Working Life

Banking on women to fulfil their potential

Bank of America Merrill Lynch launched its Asia-Pacific Emerging Women in Treasury programme with a discussion. The panel comprised (from far left) Ms Margaret Lyng, Mr Tan Tzu Ping, Ms Merrilee Matchett, Mr Stefan Leijdekkers and Ms Deepali Pendse.
Bank of America Merrill Lynch launched its Asia-Pacific Emerging Women in Treasury programme with a discussion. The panel comprised (from far left) Ms Margaret Lyng, Mr Tan Tzu Ping, Ms Merrilee Matchett, Mr Stefan Leijdekkers and Ms Deepali Pendse.PHOTO: BANK OF AMERICA MERRILL LYNCH

Most companies seeking more gender diversity focus on ways to groom female staff, but Bank of America Merrill Lynch (BAML) is going further by looking outside its own walls.

It has introduced a programme that brings together female professionals from various companies who will meet bank staff to discuss issues related to gender equality and leadership, and talk about structural biases against women.

The bank's global transaction services unit launched the Asia-Pacific Emerging Women in Treasury programme in Hong Kong in August before introducing it to Singapore on Nov 12.

BAML got the ball rolling by inviting its corporate clients in the region to nominate female talent within their organisations to participate in the programme.

It gathered 38 participants in Singapore who will meet regularly over the next six months for discussions.

The programme will also connect participants with BAML executives and treasury industry leaders and help them gain access to the bank's financial market insights via networking lunches, panel discussions and special presentations.

"The idea is to bring in female leaders from outside and within BAML to explore what it means to take charge of your career and bring in opportunities for yourself," said BAML's head of corporate treasury sales for South-east Asia, Ms Deepali Pendse.

"How do you put yourself out there, know your limits and make your own success? Ultimately this is meant to be a journey of personal and professional development."

The programme in Singapore started with a panel discussion.

"Most of the participants said work-life balance was the biggest challenge they faced as women in the workplace," Ms Pendse said.

"Many women don't take up work opportunities because they feel they need to focus on the family. And they don't have enough confidence to put themselves out there and they're too shy to have conversations with managers about taking up bigger opportunities."

The programme aims to lift participants out of this mindset and offer them tips, solutions and ideas about how to get ahead in the workplace.

One participant, Ms Li Chun Wong, a manager at a multinational based in Singapore, said she wished she had attended such a programme earlier in her career.

"Hearing from the speakers about the key milestones and challenges in their careers provided a greater insight into how women can better manage their personal brand to create success," she said.

Gender diversity is an issue that BAML has been championing. It sponsored a gender diversity benchmark for Asia last year, which found that women in the region held only 24 per cent of the senior posts at the corporations surveyed.

The survey also showed that in all major markets in the region, the proportion of women at senior levels was well below the proportion of women in the workforce as a whole.

Mr Ivo Distelbrink, BAML's head of global transaction services for Asia-Pacific, said a lot more work needs to be done to balance the number of women in the workplace. "While we continue to address this imbalance internally, we would also like to make a difference externally. The goal is ensuring we create an environment where everyone - irrespective of who they are - can fulfil their potential."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 23, 2015, with the headline 'Banking on women to fulfil their potential'. Print Edition | Subscribe