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Women with Ambition: Up Close with Andrea Fletcher

If you could describe women with just one word, what would that word be? Is that word something along the lines of 'nurturing', 'caring', or even 'difficult'? This is the stereotype women face, and women leaders are trying to change this narrative.

Strong - this is the word used to describe this week's featured leader, Andrea Fletcher, the COO / Chief of Staff to the APAC CEO at Citi. She is the embodiment of a strong leader who knows that even one person can make a change. Check out her inspiring insights in this week's Women with Ambition.

1. JP Morgan Chase and Mastercard are just some of the companies who have adjusted the gender pay gap to close to one percent. Can you share examples of equality practices that your firm looks closely at?

As a multinational company with operations throughout the world, Citi takes its longstanding commitment to diversity and inclusion very seriously. In mid-2018, Citi set public goals to increase representation at the Assistant Vice President through Managing Director levels to at least 40% for women globally by the end of 2021. We have seen the percentage of women on the global Citi Board increase to over 40% in recent years and we are looking to further improve upon this number.

In 2018, Citi was the first major US financial institution to publicly release the results of a pay equity review comparing the compensation of women to men in the US, UK and Germany, and this year we extended our pay equity review to cover all of our colleagues globally.

We are, however, very mindful that equality reaches far beyond gender and to that end, executives from Citi’s leadership team now lead the 10 Affinity Networks that represent the broad-ranging demographics of Citi employees globally namely Asian Heritage, Black Heritage, Hispanic/Latino Heritage, Citi Salutes, Citi Women, disABILITY, Generations, Pride, Multicultural, and Families/Parents.

2. If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self, what would that be?

The best-laid plans don’t always work out, so you need to be flexible. I moved to Sydney from London in my twenties, and this was not in my grand career plan! Likewise, I was asked to relocate to Hong Kong in 2010 to take up a regional role while I had a 5 year-old and a 2 year-old at the time. A career plan is great but do be flexible and open to changes and opportunities – if it is all scripted, you may miss a terrific opportunity.

The other thing I would tell myself is that it is okay to say “no”. A year before being approached for the role in HK, I was approached about a role in London. On a personal level, it was not the right time to uproot my husband from his job and our two small children. I was concerned about how turning down mobility would be viewed. Of course, you can't keep saying “no” but so long as you are explicit and provide logical, thoughtful feedback, you will be surprised!

3. Who inspires you and why?

Personally I am constantly inspired particularly by stories and examples of those who have overcome a level of adversity or challenge whether physical, economic, or social. On the work front, I am a huge believer in the power of role models. We all need to be able to look up and see women who are actively succeeding and managing the 'juggle', whether that be children or older parents and yet delivering and leading at work.

I remember very distinctly thinking about becoming a mother and looking around the trading floor at that time, there were no working mums. I elected to go ahead nonetheless, and a couple of years later there were four of us – not a large number, but impactful enough for younger women to be able to look up to this and see it was do-able. We are all role models – graduates are role models to interns, and it goes on all the way up to very senior management. We all need to understand the influence we can have and the impact our words and behaviour can have.

4. What are some strategies that can help women achieve a more prominent role in their organisations?

Be visible, take risks, and have a voice! Of course, always do what you do well but don't expect the proverbial tap on the shoulder as often you will be left waiting. Instead, put yourself out there (which can be very uncomfortable for women), meet people, navigate your way around your organisation and industry, join networks, and definitely put your hand up for stretched roles or projects. Ultimately, we need to ensure we have a presence, we have confidence, and that we are speaking credibly.

5. As a female leader, what has been the most significant barrier in your career?

Investment Banking can be a tough industry which can sometimes bring out the less pleasant qualities in some people! As you begin to progress through your career, you might find yourself surrounded by some very strong alpha male personalities. Women can be labelled 'difficult' or 'bossy' which I simply translate to 'strong' and 'assertive'. The trick is to not take it personally, not conform to that stereotype, and be genuine about who you are. Being female can be an advantage – over the years there have been many situations where I have been the only woman in the room out of 15-20 men, so they will always remember your name and what you do!

6. In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, what are 2 pressing challenges that your organisation currently faces? What steps are being taken to mitigate these challenges?

The business world is currently going through the largest business continuity experiment we have seen. We have planned for this, but one of the top things on our minds every day is ensuring that we keep our people safe while trying to maintain business-as-usual for our clients as much as possible. One of our first challenges at the early stages of the pandemic was how fast we could move a majority of our people to work remotely from home. We managed to do this quickly, rather seamlessly and had approximately 80% of our people working remotely while maintaining smooth business operations. Working remotely has its own set of unique challenges for a highly regulated industry like banking, so ensuring that the right controls are in place was also a big priority.

7. With most teams working virtually, how have you adjusted to this change and ensure there is transparent and effective communication with your team?

As a firm, we have adapted very well to the new reality of remote work. Our learnings and best practices have helped other regions roll out similar arrangements in their markets. The role that technology is playing in this crisis is evident in that we were able to quickly mobilise large numbers to work from home. While many of us are used to working long hours, it is nothing compared to the intensity and speed of what we are doing now to adapt to rapidly changing situations.

Communication within our large organisation has been key throughout the last six months, and we have leveraged a variety of technological tools and platforms, including video and audio conferencing, internal office communicators and web-based solutions, to ensure our people continue to stay engaged with each other.

Globally, we did a large-scale employee well-being survey in March/April to find out how our people across the world are dealing with this unprecedented situation. With their feedback, we were able to better tailor our business continuity plans and remote work programmes and focus on what really matters to them.

8. How do you see businesses evolving after the pandemic subsides and what role should female leaders play during this period of transition?

If it is one thing that has changed and evolved during this pandemic, it is the way the entire financial industry works. In some businesses like Markets, for example, it would have been unthinkable to see entire trading desks working from home. The current situation has led to many industry players needing to find some common ground to allow work to go on remotely in a controlled way, due to the systemic importance of financial institutions.

As far as organisations are concerned, I think the importance of resilience in our business models have become key points of discussion, and organisations will have to make sure that they understand and simplify their supply chains to be able to better cope with shocks.

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