Learning & Development Asia 2024
Here’s what Citi is doing to support returning women talent and what you can learn from it

Here’s what Citi is doing to support returning women talent and what you can learn from it

As an extension of Citi's diversity and inclusion ambitions around hiring, retention, and promotion of women, the Citi Women Singapore Network (CWS) launched a #BacktoWork programme in 2019, in partnership with Mums@Work Singapore where various roles in operations and technology were offered to women; women who are looking to return back to the workforce after taking a career break, to evaluate their interest. The choice to partner Mums@Work comes as both firms share a common ambition to support women to find the perfect balance between being a mum and working.

On the back of a successful run last year, the bank relaunched the programme this year, extending the open roles to 10 in wealth management. While the numbers may not seem to be a lot, Citi is focused on the type of roles that it can offer to mothers to truly empower them and enable them to build a long-term career at Citi. Since the programme was relaunched at the end of October, more than 200 applications have been received. Application to this year's #BacktoWork programme closes on 27 November 2020.

In line with the relaunch of the #BacktoWork programme, Human Resources Online spoke exclusively to Munir Nanji, Managing Director and Head of Global Subsidiaries Group for Asia Pacific at Citi, who co-leads CWS, Sher-li Torrey, founder of Mums@Work, and three hires from last year's programme, to find out how organisations can establish the right workplace solutions that meet the needs of women and working mothers, and more.

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Munir Nanji, Managing Director and Head of Global Subsidiaries Group for Asia Pacific at Citi, tells us what drove him to take a leading role in advocating gender diversity at the bank, as he shares what diversity and inclusion mean to Citi, how the bank is supporting women and working mothers, and more.

What does diversity and inclusion mean to Citi?

Citi’s commitment to diversity and inclusion is longstanding. We realise that to be a high-performing organisation, we need a team that is representative of the places where we operate and the clients we serve. More importantly, we believe that embracing diverse teams, ideas and possibilities helps us drive growth and progress because it’s a key part of who we are and how we thrive. One way this comes to life is in how we support inclusive cultures and women leaders wherever we do business across the world.

Globally at Citi, we have established 10 Affinity or Networks that represent the broad-ranging demographics of our employees, such as Asian Heritage, Black Heritage, Citi Women, Generations and Parents among others. Senior leaders chair our Affinity groups and are accountable for our diversity goals. In these roles, they are responsible for developing a better understanding and appreciation of the uniqueness of each group, and coming up with ideas and initiatives to ensure Citi is helping them grow, develop and matriculate through the firm.

In Asia, we have established 14 Women’s Networks that act as the on-the-ground voice of our employees and provide insight into the experience and challenges of women working at Citi.

These networks are open to all employees and provide mentoring and career support, both internal and external networking opportunities as well as local community involvement opportunities.

In Singapore, our gender diversity efforts are led by Citi Women Singapore Network (Citi Women), which was formed in 2018. At Citi Women, which I co-chair, we are focused on empowering women as a business advantage to enable an equitable and inclusive culture where they proudly reach their fullest potential.

What are some initiatives Citi has implemented around D&I?

Our diversity and inclusion efforts are focused around hiring, retaining and promoting women. We have implemented numerous initiatives to support our women over the years and we have made some good headway to-date.

A case in point is our female employees in Asia, which comprise over half of our 50,000+ strong workforce in the region. In Singapore, our workforce comprises 46% of females as of June this year. In Asia, we also have female CEOs in key markets including China, Hong Kong, Korea and Vietnam.

In 2018, Citi set public goals to increase our representation at the Assistant Vice President (AVP) through Managing Director (MD) levels to at least 40% for women globally by the end of 2021. Asia is currently at 39% with a target of 40% by the end of this year and 41% in 2021. For Singapore, the percentage of female at AVP level and higher has increased from 33% in 2017 to 37% earlier this year.

In 2017, we launched diverse interview panels to ensure the diversity of our interviewers who represent Citi. In our first year, 74% of managing director level hires were interviewed by a panel with at least one diverse panel member.

In 2018, 76% of interview slates for MD and director roles included at least one diverse candidate.

On campus recruitment, in Asia in 2019, 55% of our campus full-time hires were female – up 4% versus 2018. In Singapore, the numbers were up +8%.

While other companies may have similar diversity and inclusion programmes, what is unique about Citi’s is that we were the first bank to recognise and address the gender pay gap within our own organisation.

In 2018, Citi was the first major U.S. financial institution to publicly release the results of a pay equity review comparing compensation of women to men in the United States, the United Kingdom and Germany.

This year we extended our pay equity review to cover all of our colleagues globally. Our review adjusted pay to account for a number of factors to make the comparisons meaningful, including job function, level and geography. On this adjusted basis, we found that women globally are paid on average better than 99% of what men are paid at Citi. We made pay adjustments as part of this year’s compensation cycle.

In addition, as part of our additional analysis this year, we calculated our unadjusted or ‘raw’ pay gap for women – which measures the difference in median total compensation when we don’t adjust for factors such as job function, level and geography. This analysis showed that the median pay for women globally is 71% of the median for men. These results reiterate the importance of our goals to increase representation of women in senior and higher-paying roles at Citi.

Sharing our data publicly – being transparent about where we are – reflects Citi’s commitment to addressing the issues and demonstrates to current employees, prospective employees and the public at large that we are taking this seriously and are accountable for making progress.

We are proud to be leading the way in our industry when it comes to transparency around pay equity.

I understand that Citi has recently relaunched the #BacktoWork programme aimed at bringing more mothers back into the workforce. From a business, and HR, standpoint, what was the rationale for doing so?

Over the next decade, the impact of women on the global economy will be at least as significant as that of China and India’s respective one-billion plus populations, if not more so. It is also a proven fact, according to the International Monetary Fund, that when more women work, economies grow. Women’s economic empowerment boosts productivity, increases economic diversification and income equality in addition to other positive development outcomes.

We recognise that women are already more vulnerable economically compared to men. Globally, women’s personal finances are weaker than men’s, and their position in the labour market is less secure. Women, especially those single parents, will be hit harder by the economic downturn due to the COVID-19 crisis, which has brought into sharper focus the inequalities between women and men as highlighted by the World Economic Forum.

You may have also read in the papers that under quarantine condition or stay-at-home measures, some cases of women and children who live in violent and controlling environment and are exposed greater danger. So the timing for relaunching our #BacktoWork programme on the back of this is important.

Our #BacktoWork programme, driven by Citi Women in Singapore and first launched in 2019, is an extension of the bank’s diversity and inclusion ambitions to make progress at hiring, retaining and promoting women across all levels of the firm.

We are partnering Mums@Work Singapore on our initiative as both our organisations share a common objective to advance our collective ambitions to empower more mothers by supporting them in finding the perfect balance between being a mum and working.

In the first year of our programme, we were really trying to learn how best we can assist women who have taken a break from work but find it hard to return to the workforce, and to gauge interest for our programme. We received overwhelming responses for the four roles that we offered in our Operations and Technology function, and hired four mothers who are currently into completing their first year at Citi.

This year, we are offering 10 roles in our wealth management business. Wealth management is a fast-growing business for Citi and these roles will contribute to deepening our engagement with our customers, and the further growth of our business in Singapore. In the first two weeks of launching this year’s programme at the end of October, we received more than 200 applications. We have a view to extending more roles if we receive more impressive CVs.

More importantly, through our #BacktoWork programme, we hope to offer more job opportunities to women, helping them to re-establish themselves in the corporate world and rebuild the confidence that they might have potentially lost due to various reasons, especially in the current trying times of the pandemic. We are looking to offer these mothers a career and not just a job.

From a human resources perspective, we believe that having an inclusive workplace and environment offers new perspectives and breaks down barriers, which translate to higher employee engagement and help to reduce employee turnover rates, all of which contribute to higher productivity and eventually, better business results for Citi.

What drove you to take up a leading role in this initiative?

Over the years in my career, I have worked with and have seen firsthand the great potential of women – their diversity of thoughts, sensitivity in handing difficult situations, and the ability to juggle different priorities at the same time among many others. At the same time, I have seen a good share of female executives declining as the seniority of rank increases, as a result of women leaving the company or remaining in middle management roles due to a lack of advancement opportunities.

According to a report from the Boston Consulting Group, women are also found to step off the leadership track due to the combined effect of managing their day-time job and their second job of managing the incessant responsibilities of household and family care. These dual responsibilities limit women’s ability to focus on their careers and rise into leadership roles and in some cases, result in attrition, even though these women are inherently as ambitious as men.

As a senior leader myself, I feel very strongly about the need to manage and more importantly, prevent this attribution that forms the roadblock to achieving Citi’s diversity ambitions (to hire, retain and promote our female talent to our stated goal of 40% of females from AVP to MD level globally by 2021 as I have mentioned earlier). I am acutely aware that we can’t afford to lose great talent which will affect our bottom line at the end of the day.

Across the firm, we are very excited with the announcement earlier this year on the appointment of Jane Fraser, President of Citi and the Chief Executive Officer of Global Consumer Banking, who will succeed our current CEO Michael Corbat as CEO when he retires in February next year. Jane will be the first women CEO to run a U.S. bank on Wall Street, and her appointment is the best testament of Citi’s commitment to diversity and the inclusive culture that we are instilling in our organisation and in all our employees across the globe.

Not many people know this but when I was doing my doctorate years ago, part of my research was learning about diversity on company boards. Unsurprisingly, there’s an obvious lack of female representation in the upper echelons although it’s proven time and time again that diversity improves company board’s performance. That got me thinking about how I could play a part to drive this important agenda, and my role as co-chair of Citi Women cannot be more timely. It allows me to be a voice of change, and be the advocate for diversity and inclusion at Citi.

Having lived in different countries around the world and experienced the different cultures and work practices have also made me more appreciative of the challenges women in general face.

I feel that the least I could do is to be that agent of change, the advocate, supporter or campaigner, to support the spirit of gender diversity and ensure that every individual at Citi collectively contributes to making a bigger impact and achieving greater progress that Citi has already made in this area.

What are the three key characteristics of a role that empowers mothers? And, how can organisations incorporate these characteristics in various roles? Are there certain roles where it would be impossible to incorporate them?

It may not be meaningful to name three specific characteristics of a role that empowers mothers as these vary depending on the roles and seniority. In my view, regardless of what role it may be, the key is to simply support women, and not just mothers, and find ways to empower them where possible.

Empowerment can be defined in many ways, such as allowing women to have a voice in meetings where there are more males over females, allowing them to have a role in the decision-making process, and offering them access to equal opportunities in training or promotion to name a few.

There are many ways organisations can support female talent in the workplace, one of which is through formal or informal employee networks, such as what we are doing through Citi Women. To share more about how we do it, our efforts are based on three distinct pillars:

  • Connect – Under this pillar, we offer our members opportunities to network and connect with other colleagues within Citi Women or other Women Networks from across the region.
  • Engage – This is where we collaborate with industry and community partners, such as Mums@Work Singapore on our #BacktoWork programme to offer customised programmes that further our Diversity and Inclusion ambitions. We also work with individuals, distinguished women who have achieved great success in their career or are leaders in their field, through our flagship Leadership Series where they participate in a fireside chat with a senior Citi executive to share their experiences, with the aim to inspire and empower our female employees to take on leadership roles. Outside of Citi, our members have opportunities to be involved in community initiatives organised by our partners, to further support their professional and personal development.
  • Advocate – Under this pillar, we advocate specific initiatives or agenda to foster women advancement and promote gender diversity, such as the annual International Women’s Day among others.

I am sure there’ll be some roles that may not be suitable for women to do compared to men but certainly not in banking. Earlier this year, we announced that Jane Fraser, President of Citi and the Chief Executive Officer of Global Consumer Banking, will succeed our current CEO Michael Corbat as CEO when he retires in February next year as I’ve mentioned earlier. This affirms that at Citi, an individual will be hired or promoted based on merits, not gender.

Moving forward, how does Citi intend to continue establishing the right workplace solutions that meet the needs of women and working mothers?

There’s so much we can do. When it comes to promoting women, one of our most successful programmes is the Citi Women’s Leadership Development Programme – offered to high-performing female directors from around the world. As of 2019, the programme, which offers four days of networking and learning opportunities, has inspired and motivated more than 1,000 female leaders globally. Offered through Citi’s Global Talent and Diversity office, the three-day programme is designed to develop high performing female employees at the Director level by building their leadership capability. Participants attend a three-day classroom session held at Armonk in New York.

The other programme we have is the Inspiring Women Leaders Programme. This programme aims to develop and retain female talent who are Vice Presidents and early Senior Vice Presidents. It is a six-month-long programme consisting of classroom trainings and virtual sessions on topics such as leadership, wellness, coaching, presentation skills, negotiation amongst others. Senior interactions and networking sessions are also offered as part of the programme. Additionally, participants from each country will work together on a project that is relevant to their country’s diversity and inclusion landscape and/or agenda.

In addition to these, we also offer our female employees flexible work schedules and customised programmes, such as our newly-launched Maternity Matters for new mothers, where we offer a support group for new mothers and match them with a buddy, who is an experienced mother, who will guide and offer them tips to support them on their new motherhood journey. In fact, we have just renovated and expanded the space of our nursing room at Asia Square, which offers a soothing ambience and is able to accommodate eight mothers at any given time as well as offers complete privacy for them. In addition, our new nursing room is equipped with the requisite equipment and facilities such as fridge and sink.

In addition, we have a new Mentoring Programme where we pair up Citi Women members with senior Citi executives, following a structured process to support their professional development.

Most recently, we launched the Male Advocacy initiative, where our male executives support Citi Women by way of acting as an agent of change and contributing directly to a fundamental priority, as an influencer or contributor to Citi’s Diversity and Inclusion goal, or as a mentor or reverse-mentor for our female members.

We will continue to test new approaches to furthering our mission around hiring, retaining and promoting women at Citi as well as establishing more workplace solutions that meet their personal and professional needs.

What is one tip you have for other organisations looking to embark on a similar journey?

First and foremost, organisations that desire to embark on a similar diversity and inclusion journey must identify the pain points or gaps before introducing any initiatives or programmes to address them. They must also put in place rigorous assessments on their programmes to determine what is working and what is not.

More importantly, leaders of the organisations need to be committed and be accountable to achieving results.

Three hires from last year’s #BacktoWork programme on the one aspect they found the most beneficial to them as working mothers.

What aspect of the programme did you find the most beneficial for you as a working mother?


Hema Pallickal Sivaramakrishnan, IT Project Manager, Global Consumer Technology, Citi

Assignment of a personal coach in Mums@Work jump start program for reintegration is the aspect I found most beneficial. The coach not only takes us through the reintegration procedures, but acts as a mentor to assist with tackling problems/issues faced during the initial days of joining the #BacktoWork programme. The conversation is kept strictly confidential and that gives me the freedom to talk freely on the problems and people issues faced, if any.

Every session of jump start program reviews the progressive way on how the moms who returned to work are aligning and integrating to the new environment, with a self-evaluation chart with some criteria to rate our self. While addressing the re-integration part, the coach also ensured keeping the focus on bigger career aspirations of the individual. I always looked forward to the sessions with my coach during the jump start program, and uses the self-evaluation chart even now to see how do I fair at various criteria.

adel koh

Adel Koh, Assistant Vice President, Securities and Derivatives, Citi Private Bank

Having a coach to ease my transition back to work was great! Someone to talk to and give guidance on how to manage family commitments and new work life. Many times, the mum guilt is too much for one to bear. The coach gives me tips and guidance on how to handle my boss, my work and my family. She also helps to form a bridge between my new boss (and expectations) and myself. A big thank you to Hwee Ling my coach!


Mathilda Sng, Liquidity Dealer and Investment Specialist, Citi

The hand-holding and mentoring provided by my team manager, teammates and the liaison person from Mums@Work were the most pivotal in helping me to transit back to corporate life. I had taken a break for three years and because of the patient guidance from my team and the follow ups from Mums@Work to ensure my well-being, I could ease into my role quickly.

Sher-li Torrey, founder of Mums@Work, highlights the challenges returning female talent face, as well as what organisations can do to support this undertapped talent pool.

From your experience, what are some trends you see in returning female talent?

In Asia, there has been an increasing awareness of the experience and skills that a returning female talent can bring to the table. Over the last few years, more firms are starting to look at this alternative talent pool as a potential market for hire. Because of this, more firms are coming forward to run diversity hiring campaigns (similar to the one organised by Citi) that specifically reaches out to returning female talent. Some firms are also organising ‘returnship’-type of projects/initiatives that allow them to tap on this pool of talent and conduct ‘trial’ work arrangements to see if there is a good job fit.

In addition to mothers being the biggest group within this pool of talent, there is an increasing number of females who are either without a spouse or children but choose to stop their careers to look after elderly parents. In such cases, they face the same challenges when they want to return to work, after voluntarily taking a career hiatus. This sub-set of demographics has been increasing in the last few years.

What would you say are the three biggest barriers these women face when returning to work?

On a personal note, many of the returnees lack confidence. Due to the fact that they have been away from the workforce for some time, they are often perceived as being less relevant, having skills that are outdated and not as tech savvy as their peers. Due to such perceptions (which may or may not be true), many of these returning talent face rejections at the 1st stage of the hiring process – the submission of their resumes. After numerous rejections, many of these talent start to doubt themselves and are often apologetic for having taken the career break to look after family. This lack of confidence is a huge personal challenge that many can struggle to overcome.

In the bigger picture, most hiring takes place in a way which prevents the skills of these women from being clearly reflected. Their resumes will show the career gap, which will inevitably make them appear to be less ‘attractive’ as a talent compared to someone who is currently working.

The years of being away from the workforce often results in recruiters thinking that they are no longer ‘trainable’. But this is not often true, since attitude and a desire to learn is just as important when developing an employee’s talent.

In addition, some of these returning talent may choose to return to a role that requires less travelling or less managerial responsibilities. This could be due to them being at a different life stage (either because of the ages of their children) and hence they may deliberately opt for a role that recruiters often write-off as “this candidate is over qualified”. From our experience, these candidates choose these roles on purpose, knowing that their abilities will allow them to do very well in this role – and they are prepared that the role, though lower in rank (or in remuneration) also comes with the work responsibilities that allows the female talent to fulfil her other obligations in life. Hence this ‘biased’ view is often a huge hurdle for many returning female talent.

Careers are fluid, and sometimes hiring processes that embrace that concept, allows for more talented, experienced career returners to re-join the workforce.

What can organisations do to help support these returning talent?

Many firms now run specific diversity hiring campaigns (like Citi) that reach out to returning talent. By putting them together and ensuring that they are not marginalised against existing/ currently working candidates, this sets the stage for a more individualistic, less process-only type of hiring to occur. This is very helpful.

In addition, firms who refrain from adopting a plug-and-play approach to a returner, and instead ensure there is a strong reintegration process in place usually have more success in attracting and retaining the talent.

This reintegration process requires the buy-in of all stakeholders with a direct connection to the returning talent: Her supervisor and her peers

The reintegration process should have:

  • Clear expectations set of reintegration goal – what is considered someone who is reintegrating well? What is her learning journey? What timeline is she given to get up to speed?
  • Good communication among the talent, her supervisor and her peers – Open communication to allow for free flow of queries, doubts and instruction.
  • A realistic timeline for goals to be achieved. A returner does need some time to get back up to speed. The more her peers and supervisor recognises this and supports her reintegration, the better the success.

Firms who want to successfully support returning female talent should ensure the initiative is well-received by the various stakeholders involved. Everyone can try to understand why the project is taken up and what it means to hire someone back who has a career break.

About the Citi Women Singapore Network (CWS)

The Citi Women Singapore Network (CWS) is one of the 14 Women's Networks the bank has established in Asia to act as the on-the-ground voice of its female employees and provide insight into the experience and challenges of women working at the bank. The Networks are open to all employees and provide mentoring and career support, both internal and external networking opportunities and local community involvement opportunities.

In Singapore, the efforts are driven by the CWS and led by two co-leads, supported by an advisor and a steering committee of 12 women from different businesses and functions across the bank.

Photos / provided

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