Women in Finance Q&A

Markets Media Group spoke with Richard Cohen, Head of Primary and Credit Markets, APAC, and Allie Eom, Head of Advisory Sales, APAC, at BNP Paribas. Cohen is an Executive Sponsor of BNP Paribas’ Women in Global Markets Asia Pacific, and Eom is a Board Member.

What is the current state of the landscape for women in finance. What progress has been made, and what progress is still needed?

Richard Cohen, BNP Paribas

Richard Cohen: One thing that’s clear is that there are disparities in the number of women in markets divisions of banks, especially at senior levels. From personal experience, when I started in the business over 20 years ago, the number of women on a trading floor wasn’t really a topic, but over the years, it has grown in importance as we recognize the need for gender diversity. We still have many challenges and things to work on, such as including more women in management, especially senior management, and increasing the number of female traders across The Street. If you look at our teams, you see many female salespeople, but still relatively few female traders.

Allie, what has been your personal career experience as a woman in finance? Have you found that any doors were closed (or open), specifically because of your gender? 

Allie Eom, BNP Paribas

Allie Eom: I also started my career about 20 years ago, and of course the industry has evolved over that time. I started my career in Seoul, then worked in New York for about 10 years, and now I’m in Hong Kong. I have been very fortunate and I don’t think my gender has held me back at all. I’ve always been in cash equity sales, and particularly in Asian equity sales, there has always been a great gender balance, even at the senior level. That said, beyond cash equities, there is room for improvement across different divisions and different regions, especially at the senior level. 

How does BNP Paribas support and encourage women employees?

AE: This is my 14th year at BNP, so I have a good perspective on this. We get great support from day one, whether as a graduate trainee or as part of the BNP Paribas internship program. There is also internal mobility, and consideration in external hires. I benefited from internal mobility when I transferred from New York to Hong Kong. BNP also has great initiatives, including Women in Global Markets Asia Pacific; Male Allies, which Richard is part of; diversity networks such as Mixed City and Pride; as well as mentoring programs, talent programs, and training.  

RC: The program Allie and I are most involved in is Women in Global Markets APAC. The key for this is that it’s not driven by HR, it’s led by the front office business, and it’s about setting up identifiable, measurable and achievable targets to ensure we increase the number of women in Global Markets APAC at all levels, from the most junior to the most senior level. The three main streams here are recruitment, retention, and client engagement, which entails engaging with our clients specifically around gender and gender diversity.  

2020 has been a very unique and challenging year. How might 2020 evolve the cause of women in finance?

AE: The first words that come to mind when I think about 2020 are adaptability and agility. We all have had to adjust to a very new world. And one of the more interesting products of this unfortunate situation is the success that we have seen of working from home across various roles, and how it is actually possible. Now it’s up to employers, all organizations, to embrace this new, adaptive agility that we have shown. 

Obviously working from home has its challenges as well as rewards. We have connectivity issues, we have kids running around. We might be watching kids at school while dialed in to the morning meeting — we all have different situations. But I think overall, it has made us stronger and better equipped for whatever changes the future might bring. 

RC: This year has demonstrated that people can successfully work from home — in our industry especially, there were a lot of doubters about that. And I would expect, assuming the regulatory framework is there, that some of us could continue work this way in the future.

And indeed it hasn’t all been plain sailing in terms of the flexibility component, particularly when it comes to things such as homeschooling, which often falls to women. And for many people working from home, the hours have actually got very long because there’s not a true cutoff. So it is important to recognize that this flexibility has also brought challenges. 

What is the value of industry events that recognize women in finance, such as Markets Media’s Women in Finance Asia Awards event?

RC: Everyone likes to be recognized and complimented. It is important and it also helps raise that person’s profile. Some studies have shown that women are less likely to promote themselves in the workplace compared with men, so I think these kinds of awards can help counterbalance that. 

It’s also important for companies such as BNP, because we want to be recognized for our market-leading position in diversity. It’s good for business and it helps us attract the best talent with a diversity of backgrounds. 

How can men in finance best support and encourage their women colleagues?

RC: BNP’s Male Allies program focuses on this. When you’re a male ally within BNP, it’s not just about being a mentor or sponsoring women, it’s also about how you influence others and influence the behavior of the organization. A good example is when a mother returns from maternity leave — as men, we need to understand the challenges this time brings, and guide others to think similarly so they can understand as well.  

Male Allies is about helping, sponsoring, and mentoring. More importantly, it’s about nurturing a culture that promotes and sponsors balance at the firm by increasing the number of women at all levels. 

What is the value of mentorship for women in finance? Can either or both of you recall any personal experiences of being a mentor or a mentee?

AE: Before I answer, I wanted to add to what Richard mentioned about how women being less likely to promote themselves or ask for help. I can say personally from my experience, that this is definitely the case!

When I first started in this industry, I had a senior manager as a mentor, who I still keep in touch with. This mentor provided me with a lot of great perspectives, as well as the ability to see a bigger picture, especially when it came to making important career decisions. He also gave me some really great advice, which I still think about. He said: ‘Don’t chase money, let money chase you.’ 

I can only hope that every firm has the kind of mentorship that BNP does, as it can have such a lasting impact on a person’s career. 

RC: Mentorship is valuable to all people, but I think especially for women as a way to help develop their careers. A good mentor can act as a role model, help with coaching, give career advice, and then help with networking and visibility at a firm, which addresses some of the points we made earlier. 

As a mentor, I always feel content when I see that someone I’ve mentored has become a success in whatever path they choose. You always hope that you had some small part to play in that.

One notable experience I had was with a mentee in a division, outside markets. One of her goals was to work outside of Asia, so we came up with a plan on how she could achieve that. One big part was networking into other groups within the bank, including senior people that I knew, and we also did interview coaching. It was successful, and she’s now a successful manager in New York. 

What is the future of women in finance? Will there ever be a day when women in finance programs are no longer needed?

RCLike many initiatives, I think the ultimate aim is that you don’t need it anymore.  The aim is not to have to even think about if women have equal representation, it’s just completely natural. I believe it’s an achievable goal, but it’s going to be still a reasonably long path to follow because we still have quite a lot of ground to make up in certain areas. 

AEI always think about questions like this from the perspective of my 16-year-old daughter. If she chooses to work, in finance or wherever else, hopefully we will not have these kinds of initiatives the way we have today, and everything is quite balanced. And that for me is the goal, and it’s why I feel driven to help reach this goal. We want to create a world for our children where these programs are not needed as much.

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