To celebrate International Women’s Day (and Women’s History month), Kerry Consulting is interviewing strong female leaders from our consultants’ networks across multiple industries.
Read the full interview below:
Céline Le Cotonnec, Chief Data Innovation Officer at Bank of Singapore
“Don’t be afraid to be a woman. You can have a family along with a business career; it is possible.”
Q: This year’s slogan for IWD is #BreaktheBias – how do you interpret that message?
A: I am interpreting this year’s theme quite literally, in a way that strongly pertains to my current position. As Chief Data Innovation Officer at Bank of Singapore, I work specifically on the topic of ethics in artificial intelligence.
What we have realised over time is that algorithms across all types of banking are trained on biased datasets. For me, “breaking the bias” is about ensuring that data-led organisations, such as banks, work to become more diverse and equitable from the top-down.
In doing so, we can make sure that the algorithms we build are deep-rooted in ethical, equality-driven principles and are not based on assumptions. It is so important to have unbiased datasets, which provide accurate predictive outcomes that are a reflection of a modern and progressive society. This year’s theme really resonates with me as I spend a lot of time literally breaking biases as Chief Data Innovation Officer!
Q: What progress have you seen on gender equality in your lifetime?
A: I have worked in industries that were primarily male dominated. Whether it was automotive research and development, or even before that in diplomacy and then later on in my Chief Data Innovation role. I have seen that there has been a global trend of promoting women to senior leadership roles. I think this is great; diversity is extremely important, especially at the upper echelon of major organisations where change can be affected at great scale.
I’ll give a more concrete and personal answer to this question: as a Chief Data Innovation Officer my background is in signology; in language and culture. This is not the typical background that you might expect somebody in my position to have. For example, a lot of my close peers come from an IT or statistics background in data science. However, I know that having an outside perspective such as mine, where the focus is on people and culture, is unquestionably important.
We now see organisations begin to understand that diversity is never about hitting arbitrary quotas; it’s about well-provided unique viewpoints and a certain richness of thought. If we all came from the exact same background, innovation and creativity would suffer.
There is definitely overall progress in this regard, especially in Financial Services, where there are plenty of female leaders at the helm of international banks. OCBC has their first female CEO in Helen Wong. Then you also have the likes of Jane Fraser, the multitalented CEO at Citi. So we can see clearly that more senior roles are being populated with staff who come from an array of diverse backgrounds.
Q: Why is diversity in the workplace important?
A: It brings other perspectives. Our customers are diverse. They can be male or female, old or young. They come from different cultures. That’s why diversity for me is something very important – so that we can meet the needs of all of our customers. If our customer base is diverse, then our team building the products for those customers should also be diverse.
“If our customer base is diverse, then our team building the products for those customers should also be diverse.”
Q: Tell us about a significant barrier you have faced in your career due to being a woman. How did you overcome it?
A: One barrier that I have faced is regarding credibility, especially when I put forward a proposal that has never been done before. My job as Chief Data Innovation Officer is to challenge the status quo, to strive for innovative solutions. This requires pushing boundaries, which, in an old-as-time industry, can sometimes see pushback.
The key, however, is to remain humble. Be able to explain your rationale, and understand that it can take time. Stand by your thoughts, and continue to push and maintain a forward-thinking and decisive attitude.
In-fact, my decisiveness in this regard can sometimes be portrayed as aggressive because I am a woman, yet I never feel that I have more to prove just because of that fact. Decisiveness is an admirable quality in other genders, and it should be for women too.
Q: Tell us about a valuable lesson you were taught by another woman.
A: A strong female leader friend of mine once told me that you should never expect your boss to care about your work-life balance. It may sound strange, but it is very true.
You need to set the ground rules. You need to own that, regardless of being a woman or man. It needs to be accepted in the workplace when people say ‘I am sorry, I can not work overtime’.
This is how I manage my team. I don’t expect them to work until midnight. Everybody has their own balance. You need to be respectful and aware of each other’s needs at different stages.
Q: What advice would you give a young woman entering the Financial Services Industry?
Don’t be afraid to be a woman. You can have a family along with a business career; it is possible. Choose your job carefully not only in terms of the company, but also your boss. Ask yourself will your boss be supportive of your family and career plans.