Is Asia a better place for women to work in banking? And are local banks the best employers to work for if you need flexible working arrangements?
Our Ideal Employer rankings would suggest so. Female finance professionals increasingly want jobs in Singapore's three local banks.
In our survey, which asked almost 2,000 finance professionals in Asia (and more than 6,500 globally) where they would ideally like to work, DBS ranks as the 6th most popular bank among all Asian respondents. But it jumps to 4th spot among female financial professionals in Asia, ahead of global firms including Citi, Credit Suisse and Morgan Stanley. There are even more dramatic rises for OCBC (17th overall in Asia and 9th for women) and UOB (28th to 13th).
These comparatively high rankings aren’t explained by the compensation on offer at Singaporean banks, however. When asked to name the perceived strengths of the banks they think are ideal employers, female respondents gave local firms only average to mediocre marks on the competitiveness of their salaries and bonuses.
By contrast, ‘manageable working hours’ is cited as a perceived strength by 61% and 60% of voters for DBS and OCBC respectively – higher percentages than any other bank achieved in our Asian top-20 firms for female respondents (apart from Standard Chartered on 62%). In the same vein, DBS also ranks highly for ‘flexible working options’.
Farida Charania, Asia Pacific CEO of search firm Nastrac Group, says she’s interviewed “many female candidates” who cite working hours and flexible working as key reasons for wanting to join a domestic bank. “Compared to the foreign banks in Singapore, you have fewer late-night calls with the US or Europe because you’re working at headquarters.”
The high female ranking for the Singaporean banks is bolstered by working mothers perceiving them as more “family friendly”, adds Angela Kuek, director of search firm Meyer Consulting Group in Singapore. “They are seen as offering a less intense and cut-throat environment than the global banks do, so the levels of stress are less for working mothers juggling careers and families. And their employee benefits are more tailored to the local context.”
These benefits include in-house childcare – an area where Singaporean banks stole an early march on their foreign competitors. OCBC, for example, became the first bank in Singapore to provide these facilities when it opened its ‘Little Skool-House centre’ in 2007. “We give employees peace of mind that their child is well cared for. We also have well-equipped nursing rooms in our offices to encourage working mums to continue nursing as long as possible,” says Jacinta Low, head of HR planning at OCBC.
Low says the bank has a range of other family-friendly policies, including providing six days of childcare leave for employees with children below the age of eight and allowing staff to carry forward up to three weeks’ leave if their child is sitting Singapore’s all-important Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) the following year. OCBC also runs support groups for parents with teens, single parents, caregivers, and parents who have special-needs children.
The local banks have also recently boosted their flexible working policies. The ‘iFlex@DBS’ programme, for example, gives DBD employees a fixed sum of money every year to use for any ‘wellness purpose’, including family holidays.
Not just the soft stuff
But as attractive as they may seem, HR policies alone don’t explain why Singaporean banks are popular among female financial professionals. Graduates and younger women aren’t generally thinking about flexi-working and childcare when they first join a bank – they want their new employer to have a high female representation within its workforce and a range of senior female role models.
Grace Yip, executive director of group human resources at DBS, says her firm has already achieved the former. “More than 50% of our headcount is female, as are a substantial number ranked vice president and above. In addition, we have eight female senior leaders who sit on our board and group management committee, all of whom helm important business units,” says. “We also sponsors female leadership events in conjunction with International Women’s Day.”
Not all the reasons why women perceive Singaporean banks as strong employers are gender specific. For example, 76% and 70% of female voters for DBS and OCBC respectively believe their ‘financial performance’ is an important strength. “There’s certainly a sense among candidates that Singaporean banks are more stable and don’t retrench as often as their foreign counterparts do because they’re based here,” says Christina Ng, an executive director at LMA Recruitment in Singapore
‘Opportunities for promotion’ is another area where female respondents think Singapore banks are strong. “For a female Singaporean, there are better opportunities to rise to the top as you’re in a local bank which is focused on building a ‘Singapore core’ and promoting local talent, regardless of gender,” adds Kuek from Meyer Consulting.
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