Sonya Swallow, COO for Risk, Europe, HSBC, speaks in London to mark International Women's Day

“Have confidence in your abilities – never let other people tell you what you can’t do.” This was the advice Sonya Swallow, Chief Operating Officer for Risk, Europe, HSBC, gave to an audience gathered at London’s Guildhall to mark International Women’s Day 2016.

She added: “One of my teachers told my parents that university wasn’t for me, and that I should probably set my sights lower. To be honest, it made me try even harder.”

Over the past 10 years the annual City of London International Women’s Day event, which is sponsored by HSBC, has raised more than GBP200,000 for Refuge, a charity supporting women and children who have experienced domestic violence.

Embrace the opportunities, challenge the status quo

Ms Swallow went on to say that a willingness to learn new skills and take on unfamiliar challenges, such as working overseas, had helped her rise to a senior leadership role. She said: “Embrace the opportunities, challenge the status quo and move forward or sideways if things don’t work.”

International Women’s Day celebrates the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. It also examines what needs to be done to achieve gender equality across the world.

At separate events taking place in HSBC buildings in London and Hong Kong on 8 March, employees will take part in a ‘hackathon’, where different teams get together to exchange ideas on how to create a more inclusive working culture. Topics for debate include: meeting the changing needs of HSBC’s customers; development and career building; meetings and working culture; line management; and leadership.

Voluntary groups led by HSBC staff helped to organise these events. Other seminars and debates will take place throughout March in HSBC offices in Canada, Hong Kong, India, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, the UAE, the UK and the US.

In Singapore, HSBC hosted the Women Leaders’ Forum on Friday 4 March. Towards the end of the month, Pat Burke, President and CEO of HSBC USA, will take part in a public debate at the New York Public Library about gender parity in the boardroom.

Read more about diversity and inclusion at HSBC.