Tina Fordham is Managing Director and Chief Global Political Analyst at Citi, the first to hold this position. Tina joined Citi in 2003, where she advises institutional investors and corporate boards and on the implications of macro political, security and socio-economic factors.
Tina Fordham
Tina Fordham

Tina has been pivotal in driving not only Citi’s diversity agenda, but also influencing change on women’s economic empowerment on a global scale, helping to accelerate gender equality as part of the United Nations 2030 Sustainable Development goals. Tina’s contributions to the UN High-Level Panel have helped shape companies’ gender initiatives and provoked open and productive discussion on how businesses can change their culture to ensure women thrive on an equal basis to men and reach their potential.

She has been nominated by Susan Monahan for this year’s WIBF Award for Achievement.

Can you tell us more about your role at Citi?

My role as Citi’s Chief Global Political Analyst is quite varied, as you would expect given the current state of the world! As a publishing research analyst I analyse and write about both breaking news and longer-term structural macro political and socio-economic factors that might impact global financial markets and the investment environment.

This means deconstructing and attempting to assess the impact of risk factors as varied as North Korean missile tests, US-China and US-Russia relations, Italian elections, Brexit, and US Midterm elections, to highlight this year’s key political risk themes. I’m also responsible for our gender economics work stream.

In terms of clients, I focus on advising institutional investors and major corporates at the C-suite level globally, as well as Citi management. No other major financial institution offers this expertise to clients as a dedicated resource, and I’m a team of one, so it’s a challenge! But there is never a dull moment.

Can you tell us about your time as part of the United Nations High-Level Panel for Women’s Economic Empowerment? What did you gain from that experience?

My time as part of the first-ever United Nations High-Level Panel on Women’s Economic Empowerment was a professional and personal high point. Having done my Master’s degree in International Affairs at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs in New York—established the year after the UN was founded to train the world leaders and ambassadors of the future—it was a dream come true to be appointed by the UN Secretary General and represent Citi at the UN General Assembly. Working alongside people like Christine Lagarde, the Executive Director of UN Women Phumzile Mlambo- Ngucka, who fought against apartheid with Nelson Mandela in South Africa, UK Equalities Minister Justine Greening and IKEA Switzerland CEO Simona Scarpaleggia to raise the profile of the women’s economic agenda was inspiring, challenging and ultimately life-changing.

In the West we have a long way to go it comes to achieving gender parity, but when you contrast what we have with the situation for women and girls in the developing world, it is sobering. I’m dedicated to continuing to undertake research and advocate for the economic and social benefits for everyone—countries, companies, and communities—when we pursue gender equality. And that goes for men too. In a growth-constrained, politically volatile world there’s simply no excuse for maintaining obsolete barriers.

Can you tell us about your career progression, how did you get to where you are today?

I never expected to work in banking and finance. After I finished my undergraduate degree in literature I went to teach English in what was then Czechoslavakia back in 1991, convinced that the post-Communist transitions were the most interesting event of my life time. Subsequently I went on to do more academic and fieldwork combining my interest in the economic, social and political aspects of transition all over East-Central Europe as well as a long stint in Russia and Azerbaijan.

I had a lucky career break in 1999 after graduate school with the opportunity to lead a pioneering research project building an Emerging Market political and Economic Risk index, the first on Wall Street. This was for initially no, and then extremely low pay I should add—the business was a start-up. But despite struggling to pay my student loans I couldn’t refuse—this was project made for me and my intellectual curiosity.

The index ultimately led to a joint venture with a major investment bank, which I led from inception to global rollout. It was tremendous business experience to have at a time when global financial markets were expanding and the appetite for new ways of thinking about the risks and and opportunities seemed limitless.

Citi had long been a client, and at one point I pitched them on the idea that a global bank with over 100 economists should have a political scientist in its ranks as well, if, as an institution it was going to navigate the world on behalf of its clients. It was not and has not been an easy road, but I’ve been at Citi for 15 years now and demand keeps increasing.

How can we get the biggest shift towards diverse and inclusive workplaces?

I think this is two-fold. First, we need to bring in the men. Previous waves of feminism were limited in what they could achieve in part because of the perception that they were affirmative action programmes for women, somehow promoting less-qualified females over men. If anything, men today fear that their female competition is more qualified than they are!

With my political science hat on, we need to understand that elites who have benefitted from the status quo rarely, if ever, give up power and privilege voluntarily. That’s why the focus must be gender equality, which also brings benefits and freedom for men. This agenda is especially appealing to younger men, who have very different expectations about work and family than previous generations. We need to find allies across the spectrum and work together.

Secondly, perhaps unsurprisingly given my work on the UN High-Level Panel, I’m a big believer in the notion that whatever efforts we are undertaking for ourselves as professional women in advanced economies, we can achieve greater impact when we link to initiatives benefitting women and girls globally. It is hard to begin to achieve your economic potential if you are a refugee; carrying water for miles due to a lack of infrastructure or are unsafe in the workplace or in public. But womens’ energy, resourcefulness and ambition is abundant; there are many levers to help include more women in the global Economy.

The growing interest in ESG and Social Impact investing offers an excellent opportunity, as do the UN’s 2030 Sustainable Development Goals, several of which relate to gender equality. I am proud to be part of the team in Citi Research that is developing an investable framework for the UN SDGs, and its gratifying to see the interest from asset managers, pension funds and corporates.

I think the message for financial services is that even if our industry has among the farthest to go in terms of gender parity, we also have a great deal to contribute to the wider women’s economic empowerment agenda, using our global influence, purchasing and procurement power, financial inclusion tools and community development leverage.

These efforts to accelerate the UN SDGs can take place at the same time as we change the incentives, collect the data and break the glass that we need to in our own sector.