Accelerating female financial talent

Our rising female leaders share elements essential to improving diversity in today’s workplace.

As the Sibos Talent Accelerator Route (STAR) scholarship1 enters its third year, the programme continues to promote and support inclusion within the industry while bolstering the next generation of female leaders.

The need for balance, networking opportunities and role models are considered essential pieces of the puzzle. Here, two Standard Chartered STAR alumni share their key takeaways and discuss what’s needed to maintain momentum.


The role played by public support and recommendation was seen as paramount for tomorrow’s leaders, and something that has improved greatly in recent years, the STAR scholars say. Advocates within an organisation actively work to promote women and recommend them for projects or roles.

“There is a greater kind of advocacy going on and a lot of that was made possible by the women that came before me,” says Mona Tan, Sustainable Finance Banker for ASEAN and South Asia at Standard Chartered and the Bank’s STAR scholar in 2020. “In the short span of five years since I started professionally, I am seeing real, incremental impact from mentorship and community-building, as well as growth in initiatives enabling diversity and inclusion in the workplace.”


Female and male mentors in the industry can help promote and retain talent by supporting development and guiding progression. Mentorship can also support the building of talent pipelines to access students who may be excluded from traditional recruitment.

“[It] is important as a sounding board for all things, professionally and personally,” says Ms. Tan. “Mentors can help push women to explore opportunities outside their comfort zones, and simply get comfortable with being uncomfortable.”

While mentorship and sponsorship2 are critical to employee retention and satisfaction, according to the Harvard Business Review, the part they play has been complicated by the pandemic, which forced many people to connect remotely.

Remote mentoring has a role to promote equity and build relationships without the limiting factor of geographic proximity, the HBR says. Training people to use technology to build connections will be a key aspect of fostering this important skill as the pandemic subsides.


Stepping forward for bigger opportunities is an important part of what will define the next generation of female leaders, according to the STAR participants.

Organisations need to ensure there are enough rungs on the ladder to help women to climb into management positions3, Leanne Kemp, the Chief Executive Officer of Everledger, told the World Economic Forum. And it is for the benefit of all, since companies with an inclusive culture are six times more likely to be innovative, according to Deloitte4.

And it’s up to women to define what they want, says Ibiyemi Okuneye, Head of Trade and Transaction Banking for Nigeria & West Africa at Standard Chartered.

“Earlier in my career, I had the tendency to focus on working hard without consciously looking out for progression opportunities,” Ms. Okuneye says. “I had to learn to put up my hands for newer and bigger opportunities, emphasising my strengths rather than what I would need to learn along the way.

“I would say to younger female talents, ensure that you always outline what success looks like in your current role and actively define the progression opportunities,” she adds.

Ibiyemi Okuneye
Head, Trade and Transaction Banking
for Nigeria & West Africa
Mona Tan
Sustainable Finance Banker
for ASEAN and South Asia


Choosing an institution that supports women in achieving their life goals alongside their career goals is also important, the STAR scholars believe.

Specifically, this means policies that support women with adequate maternity leave, childcare policies, flexible working and returnships – without limiting career advancement.

“Working at an institution like Standard Chartered provides a platform for such balance,” says Ms. Okuneye. “I have taken on a much bigger role to lead the Transaction Banking business in Nigeria and West Africa, in spite of increased family demands. Institutions should provide an enabling environment for female talents to thrive regardless of life or family responsibilities.”


The STAR programme offers a ready-made network around the world, as well as access to the Sibos conference. While the conference is now based around a week of virtual events, it offers a high level of interaction and builds a pool of upcoming talent.

“The STAR scholar programme provides a strong network of mentors and peers from different financial institutions across the globe,” says Ms. Okuneye. “I still maintain very good connections with some of my mentors and fellow STAR scholars. My cohort has kept the lines of communication and continues to share ideas and perspectives on careers and on life in general.”

Role models

Seeing women in senior positions is also important, with research showing that having role models5 helps women to overcome the barriers they often face in the workplace.

“It is imperative for younger female talents to be able to see worthy examples of female executives who surmounted challenges, and overcame stereotypes and self-limiting beliefs that have hindered many from attaining senior leadership,” says Ms. Okuneye.

To support women in the workplace and foster diversity, Standard Chartered is committed to building a diverse pool of future-ready leadership talent with senior leadership targets. Participating in the STAR scholarship underscores the Bank’s belief that diversity is a competitive advantage and that its staff should reflect the diverse markets in which it operates.

Shortly after participating in the STAR programme, the careers of these two alumni are going from strength to strength: Ms. Okuneye heads up transactional banking in her region and Ms. Tan has shifted her focus to sustainable finance.

“In this new environment, where a lot of people are choosing to work from home, it is important to keep the community virtually engaged and conversations flowing,” says Ms. Tan. “Metrics become more important, to ensure we are getting mentorship, diversity and inclusion, and career conversations to everyone who wants to make a difference.”






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