, both women and men, and their dependents. It provides our people with emotional support with free access to counsellors, and concierge-like service offering practical assistance with various lifestyle issues such as childcare, care for the elderly, as well as financial and legal matters.

To ensure our people are supported in their different life stages and they feel the care from DBS, we offer 100% work from home for up to six months to employees, both women and men, who have new-born or adopted children.  With the flexibility provided, our people can transition better into their parenthood.  We also offer the same flexibility to colleagues who are primary caregivers to support a family member who is in need. 

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