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COMMENTARY

Be future-ready with a diverse, gender-balanced workforce

TECHNOLOGY has transformed our economy, redefined the way we work and shaken up the status quo. Finance, among other industries, is facing dramatic transformation brought about by new market entrants, evolving customer expectations and changing skills requirements.

As organisations continue to reimagine the customer journey and digital future, it has become apparent that talent diversity is a crucial component to drive change and sustainable growth. A workforce built on diverse and innovative ideas is best equipped to understand the different needs and preferences of consumers. This is particularly relevant to the financial sector at a time when players seek to differentiate themselves by creating a unique and personalised customer experience.

While differentiation and digitalisation are usually seen as being key to revenue generation, it is perhaps the diverse talent pool in organisations that contributes to the novel ideas that enable breakthrough business opportunities. According to an EY study, companies with forward-looking diversity and inclusion practices deliver a 42 per cent higher return on sales and a 66 per cent higher return on invested capital than their peers.

This data suggests that as we push ahead with our business roadmap, a diverse and inclusive workplace is paramount.

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With the advent of new technologies, organisations have expanded their product offerings and increased operational productivity to deliver a more seamless and connected customer experience. The opportunities that these innovative digital solutions can present to drive greater gender diversity and flexibility in the workplace have yet to be fully explored though.

New technologies such as teleconferencing, cloud communications and smart devices have made remote working possible and fundamentally changed how people work. In Singapore, about 70 per cent of employees now work in companies that offer formal flexible work arrangements (FWAs). These trends have allowed more women to continue working and succeed in their career. Take banking for example - apart from traders who need to perform their job on the trading floor, just about any other employee can participate in flexible work programmes. Over the past three years, the number of Standard Chartered employees who opted for FWAs by working part-time, working flexible hours or from home has risen threefold.

With the right technology, discipline and governance framework, the day when traders (perhaps one day, even real-time market makers) can work remotely may not be too far away. As markets and regulations evolve, workforce expectations may also change. Organisations must be nimble-footed and open-minded enough to leverage FWAs as opportunities to engage and retain their talent.

For FWAs to be successful, there needs to be trust in the system. Employers need to adopt FWAs as an integral part of their talent strategy that supports the recruitment and retaining of high-performing employees, and openly communicate that those who choose flexible working programmes will enjoy equal opportunities as their colleagues working regular hours.

TALENT OF THE FUTURE

As organisations continue to harness the potential of new digital solutions, the workforce must be able to live and breathe technology.

According to a study by the Institute of Banking and Finance and the Monetary Authority of Singapore released last month, robotic process automation, artificial intelligence and advanced analytics are key trends that will change the nature of work roles. To enable an inclusive future-ready talent pool, upskilling and early-stage effort are important.

A strong pipeline of young women pursuing the science, technology, engineering or mathematics (STEM) disciplines is needed to secure a diverse pool of talent for the future. Given that the proportion of women enrolling in science and technology (S&T) courses at Singapore's universities is less than 40 per cent, and only a quarter of S&T jobs are held by women, there exists strong potential for improvement.

Education remains an integral component in driving governments' digital programmes, from Singapore's Smart Nation Initiative to Malaysia's Industry4WRD, the Philippines' i3S (Inclusive Innovation Industrial Strategy), 'Indonesia 4.0' and 'Thailand 4.0'. Equipping students of all ages with new digital skills can help them become the talent of the future.

Sustainable progress towards this goal will require policymakers, educators and employers to work together to break down gender stereotypes and foster a growth mindset among female students to pursue their interests and passion. In doing our part, Standard Chartered's eXellerator innovation lab has organised workshops for our employees' children to gain first-hand experience that includes thinking outside the box and building prototypes.

As Singapore continues to further female participation in the workforce and gender parity in boardrooms, we must recognise the opportunities that technology can provide to drive a diverse workplace, as well as the pressing need to sustain a more gender-balanced STEM talent pool. This is not only the right thing to do, but a smart thing to do for our sustainable future.

  • The writer is Head, Financial Markets, Singapore, at Standard Chartered Bank