Women in Finance Q&A
With Susan Chan, Head of Asia and Head of iShares and Index Investing & Trading, Lending and Liquidity, APAC, BlackRock
What is the state of women in finance in 2020? What progress is still needed?
We have made progress. The topic of women in finance has become more front-center in the past 10 years. When I started in the industry in the 90s, the topic of women in finance rarely showed up anywhere. Awareness has significantly improved, which is great to see. We are seeing more females taking on senior leadership roles, more trading positions, and there are more women investors and more women CIOs. We have made good progress globally, but the industry has to do more, especially at the senior level.
What has been your personal experience as a woman in finance?
When I started in this industry, it was very male-dominated. I joined as a derivatives trader, and for the first five, six years of my career, I think I was probably the only female in Hong Kong doing what I was doing. Did it feel awkward? No, because there was a lot of camaraderie — at the junior level in the 90s, I felt very encouraged and supported. When I became a bit more senior as VP and then director, that was when I started feeling the shift. The stakes are higher at those levels and it is an even more male-dominated environment. You have to have a tougher skin and you have to learn not to take things personally in order to demonstrate that you are strong enough to be a trader.
While I felt those challenges during different periods of my career, I have been very fortunate in having great male role models, sponsors and mentors. This is a critical piece of the equation, because no matter what time period you are in, having good sponsorship, mentorship, and role models, be they male or female, is really important. In the finance industry, what we see right now is that more men are sponsors and mentors for women, simply because we do not have enough women in senior leadership positions. We believe this will not be the case for much longer and we will see more women in senior roles and pay it forward.
You are on the Advisory Board of the GlobalTrading Women in Finance Asia Awards program. What do you see as the role of this group?
It is incredibly important to provide the sponsorship and a voice to recognize great women in finance. Not only recognize the women, but also recognize the men and women who support them and create a venue for us to celebrate great women in finance. It is a great initiative and we need to recognize women more.
Discuss BlackRock as an employer in terms of encouraging, recognizing and promoting women in finance?
Gender equality is very important at BlackRock. We have been very successful in terms of engaging at all levels, especially at the Director and MD levels where a lot more attention needs to be. Our graduate population intake is pretty much 50-50 women-
men, and some years we see more women than men. We have early career programs to help women. We look at each level, for example in Asia we have had an early associate-level sponsorship program where we paired young women with senior executives to coach and foster them. We also have global programs like our Women’s Leadership Forum, where we bring senior women together and develop them as future leaders for the firm.
How do you connect individual success with organizational success?
If we deliver as a group, that to me is incredibly fulfilling and that equates to my personal success. I get a lot of pride out of developing young talent and seeing them accelerate through their careers. That is something we focus on here at BlackRock — making sure that the people who are with us, both male and female, have great careers. We are in the people business, and if we manage our people well, our people will deliver.
How do you strike a work-life balance?
The first thing I always tell women is that it is hard. Let’s not kid ourselves that it is easy. The other thing I tell women is that there will be days you wake up and you just know it is going to be a bad day. We have four children and sometimes it is incredibly stressful with the screaming and crying. But that is okay when it is like that — just take a deep breath and know that it is okay. You have to have that perspective when trying to balance work and life.
Another important thing is to be disciplined in ensuring you have some time at work every day to be able to decompress and think about the things you have to get done. I tell people you have to be draconian about that one or two hours blocked in your diary every day. My lunch hours are always blocked, either with clients, or for a walk or a workout, or I stay in the office and have lunch and catch up on reading. You also have to take time for yourself outside work. I block in ‘me time’ every Saturday morning, when I take a few hours by myself and I go do my own things. This helps me maintain my own balance, but what works for me may not work for others — everybody needs to find their own work life balance, and it takes some trial and error. When you achieve this, you are going to know it because it feels natural.
What is your advice for young women just starting out in finance?
I would highlight two things. One, no question is ever a dumb question. You are here to learn, and if you don’t ask, you won’t learn. Two, connections are critical. Everybody you meet in your career might someday be someone you will connect with again. So remember to build connections, because that is your personal equity.
What is the future of women in finance?
We will see more women in senior leadership positions. There is a strong focus on that, both at BlackRock and across the industry. I am very optimistic that we will see a lot more female leaders in the next five to ten years.