State Street Bank & Trust

By Nikki Park

At many companies, gender diversity is viewed as something “nice to have.” But according to State Street Bank & Trust, the commitment to diversity is not just the right thing to do but a key driver of innovation here in Asia Pacific.

“As a global player, we value the quality of every individual’s experiences, perspectives and capabilities that make our more than 15,000 female employees unique,” says Pauline Wong, Senior Vice President and Head of Global Services, Hong Kong.

“Our intense and sustained attention to diversity actually helps us with the bottom line. It provides us with the advantage of attracting and retaining a strong workforce that feels fully engaged, valued and recognized.”

State Street first set off its diversity and inclusion goal in 2011, with a target of increasing representation of females at senior level globally. In early 2015, the target was further expanded to include middle-management level with an action plan requiring every workforce globally to contribute to the diversity goals.

Wong points out that women, who make up half of the company’s workforce, should succeed in every level of the organization. “Diversity goals should not be limited to senior executives but [should be] moved down to the next levels so that we can build the pipeline of talented women.”

With its diversity initiatives, State Street now outperforms the financial industry significantly in total women workforce and stands firm as the only company with 50 percent female representation at the senior executive level in Hong Kong, compared with the industry average of 28.4 percent. Senior executive-level positions held by women have also increased by seven percent from four out of 16 senior vice presidents (SVPs) in 2010 to 15 out of 46 in 2015.

The diversity and inclusion goal of State Street is not just about ticking off boxes. Wong emphasizes that having as many female employees as possible would not make any difference if the company does not provide a culture where employees feel that they can speak up and that their voices are heard.

State Street’s female SVPs, such as the heads of Global Services in Hong Kong, Singapore, Taipei and Korea and head of Client Services in Japan, are empowered with critical leadership and decision-making responsibilities. The executive promotion process was also refreshed to ensure that a diverse slate of candidates is proposed. Between July 2014 and June 2015, 2,596 women staff were promoted, comprising 43.95 percent of the total number of employee promotions.

“We established the target from top-down but we also have engagement groups within the organization, which is more of a bottom-up strategy,” Wong explains. “In a lot of the countries and markets where we operate, we have set up professional women’s networks where groups provide mentoring and sponsorship to connect like-minded colleagues.”

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State Street also launched the WISE (Working Inclusively Supports Excellence) training program in 2011 to create awareness around unconscious bias and to build an inclusive work environment. Nearly 3,000 managers have completed the training course, and an online training program will soon be available to cover all employees.

On the practical level, the company provides a comprehensive flexible work program, which aims to meet various personal and family demands of their workforce. Its employees can also access paid and unpaid parental leave while the Working Parents’ Network supports working mothers and provides advice prior to taking parental leave and when preparing to return to work.

Additionally, in most of State Street’s global offices there are reserved office spaces known as “Mother’s Rooms” to accommodate nursing mothers. “For all those programs we have to go through an evaluation process periodically to assess their efficiency. They do not remain static but constantly evolve over time,” Wong notes.

State Street is particularly optimistic about the current situation and the future of diversity in Hong Kong. “The awareness in the last few years has improved dramatically. Progress in our region will speed up and become more incremental,” Wong says.

“Across organizations in APEC, not just at State Street but people in general, are just more and more aware of the importance of diversity and inclusiveness. We have a relatively bigger office in Hong Kong, hence support and attention are much more visible than other industry peers. The government is also advocating to increase the management representation of women from the current 10 percent to 30 percent by 2022.”

When asked to provide a piece of advice to women who are just starting their careers, Wong says it is important to share your ambition with someone else. “I’ve talked to many of my peers and we all agree that in Hong Kong, if you do your best and push your limits, you will be what you want to be someday. But apart from working hard and pushing your limit, you have to share your ambitions, what you would like to achieve with people around you, your partner, family or colleagues. You shouldn’t be alone. Remember that you can always reach out to people for support.”