Diversity, equity and inclusion take centre stage at Moody’s

As more companies focus on increasing diversity, equity and inclusion, Moody’s Corporation leads with a global diversity model that elevates these core components through seven business resource groups, including for women, and 43 local chapters across the Americas, EMEA and Asia Pacific.

Among other measures, Moody’s has implemented a 12-month leadership development opportunity for its female leaders and a paid 16-week return-to-work programme empowering people restarting their careers. Moody’s has been ranked among the best companies to work at in multiple forums and was also named in the 2021 Bloomberg Gender Equality Index for its investments in workplace gender equality. Three Moody’s leaders (see box on facing page) speak to KangaNews about the development of diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) in the Asia-Pacific region, their own careers in capital markets and how Moody’s is supporting the transition to a more diverse working environment.

How is Moody’s working to become a more diverse and inclusive organisation?

CHEONG In response to a confluence of growth factors, we understand we need even more diverse representation in our workforce so we can reflect the views of the market. This includes female representation.

My leadership role at Moody’s has enabled me to advance female empowerment. Our women’s business resource group aims to enhance the recruitment, retention and professional development of female professionals through various programmes that improve interaction. The group also acts as a collective voice for raising women’s issues to senior management. In addition, we have launched structured programmes to empower women at different stages in their careers, from entry, mid- to senior-leadership levels.

THAPAR Our strategy aims to drive a culture of DE&I across four key pillars – workforce, workplace, customers and communities. Our business succeeds when we have representation from the broadest talent pool. Driving collaboration among professionals with diversity of thought and experience is an absolute necessity for us to deliver the best product to our customers. DE&I has become part of our company’s DNA – how we run our corporate meetings, projects and overall strategy.

This year, we have stepped up our efforts to drive long-term sustainable transformation in DE&I through how we recruit, develop and retain the very best diverse talent.

How did you find yourself in capital markets?

THAPAR In my early years as an HR professional in the retail sector, I had to relocate because of marriage. Location transfer at my employer was not possible at the time, so I started looking for an exciting work environment where I could continuously learn and have a work-life balance. This is when I entered the financial-services industry.

I decided to move to a role in DE&I strategy because I strongly felt the discussion about gender diversity could no longer be a side conversation anymore – it needed to be front and centre. I am delighted I found an organisation where DE&I is at the core of the business.

KLEYMAN I had my sights on economics and finance early on, although I was not specifically looking at the capital-markets sector. I have always enjoyed mathematics, and studying economics and finance enabled me to pursue my interests.

I started as a junior analyst within the Moody’s securitisation team in Sydney and am now vice-president and senior credit officer. The role provided great insight into debt capital markets and credit analysis as well as ample opportunities for growth and professional development – which was important to get my career off to a good start. I have always appreciated the global aspect of the company – having the opportunity to share knowledge across offices around the world.

CHEONG You might be surprised to hear I was not always interested in working in finance. Initially, I wanted to travel the world and began working in events management in Singapore. Through that role, I became interested in business strategy and realised I wanted to work in an industry where I could turn these strategies into dollars and cents, which is how I found myself in finance.

Joining Moody’s has provided me with so many exciting opportunities to lead and transform, from my first role in Hong Kong to a stint as the chief of staff for the president of Moody’s Investors Service in New York, where I was able to immerse myself in a new culture and experience.

This led me to exponential personal and career growth. My current position as managing director and regional head of Asia Pacific includes overseeing regional operations, policy and regulatory outreach, developing and implementing global and local initiatives, as well as providing oversight of affiliates and joint ventures in Asia.

Did you have any preconceived notions about entering the finance industry as a woman?

KLEYMAN It was not part of my mindset that it would be difficult to progress as a woman. Thinking back, I would attribute this to having my mum as a role model. Growing up in Ukraine, I saw my mum successfully managing a team of 20, all of whom were men. If she could do that in a place and time when ideas about gender roles were very different, surely women can progress now in a male-dominated field.

It also helped that Moody’s has always had good representation of women in senior positions, in leadership and credit roles. I have been lucky to have had inspirational female managers, who were great role models and mentors, as well as supportive and inclusive male managers.

CHEONG Thankfully, gender wasn’t an issue for me as my career progressed in the finance industry – at least not consciously. I believe in always seizing new career opportunities and performing to the best of my ability. I also never set out consciously to push boundaries – as an Asian in a US firm or a female leader in the largely male-dominated finance sector. Personally, I do not feel I have been held back because of my gender.

To serve our customers, we need to reflect their views. Having greater female representation leads to a more rounded view of customers and brings in diverse perspectives, enabling us to deliver the best products and solutions to our customers.

THAPAR When I started out in the finance sector, there was female representation at entry level but I felt there was gender stereotyping of finance roles because the work is highly intellectual. Because men have traditionally taken control – whether it is finances at home or in the office environment – this may drive perception in the corporate sector.

There is a lot of effort at industry level to increase representation of women. What is more important is to invest in women’s careers and enable them to climb to senior leadership levels. At Moody’s, mentoring programmes and opportunities for continuous learning amid a flexible environment create an ownership culture that values everyone’s contribution.

What are the main barriers women face across the APAC region?

THAPAR As per industry research, gender gaps are structural and pervasive around the world. It is apparent that this exists in the social and cultural set-up of many cultures and backgrounds. It influences the progress of women in the workplace as well.

In APAC, Australasia and Singapore are at the top of the leader board when it comes to gender equity. But there is always room for improvement. Reports have highlighted the gap in the financial- services sector particularly at senior levels, which require intervention at a very early stage to build the talent pipeline.

Women face several challenges including access to opportunities because of gender stereotyping of roles, or personal life events such as marriage, mobility or caregiving responsibility, which the pandemic aggravated. But there is a heightened awareness of the socioeconomic risk that comes with the lack of gender equity regarding opportunities. This is why companies like Moody’s are taking the lead by prioritising flexibility, empathy and wellbeing.

KLEYMAN We have been fortunate to have good female representation within the securitisation industry in Australia over the years, as well as some really great role models. But it would be great to see more female talent across different levels in the industry.

It starts from the recruitment process to ensure we are reaching out to a diverse pool of candidates. This is not just from a gender perspective but from a broader diversity one – to make sure we are attracting the right mix of talent.

CHEONG We have progressed as a society, but more needs to be done proactively. The finance industry needs to remove the barriers to equal gender pay and representation. But we also need to remember it will take time to achieve true gender balance.

The recent improvement in gender diversity is encouraging. It shows the finance industry can shed its long-held image of being a male-dominated sector and become more gender-balanced. Gender equity is a cause that is close to my heart. I want to inspire other women to succeed with one simple reminder: ignore any preconceived notions of what success means, be fearless and charge on to be the best you can.