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Dedicated to diversity
In a traditionally male-dominated industry, see how Norlida Azmi, Country Head of HR, HSBC Malaysia, is building an all-inclusive firm by empowering women leaders, in this exclusive interview with Priya Sunil.
Since taking over the helm of HR for HSBC Malaysia early this year, Norlida Azmi, Country Head of Human Resources, has set into action a series of plans to enable the company’s growth and transformation journey.
Driven by agility and a customer-centric mindset, in this exclusive interview, she shares initiatives taken towards the company’s passion for diversity; her team’s drive for a digital mindset in employees; the key wellness initiatives behind a healthy workforce; and more.
Q I understand HSBC Malaysia’s people strategy centres on three pillars – customer orientation, digital-first, and agility. Could you share more about this?
This is about a growth and transformation journey where we are operating in an ecosystem that is being shaped by digital disruption, innovation and increased connectivity between markets and communities – representing both opportunities and challenges.
Our focus as a bank continues to be our customers; thus, in enhancing customer-centricity in all that we do, it is imperative we serve our customers better.
We are driving this mindset enhancement by equipping our colleagues with digital acumen and capability, as well as finessing their adaptability, as the ways of working incorporate more collaborative and faster go-to-market demands.
Q What are some key initiatives lined up for employees in the digital programme?
We recently launched an inclusive skills development programme called Future Ready HSBC, with our future-readiness upskilling blueprint.
It is a curated learning journey with three phases: deepen our awareness on the dynamics of the digital revolution, and the threats and opportunities it brings to the banking ecosystem; build the technical capabilities of our colleagues to critically assess the challenges; and creatively develop solutions that will enable the development of new or enhanced solutions.
The suite of offerings include targeted programmes for our businesses such as the future of trade finance with blockchain; a digital transformation acceleration programme; a capital market series (featuring fintech, AI, big data, etc); and also wider capability building programmes such as design thinking and data storytelling.
We expect that we will be incorporating new programmes on a dynamic basis given the speed of change in this space. Additionally, given the advantage of being a global bank, we are able to leverage on the digital curriculum offered by HSBC University.
Q How does a digital mindset and agility tie in with HSBC’s talent management?
Against this backdrop, the bank has already organised hackathons and open lab innovations that have driven lateral thinking and creative ideas. We are also embarking on a bank-wide culture programme that links the various programmes that exist in the bank to drive a mindset more aligned to the bank’s ambitions.
We don’t believe that one size fits all, but we do believe we have to work together to achieve our goals and that the principles applied are similar.
In driving creativity and innovation, we want to create a safe environment that sees failures in the pursuit of higher goals as a learning process. That iteration and courage will make us greater professionals.
Q Given HSBC is also passionate about driving diversity, and that you have a seat on the bank’s D&I Council, what’s on the current agenda?
Our D&I programme is a great example of how we work collaboratively and in an agile way. There are four employee resource groups (ERGs) made up of two to three members of the executive committee (EXCO).
The squads are then made up of colleagues of diverse backgrounds, genders, ethnicity, age and capabilities, who volunteer and are committed to making a difference in the four ERGs, namely – Balance (gender), Embrace (ethnicity), Generations, and Inclusion.
On a voluntary basis, above and beyond their regular roles, these volunteers are our change agents as we embed this in our corporate DNA culture. Our four ERG networks play a critical role in achieving our D&I ambitions in engaging colleagues, and represent an important feedback channel for more innovative and relevant business solutions.
I am on the Balance ERG with another colleague, Omar Mahmoud, Head of Global Banking, who is equally passionate on this aspect of diversity. We have seen enough research on diversity contributing to better outcomes for organisations in both financial and non-financial aspects, so we want to do more. Our Balance network supports the recruitment, development, advancement and engagement of a genderbalanced workforce within HSBC.
Going beyond celebrating International Women’s Day, as it was deservedly celebrated, we bring together successful professional women and men within and outside of HSBC who can be inspiring role models in a certain aspect, or in totality.
We recently held an agile forum where we invited women who have successfully demonstrated entrepreneurship and agility. We brought in married professionals with their husbands/partners to share how they balance the pursuit of business and relationships successfully.
We want to drive the empowerment of women beyond this, to cover professional development, leadership development, board readiness, community connectedness, and holistic wellbeing.
We also recognise that to be impactful on the gender equation, we need male allies on a complementary platform, for which we are at the planning stage. Studies have shown when men are deliberately engaged in gender inclusion programmes, 96% of organisations will progress in this.
The other ERGs have also made significant progress in that Generations ERG has implemented reverse mentoring where Millennials are now mentors to our EXCO.
This is towards a better understanding of the needs in an environment where there are five generations in the workforce, ways of thinking, expectations, purpose, and much more. I am reminded of my earlier Millennial mentor who said her generation values ‘experiences’ more, rather than a career.
During Ramadan, our Inclusion ERG shared perspectives of what ‘fasting’ means from the lenses of our staff of different races and religions, and also from a lifestyle perspective.
The Embrace ERG has proposed the inclusion of all ethnicities in our recruitment and to make a concerted effort in addressing gaps if there are any.
This is a journey where we want to embed D&I in our policies, guidelines, inclusive language, and appropriate behaviours in the workplace, and partner with the wider ecosystem, including clients, vendors and others who are committed to this objective. That is when the impact happens; mass with velocity.
Q Tell us about the HSBC Inspirational League of Ladies – what is the main driver of this programme, and how have the results in Malaysia been so far?
The main driver of this programme is to strengthen the senior women leadership pipeline and advance the careers of women through various actions and interactive learning initiatives with the aim of long-term development and retention.
This dovetails with our objective of building a balanced leadership where there is a strong pipeline of capable women to assume increasing seniority and leadership positions.
Apart from HSBC University and other instructor-led internal programmes, our women leaders also attend external programmes, including the six-month programme by LeadWomen, Iclif, and more.
The planned programmes range from personal branding to technical and professional skills programmes. We call our personal branding programme Style Box, and it comes with various editions. The first edition, on personal branding, was rolled out in August 2019, and covered grooming (visual credibility), professional voice articulation and personal projection (body language), and communication etiquette.
There is some overlap with the learning programmes that we have, but we are co-creating this programme with these women leaders to deliver what they feel they need and want.
As this platform was only launched recently, it is too early to link this to retention and advancement results. However, these women have expressed appreciation for this platform and the increased visibility that will promote not only their professional ambitions, but also their personal confidence.
Q Did the team face any major challenges in pushing for diversity in the Malaysia market?
For the most part, no. When our programmes are rolled out, we do localise them to respect the customs and sensitivities in the geographies that we operate in. As some of these programmes are relatively new, we have to continue to demonstrate the benefits to gain belief in our diversity programmes.
Q What are the results of your D&I initiatives to date?
To drive the retention of women talent, we must demonstrate that we are paying the same for both men and women in the same roles. I am proud to say that one of our departments has definitely addressed the gender pay parity in 2019. Additionally, more than 50% of our 2019 promotions were awarded to deserving female employees.
We have also implemented diversity KPIs, not only for the top management gender percentage, but also in the sourcing of talent for open roles, and the panel of interviewers to begin to affirmatively address unconscious biases in terms of gender/age/ethnicity, while always respecting that the best talent will get the role.
Q Coming to wellness, during World Health Day in April, HSBC launched a holistic wellbeing programme for employees. What were the key strategies implemented here?
The wellbeing programme is based on the premise that when our employees are at their best, they will give their best. We want to cover physical, mental, and financial wellbeing.
In the first phase, we focused on physical wellbeing where we implemented a drive to ensure as many of our employees went for health screening so they would know how to better take care of themselves, not only for themselves, but also for their family, partners and loved ones.
Our cafeteria has also included healthy options to encourage our staff to eat better, which is always a challenge with our Malaysian gastronomic delights. Physical challenges at all levels – spanning from the steps challenge, planking, and many more, are still in place.
We will be focusing on mental wellbeing and financial wellbeing in Q3 2019 onwards and are determined to make a positive impact on our workforce’s total wellbeing.
Q HSBC recently implemented a flexible working scheme, with the department heads also adopting this flexibility. What drove this decision?
HSBC has had a flexible working arrangement (FWA) for some time now; though adoption may not be as high as in the past.
We feel that FWA is one of the key contributors to our colleagues’ total wellbeing – and to encourage a higher adoption, the senior management has been adopting this as well. This is to amplify the position that we are measured by our contributions and deliverables and not necessarily by the time we spend at the office.
With technology, connectivity to the office in Malaysia, and as a global bank, we are able to be present in meetings, town halls and other engagements. There are roles where this is more challenging, but managers are reviewing to see how the adoption of FWA can be more inclusive to all.
We do balance between being physically present in the office, and working from home and remotely.
The adoption rate for roles where FWA has been more easily incorporated has been strong among parents, both fathers and mothers, and caregivers, as the arrangement allows them to work remotely and adjust work timings to that of nurseries/schools and/or hospitals.
Q What were the biggest challenges faced in rolling out these wellness initiatives?
Not everyone wants to know their physical wellness, with perhaps a misconception that if we don’t acknowledge it, the problem may go away. As for mental wellbeing, it is still clouded with stigma.
We have always tackled these challenges: first, with increasing awareness and education, and second, by top management role-modelling and encouraging their staff.
There’s a lot to be said for empathetic leadership. For this to be embedded, we have to have the staying power to reinforce it as we go along. This cannot be a one-time initiative.
Q Did this encourage or improve employees’ productivity?
The short-term measures for some of these under the physical fitness umbrella are that the number of staff that did the physical screening increased by 300% on an annual basis, and the number of fitness programmes that are being run by the various departments across the bank has increased.
At a later stage, we will do the analysis against the number of medical leave days, the cost of preventive medical coverage, and others. We are expecting that this will impact employee advocacy for us as an employer of choice in that we care for our employees. Over a short period of time, we will be able to use data analytics to directly link these to productivity.
Vital stats: As the Country Head of Human Resources for HSBC Malaysia, Norlida Azmi drives the bank’s people plan and sits on its D&I Council. She is active in several advocacy organisations, including the 30% Club and Lean In, and a mentor on the LeadWomen, Mentor4Mentor and YCM programmes.
She brings more than 25 years of experience in client and risk management, strategy, and human capital management. Her 18-year international stint has included Singapore, London, Saudi, Qatar, and the UAE.
Photos / Provided
This interview has been published in Human Resources magazine. Read the Q3 edition of Human Resources, Malaysia:
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