Meet the Citi MD creating a “meritocracy on the trading floor” in Singapore

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Ten years ago Julia Raiskin thought it would be “almost impossible” to get to the top in the banking sector and be mother to three young children. Raiskin was about seven years into her career at the time and had worked in various sales roles for Lehman Brothers, Morgan Stanley, and J.P. Morgan in London.

But it was only after moving to Singapore in 2007 that Raiskin, now Asia Pacific head of investor sales and relationship management at Citi, began to realise that motherhood and banking could be compatible. “It was unimaginable in London that I could have a three-child household and still have a senior sales job, but that’s what I’ve done in Singapore,” she says. “Unlike in London, many women working in banking here can afford home help, while the day-care for young kids is amazing. This helps enormously when you’re climbing the ladder in a traditionally male-dominated area like markets.”

Despite these societal advantages and at least a decade’s worth of gender-diversity programmes in the local finance industry, Raiskin says banks in Singapore still need to ensure more women reach leadership roles in sales and trading. “In Singapore and globally, women lost ground in banking after the financial crisis,” she says. “The sector became associated with bad behaviour, which put some women off. The front-office also contracted, and generally women are disproportionately disadvantaged during shrinking environments.”

But Raiskin, who has been chairperson of the Citi Singapore Women’s Council since 2015, remains optimistic about the prospects of women reaching the upper ranks in markets jobs. About 35% of her 450-strong team at Citi are now female, a figure she says is above the industry average. “We now have a lot of young women moving into markets roles, and we’re making progress in an arguably more important area: retaining them as they get more senior.”

Citi is focusing much of its retention efforts at combating the traditional industry-wide problem of women leaving banking once they reach the middle ranks. Its EDGE development programme is grooming a pipeline of female AVPs across Asia, while is Asia Inspiring Women Leaders Programme teaches leadership skills to VP and SVPs.

Banks in Singapore should adapt their HR policies to better meet the needs of local women, says Raiskin. “To make further progress, the industry needs to rethink its attitude to senior women and give them greater flexibility at the times of their lives when they need it,” she adds. “That’s not necessarily only when they have young kids. We recently arranged flexible working for someone who wanted to help her child prepare for university, for example. And elderly care is an equally important concern for working women in Asia.”

Ultimately, Raiskin wants “the trading floor to look even more like the society it’s based in”. “That’s not just in terms of gender, but also in terms of people’s background, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and disabilities,” she says. “It’s about creating a meritocracy. Whoever succeeds and fails shouldn’t be linked to any traditional biases.”

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