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Moving the gender conversation forward

Jennifer Diana joined Standard Chartered in 2015 and is Senior Legal Counsel on the Disputes and Government Investigations team. Chloe Petrich joined the Bank in 2014 and is a Director in the Project and Export Finance team. Together, they are Co-Chairs of the Gender Engagement Network (GEN) in the Americas. Here they discuss why they joined the network, why diversity matters, and why the pace of change in gender equality needs to increase.

How did you both arrive at the leadership position of GEN?

Jennifer: Prior to joining the Bank, I worked at a law firm in New York City. Gender equality has been discussed in the legal industry from time immemorial.  From the time I was a first-year associate, I was involved in my firm’s version of GEN – the Women’s Initiative Committee. That enabled me to see first-hand how important it was for women to create opportunities for each other and make the business case to male colleagues as to why it was critical to have greater female representation.

I arrived at the Bank knowing that I wanted to continue being part of driving change in this area, so I joined the steering committee of GEN. Within a few years of joining GEN, Chloe and I were ready to take on the co-chair roles.

Chloe: When I joined the bank, I signed up to the GEN distribution list, attended events, and quickly realized it was something that was close to my heart.

I wanted to be part of the conversation as the topics being addressed were so important. It was also clear that there were other benefits from a professional development perspective. I was presented with chances to have conversations with senior management, and you don’t usually get that kind of visibility at a junior level.

Jennifer, you mentioned that you needed to make the business case for better female representation to your former colleagues. Is that business case still the same today?

Jennifer: I think the business case has been made, which is one of the key reasons that there is more conversation around this topic today. Diversity of opinion, thought, and approach, has been recognized as vital for problem solving. It’s about harnessing those different experiences and viewpoints to find the best way forward.

But also, the face of the professional world is changing, and the bottom line is that our clients and other stakeholders want to sit around tables with people who better reflect their own organizations as well as broader society.

Allyship is a hot topic in the D&I space these days. Why do you think allies are important to the gender equality conversation?

Chloe: When I joined the GEN committee, there weren’t any men, which was something that Jen and I were determined to change. We both felt we needed men on the committee to hear their perspectives and let our perspectives be heard by them.

Jennifer: We’re getting to the stage in the gender equality movement where it’s a more nuanced conversation around how you can be an ally. For example, a man might think that a woman returning from maternity leave should not be asked to take on a complex, time-consuming assignment. It’s not ill-intentioned, but at the same time, it’s paternalistic and interferes in that female colleague’s ability to drive her own career..

This links to another aspect of trying to be a good ally that comes up a lot in our D&I conversations at the moment – the fear that you might say something incorrectly or use the wrong language and appear insensitive when that’s not the intention at all.

What have you done to help people in situations like that?

Jennifer: I think it is important—in both examples—to consider the intent and the impact and adjust accordingly.  One of the things the Bank has done in the Americas is identify ‘D&I coaches’ – people who have raised their hands to help others who need support and advice on approaching an issue, or simply to sound out simple clarifications around language or terminology.

What’s high on the agenda in the immediate future for GEN?

Jennifer: Unfortunately, I don’t think our agenda has changed much over the past five years. And that’s not because we don’t want it to change, or because we don’t want to be at a more advanced part of this conversation. The pace of change on this issue is slower than it should be.

Chloe: When I first joined, there weren’t that many women in senior leadership positions, and joining GEN gave me access to those role models and mentors – women that I could aspire to be. As a result, I value how colleagues starting out in their career can be hugely influenced if they are able to see where they could potentially be in five or ten years. So for me, a key priority is female retention. We need to do as much as possible to keep our female role models, especially in a post-covid world, where we saw the pandemic disproportionately impact women.

Jennifer: What I think would be hugely beneficial is for people to really appreciate the notion of unconscious bias. We all have them, so learning to understand and recognize them is crucial. I don’t think our lack of senior female representation is simply attributable to a pipeline issue. I think there’s a strong contingent of female talent in the Bank, and out there in the world. We need to dig a little deeper to find out why we don’t see that same representation in senior levels of the Bank.