Della Sabessar is a Managing Director and the Global Head of Diversity and Inclusion at Credit Suisse, enhancing diversity and fostering an inclusive company culture at the bank. Her work has helped reinforce Credit Suisse’s global reputation as a gender-inclusive organization with an impressive ratio of women in leadership.
In this interview, Sabessar gave us her coveted insights into organizing her workday, managing her to-do list and prioritizing the empowerment of other women in the workplace — both through strategic diversity and inclusion efforts and through personal advocacy. She also provided a deeper look at what makes Credit Suisse an especially supportive place for women to work.
How long have you been in your current role, and what were you doing previously?
I was appointed the Global Head of Diversity and Inclusion on August 1, 2020. Prior to my current role, I served as the bank's Global Head of Experienced and Campus Recruitment, and I was responsible for managing the experienced and campus recruitment teams, internal mobility and onboarding across the globe.
I have also served as an HR business partner for several years including as the Americas Head of HR for the Equities department. In 2010, I assumed the newly created role of Head of Internal mobility, leading a cultural shift in a space now recognized as a key differentiator for Credit Suisse. I also established the bank's Real Returns program to bring on talented professionals who have taken a career break as part of a successful global gender recruitment campaign. And most recently, I led the implementation of our new global recruitment model by insourcing several vendors to drive a shift in service quality.
Describe what you do in one sentence.
I lead the Credit Suisse diversity and inclusion team’s efforts to enhance the diversity of our workforce and foster an inclusive culture.
At Credit Suisse, our diversity and inclusion mandate is embedded in our newly formed sustainability, research and investments function. Diversity and inclusion, and social responsibility, are deeply connected in our focus on disenfranchised communities, bringing new insights and driving collaborative solutions in the pursuit of equitable access and opportunity.
What’s the first thing you do at work every day?
I plan my day ahead of time. Being in a global role, based in New York in a Swiss headquartered firm, my meetings begin early in the morning and continue to run back-to-back throughout the day. I ensure that I’m prepared to actively lead and/or participate in meetings so that we can be as productive as possible. I also create space for myself throughout the day, to catch up on emails and my own deliverables.
How do you prioritize and deal with your to-do list each day?
I keep a long to-do list and a list of ideas that I refer back to when I have free moments. I try to do the hardest tasks first, as these often demand more brain power and take up brainshare when not completed. Getting hard tasks out of the way makes it easier to sail through others without being distracted.
What’s one thing you think young job seekers should know about Credit Suisse? What about those who are in a more advanced career stage?
All job seekers should know that, at Credit Suisse, we value an entrepreneurial mindset, open-mindedness and forward-thinking individuals to master our industry’s exciting challenges. We are delivering innovative, world-class solutions to our clients while committing to the highest ethical standards.
We strive for excellence in everything we do and recognize, embrace, and reward outstanding work. Collaboration is our foundation. We value diversity and work closely across businesses, cultures, and continents. As a global and inclusive community, we benefit from a wide range of perspectives to create value. For our clients. For our shareholders. And for our communities.
Job seekers should know that, at Credit Suisse, we believe in life-long learning and growing our talent from within through internal mobility. We expect our people to take full responsibility and personal ownership. And we engage whole heartedly with clients and stakeholders.
How have you used your role to help bring up other women behind you? How do you build time into your schedule for this kind of work?
In my roles, I have tried to ensure this is part of my daily work — not something additional. Firstly, we built a diverse experienced and campus recruitment management team: 55% of the management team (including me) were women, and I worked to ensure that they were afforded the same access to opportunities for development.
Of course, I act as a mentor to several women and also as a sponsor and advocate for those not on the management team. I do this by 1) talking about them with other senior leaders to increase exposure to their work, 2) supporting promotions and 3) bringing other women into forums that increase their visibility and networks.
What’s something you’re really good at in your work?
I have focused on building long-term relationships. Today, in my new role, this is paying off, and more and more people from my network are getting involved in the work of diversity and inclusion.
What are you trying to improve on?
I continue to try to find balance between work and life, especially with my new role, and during the pandemic. It’s easy to blur the lines of work and home, but with two young boys, I am always working to carve out space for family and myself.
What are the top three qualities you look for when you’re interviewing a candidate?
Entrepreneurial mindset, integrity and inclusive allyship.
Why do you think your company is a particularly supportive work environment for women?
Promoting equal opportunities for women remains a key topic at Credit Suisse. Recognizing the positive impact of gender diversity on the performance of teams and the business as a whole, we want to ensure appropriate female representation in management positions. We run special programs to foster the development of female professionals within and outside the organization.
In February 2019, the Board of Directors approved the appointment of two more women to the Group Executive Board. These changes reflect the quality of the talent available at Credit Suisse and the diverse backgrounds and experiences of the bank’s leaders. In 2019, women accounted for 37 percent of our total workforce and 22 percent of our senior leadership (directors and managing directors). We want to further increase the proportion of women in specialist and management positions within the bank.
Furthermore, we run programs to attract talented female professionals to our company. We are proud to be included in the Bloomberg Gender-Equality Index for 2020.
Credit Suisse first signed the Women in Finance Charter in June 2016. Together, with over 330 other financial services organizations in the United Kingdom, we have pledged to support the progression of women into senior roles across the UK Legal Entities In July 2020, Credit Suisse in the UK is now a signatory of the Business in the Community (BITC) Race at Work Charter. Developed in partnership with the UK Government, the charter includes five calls to action to ensure that BAME employees are fully represented at all levels within an organization.
Also in 2020, Credit Suisse welcomed its seventh cohort of Real Returns as part of our award-winning program for experienced professionals who are returning to work after an extended career break.
Real Returns gives participating professionals the opportunity to return to the workplace through a tailored program of challenging project work, training, mentoring, and new networking opportunities. Since Real Returns was launched, a total of 360 professionals have taken part in 22 classes.
We also believe that the public reporting of Gender Pay Gaps is an important step in understanding and tackling gender equality issues, and our 2019 UK Gender Pay Gap (PDF) report is our third such disclosure. We are pleased to say that this also is the third consecutive year that our overall Gender Pay Gaps have narrowed.
Credit Suisse is committed to increasing the proportion of female employees in management positions. We have adopted a robust, data-driven approach to determine what works and enhance other areas where we can affect change. Special programs are offered with the aim of retaining and promoting talented female professionals at all levels of the organization. The bank offers a wide variety of support options for female employees – from flexible working models, career networks for women, and development programs, to the highly popular mentoring offerings, and as mentioned previously, the global ’Real Returns Program.’ Gender diversity is good for business.
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