GTR’s second Women in Trade Finance lunch, held in New York in mid-June, brought together industry figures of all levels to discuss how to improve gender equality in the sector.

The benefits of gender-intelligent organisations are clear: developing a diverse pool of talent is critical for them to achieve success. However, there is much more to do. The challenges surrounding acquiring, developing and retaining executive women are echoed across the corporate world. The event discussed the impact on business and savvy strategies for attracting and growing the most untapped resource in the finance industry.

Global business consultant and former chief human resources officer of AES Corporation and Honeywell, Rita Trehan gave the audience practical suggestions on how to create a lasting, profitable strategy for the recruitment and retention of executive talent.

“When it comes to creating a culture that attracts, supports, coaches, and promotes women, it’s greater than just your recruiting marketing materials. You have to experience a culture shift that crafts the right environment,” she said.

As part of a company’s gender diversity strategy, Trehan laid out the following steps: increasing the flow of information so that women know what it takes to have a successful career in the industry; levelling the playing field without doing women any favours, but by offering them the same coaching as men; breaking finance’s “thick glass ceiling”, which currently leads women to pursue opportunities elsewhere after starting their career in the sector; improving work-life balance; creating better support systems with role models and mentoring; and of course, filling the gender pay gap.

“It sounds simple, and we keep saying it. We have to keep saying this until it gets fixed. The same position should reward for the same things. Pay for performance, period. Do not hire men into the equivalent position for more money or bring someone in from the outside at a higher market rate without adjusting internally. Turnover costs more than a budget increase and paying your people — all your people – what they’re worth,” she added.

Patrick Burke, HSBC North America CEO, and Inwha Huh, HSBC’s head of global trade and receivables finance North America, also stressed the importance of raising awareness about gender diversity in the trade space.

“I think generally speaking across banking it’s quite similar in terms of gender diversity, but specific to trade finance it seems to be a bit more pronounced. When you look at the pipeline there’s a lot of employees at the junior level, it’s quite easy to recruit, but once we do that, we need to develop the pipeline of leaders so that they will take over the senior management. And I feel that structurally we’re not doing that as well as we could in the trade finance sector,” Huh said.

As an example of what banks can do to tackle the issue, Huh talked about HSBC’s GTRF Inspire initiative, which was launched to build the pipeline of women in the trade finance business and develop them as future leaders.

“We have three themes: Connect, develop and empower. And we feel that if we rally around those three themes, we can successfully move the dial a little bit at least within our own business to help women develop, connect within the bank internally as well as externally, provide visibility for those women, where otherwise they won’t have that opportunity, and lastly really empower them, so empower them is small decisions they can make every day, and feel that they can control their career to a certain extent.”