“Do good, do well.” That’s Madeline Ho’s mantra in work and life. The CEO of Natixis Investment Managers Singapore shares her experiences in the asset management industry and how it has changed in the past 25 years from when she started out in the marketing department of Franklin Templeton Investments to now leading the local arm of a huge global asset management firm.
What were some gender-related challenges you faced as you were rising the ranks in the finance industry?
I have been highly fortunate as I didn’t encounter gender-related issues when I was working my way up the corporate ladder and had a supportive working environment for a large part of my career path.
This provided me with the freedom to pursue my career goals. With access to equal opportunity at my various workplaces, my superiors and peers recognised my efforts, commitment and abilities.
It was difficult to juggle a demanding career with family life. In trying to start a family and raising children as a working mom comes with its own set of challenges. Maternity leave was only two short months back when I was having my two children, which meant that I had barely enough time to recover, or spend time with the newborn before heading back to work. I still remember having to review presentations, taking client calls and approving hard copies of marketing and advertising materials even when I was on maternity leave.
Why do you think males traditionally dominated the finance industry?
There are possibly several factors, but I would say that this is partly because of the long hours often required in finance, which may have caused it to be a more masculine-skewed industry. Given the rigor of long work hours, some women may take a break to start a family or attend to family matters. While this was a key factor in the past, the industry is rapidly changing as more women enter the finance industry and take up leadership roles. Today, I would say that the asset management industry is more gender-balanced.
Ultimately, seeing is believing – when women see other women succeed in finance, they believe in themselves and the possibilities that they have before them. They get inspired by other successful women peers, which then motivates them to stretch their horizons and wanting to do the same.
Who are some of your female heroes?
I have always taken my great grandmother as a role model. She came to Singapore at a young age with her parents, and although her father was a teacher, she never had a chance to study. Despite this, she found her own informal avenues for learning, for example, by reading newspapers. In her later years, she attended court cases as a member of the audience and would share with me in vivid detail during my growing-up years.
During the Japanese Occupation, she could make a good living amid hardship out of her skills as a seamstress, even though she and my great grandfather had very little. In her later years, she grew her fortune by investing in properties and some blue chip stocks.
Given the social backdrop then, her plight was quite common, especially among women, but her courage, perseverance and pursuit of learning enabled her to take a different route in life. Her story continually inspires me.
Her story is a reminder that the possibilities are limited only by your imagination and your willingness to try.
What else do you think should be done to engender equality in the financial industry?
I believe there should be an equal playing field for all, starting with equal access to education and learning opportunities. Hiring managers should recognise their gender bias and actively work to counter it in the hiring process.
I hire based on merit, which I believe is the best way to ensure equality for all. I do not believe in creating a quota system because true gender equality happens when women are given a job because they are the best candidate for the role as opposed to meeting a ratio. It is more important for women to be given the opportunity to learn, grow, and excel without a glass ceiling.
As a manager, I try to be supportive and empathise with team members who have to balance their roles at home and in the office without compromising the quality of their work. I also strive to foster an environment that would allow women in my team to have the same opportunities to succeed as men.
As one of the nominated “champions” of the Financial Women’s Association (FWA) Singapore’s mentorship program, I work with other champions to mentor, develop, and empower women to achieve personal and professional success in the industry.
Allowing flexible work arrangement is important, especially in helping women juggle their family with work responsibilities. Today’s technology has enabled many of us to work remotely without being physically present in the office. Although some roles may require more in-person interactions than others, it should not deter people from having a work-life balance. Productivity counts more than the number of hours you spent in the office.
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