TAFEP gets personal with Susan Cheong, Group HR, DBS Bank and Adriana Lim Escano, Founder & CEO, ABRY as they share their beliefs for better D&I and work-life harmony — both as leaders and as individuals.

Diversity and inclusion (D&I) is one of the most underlooked, yet powerful, aspects that can affect the way an organisation functions. Leaders who prioritise it are able to maximise a wider range of strengths, skills, and perspectives to work towards a common goal. Yet, many still risk losing out on these benefits right from the beginning – during the hiring process.

In this exclusive, Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices (TAFEP) gets personal with Work-Life Ambassadors, Susan Cheong, Group Human Resources, DBS Bank and Adriana Lim Escano, Founder & CEO, ABRY as they share their beliefs for better D&I and work-life harmony — both as leaders and as individuals.

Case study: DBS Bank is supporting employees in work-life harmony and wellbeing through career investments and more

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Susan Cheong, Group Human Resources, DBS Bank, believes that by building diversity in the workforce, leaders get access to a greater range of talent that bring with them varied and valuable experiences, perspectives, and skills.

Q The starting point for several D&I issues is often recruitment. In your opinion, why does D&I need to be integrated into hiring practices?

Embracing D&I is important to enable us to attract the best people, build the best teams, and produce the best work. By building diversity in our workforce, we are able to access a greater range of talent that bring with them varied and valuable experiences, perspectives, and skills. By building a culture of inclusion, we can harness the power of our diverse workforce so as to succeed in this complex, interconnected world and create impactful outcomes for our businesses, customers, and communities.

Q How do you support work-life harmony and wellbeing initiatives for others (especially women) at your organisation?

We recognise that the needs of an employee evolve depending on life stage and personal circumstances.

Hence, we launched a range of flexible work arrangements (FWAs) in 2021 to better support employees in remaining invested in their careers, including:

  • Work-from-home (WFH) for up to 40% time, launched in February 2021;
  • Up to 100% WFH for six months for parents with young children and caregivers, launched in August 2021, and
  • Our job sharing programme where one full-time role can be performed by two employees, with over 100 employees in the programme in 2021.

With the pandemic being more protracted than we hoped, our employees had to manage the blurring of lines between work and home due to working from home for a prolonged period. We addressed this proactively before it took a toll on employee mental health with the following initiatives:

  • ‘Focus Friday’, where Friday afternoons are kept free from internal calls or meetings, so that employees have a few hours of protected time for focused work, learning, or even quiet reflection before transiting to the weekend.
  • A bank-wide mental wellness campaign to equip our people with practical tools to combat burnout. We rolled out a series of programmes and sharing sessions around mental health, to normalise employees saying "I'm not OK" and encourage frank conversations on mental wellbeing so as to destigmatise this topic.

Q How do you synergise your career with personal life/goals?

At times, work takes priority over family or self. On other occasions, family or myself takes precedence over work. Building a rhythm around my work versus family or friends helps me in allocating protected time for different areas of my life.

The time allocation is not always equal. There may be trade-offs between career and personal life/goals and I recognise that. It’s not only about recognising, but also accepting the trade-offs comfortably, because there is no point living in guilt or regret one way or another.

I am also constantly working on being present, i.e., not to get distracted by work when I am with family and not to worry about things at home when I am at work. This is where I am grateful for the spousal and extended family support which has allowed me the space to build my career.

Q What drives you? Are there any personal beliefs/people from whom you draw strength?

Taking pride in my work and my personal brand motivates me to excel. I am always ready and willing to do more as I have learnt so much more and developed much faster by doing that. Integrity is important to me so I can sleep well at night with the decisions I’ve made and the actions I’ve taken.

I am positive by nature, believing that the worst times can’t last forever.

Q What would you say to your younger self? Or any advice for the next generation of women leaders?

Be bold and believe in yourself. Take on the next big job when you are 70% ready, there’s no need to wait for 100%. Be authentic and build a trusted network of friends and mentors. When you look back at your career, these are the people who mattered.

Be clear of what’s important to you in life, and live with the decisions you make. Once you’ve made a decision, move on and don’t look back with regrets.

Q If you could grab breakfast with three women who inspire you the most, who would they be and why?

  1. My late great-grandmother — Someone whom I have never met but have heard about on how she ran a tight household and business. It’ll be intriguing to hear what she had gone through, about the people at home, and where she drew her strength from.
  2. Michelle Obama — She’s a public figure and we’ve read so much about her and heard so much from her on different occasions. I’ll love to interact with her one-to-one, to feel the softer side of this woman of strength.
  3. Queen Elizabeth II — I wonder how life is really like for the Queen and I wonder how different her daily life is from the rest of us.

Case study: Why (and how) ABRY advocates that ‘diversity brings strength’

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“As our workforce comes from diverse parts of society, it is important that we inspire and manage them as individuals instead of applying a one-shoe-fits-all approach, Adriana Lim Escano, Founder & CEO of ABRY, Co-Founder of Mums for Life, says.

Q In your opinion, why does D&I need to be integrated into hiring practices?

Everyone deserves an opportunity. Diversity brings strength. We all have limited resources and want to support people who have to work while facing other life issues, so it is very important for us to make each resource work for us and to know how to motivate them to do their best.

To achieve this, we use the Reiss Motivational Profile, a unique scientific assessment, which reflects the motives in one’s human nature which determine one’s values, traits, and how one would behave in various situations or when interacting with other people. It therefore helps us (the employee and myself) to understand who they are, how best to motivate them, and what they can do to be more effective and happier in what they are doing.

As our workforce comes from diverse parts of society, it is important that we inspire and manage them as individuals instead of applying a one-shoe-fits-all approach.

Q How do you support work-life harmony and wellbeing initiatives in your organisation?

I get to know the lifestyle and circumstance of each individual and, as much as I can, structure a working schedule and scope that they can manage. I also build buffers that in the event someone has to take care of personal matters or gets a sudden COVID notice, there is someone else who can help cover and the individual doesn’t feel overwhelmed that the burden rests on them entirely. Knowing employees’ hobbies and interests is important to help them remember that they have an identity beyond work.

By being an employer as well as the co-founder of MUMs for Life, I let employees tend to family over work. If one’s family is not in order, it’ll be distracting to focus on work. Work will always be there, but we only have one marriage, and the kids grow up too fast.

A supportive and empathetic culture ensures that one would not feel guilt for taking time off.

We also watch for safety and will be aware not to have a female employee alone with a male one during work. I have found that this gives empowerment and ownership.

Q How do you synergise your career with personal life/goals?

It has taken me a journey to realise that I had not always paid attention to my family in the pursuit and adrenalin of growing the business and achieving more. It took me a few visits to the hospital wondering if I’ll get another chance that I slowly decided to work slowly and spend more time with my children.

At this stage, family comes first. I prioritise them, then career comes after. I do what I can for work and celebrate small wins. I don’t have to overachieve and prove that I’m competent, but rather focus on looking after my health in order to sustain longer. I’ve given up projects or travelling for work, knowing that the growing up years of my children are irreversible. I can catch up later. They have joined me on a few trips or at work together, and that’s a bonus when we get to do it together.

What drives you? Are there any personal beliefs/people from whom you draw strength?

Building platforms that give others opportunities, and being a conduit of hope, inspiration, and encouragement. The world could do with more of it. I believe that every individual was born for a purpose, carries a destiny, and hopes for a world of dreams lived out. I draw strength from God, it’s like He hears my inner thoughts, accepts me regardless of work performance, knows when to cheer me up, performs these miracles beyond my imagination, and meets me with renewed spirit if I feel discouraged or alone.

Being with like-minded people and seeing how much they are giving of themselves to build others, inspires me; and mentors who take time to advise me. It’s important that we know ourselves well enough to know when to take a pause, replenish from the inside out, and self-lead when we don’t feel our best.

Q What would you say to your younger self? Or any advice for the next generation of women leaders?

That you matter. That you have an irreplaceable role in this world. Surround yourself with people who believe in you and mentor you through the ups and downs. Heal the pain early, so you operate out of a full cup, not an empty broken one clouding judgment and wisdom on things. Even if you went through pain, that story matters, it can become an encouragement.

Get to know yourself early, and what motivates you, so you can build a life with someone else knowing what you want and the life you envisioned.

Persevere, even if you don’t yet see the rainbow, because hope always wins. I’m glad you didn’t give up.

For women leaders — know firmly who we are as women. We don’t have to be like the men. We are different and have different strengths. Know our own strengths, motivations, be self-aware, genuinely love people, every individual matters. appreciate diversity and the strength that brings.

Likewise, surround ourselves with mentors. Guilt can creep up but know our worth. It’s tougher when we are a mother with children and have the elderly to look after, and play several roles, we make decisions knowing there is a trade-off, we can’t have everything and be comfortable and find our peace with it. It’s not about ourselves, but a community that wins together. Be kind to other women.


An excerpt of this article first appeared in the Q1 edition of Human Resources Online's Southeast Asia e-magazine. View a copy of the e-magazine here, where you'll find power-packed features and interviews with leaders from Singapore, Indonesia, Thailand, the Philippines, the US, and more!

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