Yau Cheng

Global Head of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion

BNY Mellon

In your opinion, what qualities make a “Moves Mentor”?  

A desire to do the best for the team and bring the best out in others. Those who look for every opportunity to engage in meaningful ways with their mentees, empower authenticity, who are vulnerable in sharing lessons learned, create space for other voices and views, are transparent in the rationale behind their decisions, and who support and advocate for others in their own leadership journeys.

How does mentoring benefit the mentor? Career-wise? Intellectually? Spiritually? Socially? Any other “-allies”? 

By mentoring, we invest in others’ success. This is core to my personal values and the values of BNY Mellon. In doing so, mentors strengthen personal brand as inclusive leaders and elevate overall team performance. And, when we mentor with curiosity and intentionality to get to know, engage and develop individuals who are underrepresented or come from backgrounds different from ours, we expand our own growth mindset and contribute to a culture of equity and belonging where ambitious and capable talent from all walks of life can thrive.

Should mentorship be a company requirement or a personal give-back? 

At BNY Mellon, we believe that mentoring is a valuable component of professional and personal development and has been widely used in our organization to grow our talent and enable mentors and mentees to leverage diversity of thought to solve real business problems and impact positive change. Formal mentoring programs are available through our Employee and Business Resources Groups (E/BRGs) and businesses/functions. For example, our IMPACT E/BRG mentoring program supports ethnic/racial diversity and development of multicultural competency. Our GENEDGE E/BRG reverse mentoring program focuses on improving collaboration across generations and regions on topics such as the workplace of the futureblockchainartificial intelligencedisruptive startups and work-life integration. These employee-led programs bring mentors and mentees together to share perspectives and ideas to promote forward progress. They provide visibility to career paths and ensure senior, more experienced leaders are connected with and learning from our future leaders.

What is your mentorship method? Do you prefer a more hands-on or laidback approach?

I like to keep an open mind with each new relationship because every individual is different. Active listening is a key principle and practice of a mentor. It’s not about being the authority or having all the answers; it’s about tapping into what I’ve learned in my own journey to help my mentees draw their own conclusions and chart their own path forward. I ask a lot of questions at the start to get to know my mentee as a whole person – not just what they do, and who they are, at work – and throughout our engagement to understand how I can best contribute to their development and growth. I look for the mentee to take the lead – to reflect on their goals and communicate what they’d like to get out of the relationship. 

What would you say to yourself if you could go back in time 15 years? 

A: Knowing what I know now, I would tell my past self to play to my strengths. For a very long time – through school, throughout most of my career, in all my endeavors both personal and professional – I obsessed over improving what I wasn’t good at, which meant spending less time on getting even better at what I was good at. But, in the corporate world, we’re better off and will be more successful over time if we focus on our strengths. These are the areas where we can become experts, differentiate ourselves, optimize our contribution and build our reputations. It’s through our strengths that we can become extraordinary. But, be self-aware and mindful of the gaps. Make sure to bring into your network, your team, your think tank, your circle of advisors those who are good at what you’re not, who have perspective or experience you lack, who can see and do the things you can’t. Outsource to others who excel where you don’t. That’s how we all reach our full potential and achieve our ambitions.

Given the evidence that successful mentoring increases the bottom line, should any responsible five year corporate strategy include a detailed plan and budget for mentoring complete with an official position for a mentoring director and regular progress reports to the board?

Every organization will make its own decisions about how to invest in people, culture and communities to achieve its purpose and priorities. But, the evidence is clear – organizations with a culture of mentorship and sponsorship – that embed diversity, equity and inclusion into corporate strategy as a business imperative – are more successful at attracting and retaining a diverse, high-performing, engaged and resilient workforce. When leaders are intentional about building their skills and capabilities to bring the best out of others, we can be more successful achieving our individual, team and corporate goals.

What do you want the next generation of power women to know?

Women get their power from defining who they are, what they stand for and how they want to engage with the world. Don’t expect us to act and sound like men, don’t expect us to follow traditional rules when it comes to how we use our influence. But, do know we will use our power to support each other’s success and pave the way for future generations of women.

Also, don’t let perfect get in the way of progress. Be willing to unlearn as much as you learn and embrace growth through discomfort – don’t hold onto beliefs so closely that you can’t adapt your perspective or change your mind when confronted with someone else’s lived experience that is different from your own.

Was there a defining moment or experience in your life that led you to where you are today? What was it? 

There isn’t one defining moment – more a collection of professional and personal experiences, career twists and turns, and invaluable mentors and sponsors along the way who guided and, in some cases, pushed me to do new things I didn’t always feel ready or qualified to do. However, there has been a defining principle in my journey, thus far, and that is to go where I can learn something new and where I feel I have something unique to contribute.

I joined the wealth management unit of a global financial services company to lead executive communications. It was in this role that I gained awareness of the power of diversity, equity and inclusion (“DEI”) to drive business growth and the critical need for companies and leaders to build DEI competency to be successful. I helped take to market the first women-managed fund of funds, an Islamic Finance platform and a resource kit for LGBTQ+ investors, and supported development of training, toolkits and communications to help financial advisors engage with these new products and new clients. I left to work on communications strategy and enterprise brand reputation for the Global entity of a Big Four professional services company, which gave me two international secondment opportunities – 6 weeks leading a Hong-Kong based crisis communications team and traveling over a 5-month period as a member of a Brussels-based project team tasked with EU regulatory reform communications strategy. From there, I joined BNY Mellon as Head of DEI for the Americas and subsequently assumed the role of Global Head of DEI.

How does diversity play into mentorship? 

Valuing and embracing diversity makes us better – better at work, better in our personal lives, better human beings. When we bring diversity into mentorship, we show up authentically and we seek out those who are different from us. In the face of social injustice and inequity, mentors who are intentional about diversity, equity and inclusion can be part of the solution. By being inclusive of diversity and individual differences in how we conduct ourselves and engage with others, we can break the bias and remake our systems and processes to be more fair.

What do you think is the number one action we as a society can take for women’s power and equality? (e.g. affirmative action?) 

Active Allyship. The first priority for an ally is to commit to understanding, which will drive the right actions and behaviors. Many times, allies will step in to help without knowing the true needs of the populations they want to help; McKinsey’s annual study of women in the workplace actually found a stark disconnect between the behaviors women found helpful from male allies and the actions male allies thought would be helpful to women. I’ve learned not to assume I know the answer, or that the same form of allyship will work for all people.

Active allyship is about taking actions that create positive change. It’s about understanding privilege and using it to support and amplify – not to speak for or over – others. When you continue to educate and challenge yourself to be an active ally, this can help you gain allies. We need to ask the tough questions, accept honest feedback, and show empathy. We need to understand mistakes will be made, but it’s worse to not act or show support for fear of getting it wrong. Don’t let that keep you from stepping forward. It’s a learning journey for all of us to get better at this.

What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?

I was brought up to always give my best – if it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well. And, I still carry that with me. How I show up for anything is how I show up for everything – this is who I am.

If it is true that whenever women are involved in any one aspect of life – domestic, business, recreation – the empirical evidence shows that activity is enhanced in a real and tangible way, why is there such fierce resistance to this female influence?

Studies show when more women work, economies grow; increases in women leaders drives better decisions and business outcomes; there is a gender diversity knowledge and innovation dividend that leads to new discoveries and better science; and when women participate in governance processes and peace negotiations, the result is more equitable laws and a more stable and lasting peace. Despite the evidence, individual bias, systemic barriers and passivity remain intractable barriers to gender equity. And, when studies like the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap forecasts it will take more than 135 years to close the gap worldwide, solving this problem seems daunting. However, if we break this down into actions we can take in our daily lives, we tap into our collective power to accelerate change and make lasting progress. Each of us can do something and we simply need more of everything – more women in positions of power and influence to role model different paths and possibilities, more inclusive leaders challenging gender stereotypes, more companies committed to pay equity, more organizations offering flexible work practices and benefits that improve carer assistance and support, more workplace cultures supporting and encouraging men to share in domestic responsibilities, and more sponsors advocating for the advancement of women.

Who do you most admire? Why?

A: I have great admiration for my friend, Cindy. She is both a great listener and communicator, also empathetic and kind, and extends her personal capital to connect people who could be helpful to each other. Cindy has endured and overcome significant personal challenges, which doesn’t make her unique, but what she has done with those experiences – marshalling the courage and vulnerability to share her story, openly and honestly – makes her a very special person.

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