Striving for gender equality at HSBC

Stephanie Ip, Head of Wholesale Credit Risk, HSBC UK reflects on the progress needed

Friday was International Women’s Day (IWD), the day we celebrated women’s achievements – political, economic, or social – while calling for gender equality.

Making history

It’s difficult to say exactly when IWD began. Its roots can be traced back to 1908 when 15,000 women marched through New York City demanding voting rights, better pay, and shorter working hours. Fast forward to current times and, in the past year, we have seen incredible momentum with the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements while here in the UK, in 2018, we celebrated the 100th anniversary of (some) women being allowed to vote.

Pressing on for progress

Looking at HSBC, we have come a long way since the first female employee joined the organisation in 1907 and women are now represented across all businesses and functions through the number dwindles as you look up.

Last year’s IWD theme was Press for Progress. When I think about progress, the first thing that strikes me is that we need to foster an environment that encourages everyone to apply for leadership positions so we can have a fully diverse team across the whole organisation.

There are several ways to see this. First, let’s talk about the commercial case: we want a team, at all levels, which reflects the diversity of our customers to understand their needs better and propose the solutions that they require.

Many studies have also shown that a more diverse leadership team results in higher returns for the company and it is not difficult to see why this would be so. If you put 10 people in a room who have more or less the same background and have had similar experiences, the chances are they will come up with more or less the same ideas and the same approach to any problem or question.

1. Diversity of thought

If you remove one of the 10 and put in someone who comes from a different background, there is some progress, and he/she will probably bring a different perspective to the issue being discussed. The more you increase the diversity element, and potentially to the extreme in our example where you have 10 people from different backgrounds, then you will certainly have a real diversity of thought. It does not mean the decision will be quicker, if anything it will probably be longer as more angles are explored, but the discussion will unquestionably be richer.

2. The moral case

Second, and I think it’s important that we say it, there’s the moral case. At the risk of stating the obvious, the world consists of men and women, more or less 50/50, so it is entirely reasonable that we should expect to see this reflected in all spheres of life and at all levels of seniority in an organisation.

Beyond the commercial and the moral case, let’s make it a personal case for each and every one of us. Yes, the tone from the top is vital because realistically it is difficult to bring change if we do not have buy-in from senior stakeholders and also because that helps bring open discussions around progress that is being and can be made.

However, aiming for a more inclusive and diverse workforce and leadership team is not something that we can or should only leave with HR and/or senior executives.

3. A diverse and balanced approach

We can all make a difference in our day-to-day decisions: in the way we run our recruitment process and from writing the job description/job advert all the way to the interview panel, by ensuring a more diverse and balanced approach. This also plays out in the way we consider opportunities openly and with no bias, conscious or unconscious, and how we encourage each other to apply for roles candidly and support each other in bringing the best of ourselves in the office.

Attending IWD events and sharing my thoughts on gender diversity has been a real wake-up call for me.  I have since got involved in BALANCE, the HSBC Employee Resource Group that actively promotes a gender-balanced workforce, and became the UK Co-Chair in October 2017.


Through BALANCE, I meet a lot of passionate and committed colleagues, male and female, who really believe in gender parity. BALANCE UK ran five events across the UK to mark IWD this year, and we have been left in awe of the inspiring debate and the positive energy at every event.

That forward-looking vision and good vibes give me a reason to believe that Time’s Now to make the change happen. I personally pledge that I will continue to be an active advocate of an inclusive and diverse team, at all levels and all diversity strands, and will mentor and coach junior female colleagues to build a beautifully diverse leadership pipeline.

In the words of Madeleine Albright, ‘it took me quite a long time to develop a voice and now that I have it I am not going to be silent’.

Stephanie Ip is Head of Wholesale Credit Risk, HSBC UK Bank plc and Co-Chair of BALANCE UK, HSBC’s largest employee resource group. A long-standing champion of gender diversity, she strives to bring about positive change, both internally and at a grassroots level.

In this article, you learned that:

  • Many studies have also shown that a more diverse leadership team results in higher returns for the company
  • Diversity of thought in teams can mean more angles are explored, producing richer analysis
  • Aiming for a more inclusive and diverse workforce and leadership team is not just the role of HR
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