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23 May 2013

Building a better bank

by Irene Dorner

President and CEO, HSBC USA

Read the transcript

Diversity has been one of the strengths of HSBC since it was founded in 1865 in Hong Kong and Shanghai. This diversity, together with our ability to grow in a rapidly changing world, has helped secure our long-term future and success.

Recently, both HSBC and the banking industry have faced criticism, some of it well founded. To renew faith in our industry, we need to look at the fundamentals of who we are, what we believe in, how we see the world and why we act the way we do – and how diversity might have more of a place in this than we’ve managed in the past.

Our role as a bank is to enable businesses to thrive, economies to prosper, and help people to realise their hopes and ambitions. We exist only to further the aims of others. We forget this at our peril.

Diversity in the workplace will help us achieve our aims, and ensure that we have the right balance of people to help us make the
right decisions

Leaders are responsible for creating the right culture, and that should be based on values. At HSBC we put great emphasis on our values. We want our employees to feel empowered to do the right thing and to act with courageous integrity. We want them to be dependable and stand firm for what is right, to be open to different ideas and cultures and to be connected to our customers, communities and to each other.

To continue with some actions of the past will not get us where we need to be today. We must change. We need to create an environment where everyone can thrive and where we support our people and our wider communities. If we can get some of this right, it will move us along the path to rebuilding trust.

Diversity in the workplace will help us achieve our aims, and ensure that we have the right balance of people to help us make the right decisions. This is about ensuring we employ people from different cultures, and from different backgrounds.

Women often learn about these issues first hand, as I did very early on. In 1972, in the north of England, at a career interview with my history master, he asked: “What do you want to be?” I said I wanted to go to Oxford, to be a barrister or an in-house lawyer for a big corporate. He said it was a waste of money. He recommended being a teacher because I would “get married, have kids, and need a job to fit in with their holidays”. I went home, 17, devastated. My father took me back to the headmaster’s office and declared that: “My daughter can do anything she wants.”

More women in the workplace at all levels will offer much-needed diversity and innovative thinking. But this is not just about women. It is about including people of different ethnic, religious and cultural backgrounds, different ages and physical abilities. It is about opening up opportunities for talented people whatever their background.

The ability to change rests within each of us and the desire for change already exists within all of our organisations. Let’s have the best people in the right jobs, chosen from a balanced and level playing field. Those of us in leadership positions can help to rewrite the rules of the corporate workforce for every person in the industry.


Irene Dorner was named the 2012 Most Powerful Woman in Banking by American Banker magazine. She joined HSBC Group in 1982 as an in-house lawyer, having graduated from St. Anne’s College Oxford.

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