There's been much discussion in banking and financial services about how more should be done to ensure a greater number of women enter the ranks of senior management. It's a discussion that many agree we need to have because the numbers have been lackluster so far: research in our industry shows that women make up nearly 54% of the labor force, but only about 12% of executive officers.

It's telling that, despite this low percentage, the women who are in these senior positions create a tremendous impact. For example, just the four HSBC women recognized in the rankings of the Most Powerful Women in Banking and Finance lead businesses that generated about $1.5 billion in revenue in the first six months of this year. Imagine the possibilities for our industry if more women who are just as dynamic and highly qualified held a greater number of executive roles.

Even as a stereotypical white male banking executive, I've given much thought and care to diversity — and specifically, gender diversity — over the years. I'm particularly focused on two distinct dimensions that seem to contribute to progress. The first is the environment and culture inside an organization, and the second is the ability of individuals to take ownership of and accountability for their career destiny. Bringing this point home, I'm reminded of what Estée Lauder once said: "I never dreamed about success. I worked for it."

I believe the right environment must not only accept, but demand gender diversity, recognize its value and do everything in its power to ensure progress. An organization's culture needs to complement and support this fully. Aspiring female executives should ensure they pick the right organization that not only meets these criteria, but also aligns with their own work style and goals.

Tailored training programs that support career development for high-potential women — for example, our Levers to Leadership seminar — provide insights and tools to help women excel professionally. Internal research conducted in advance with seminar participants explores career aspirations and perceived barriers. Some of this year's themes included the importance of regular development and performance feedback, and the power of mentors and sponsors. These are all clear and actionable points.

Among the many successful women who work at HSBC, I'd like to highlight two examples, both of whom are relative newcomers. Former FBI agent Patty O'Connor joined last year as head of financial crime compliance because, in her words, she wants to be on the "front lines of making global banking safe." Patty attributes her success in two male-dominated industries to a willingness to "seize challenges" and "take accountability" for decisions.

Cate Luzio also joined us recently to lead multinational coverage in the Americas for our commercial banking unit. While she acknowledges facing challenges as a woman in banking, her jumping-off point is that "she will succeed" and that confidence inspires those around her. In less than a year, her role was up-leveled to global head of multinational coverage.

Once a working environment embraces gender diversity and the culture delivers on it, I believe much of what happens from there is in the hands of the individual. When I think about the characteristics leading to success for Patty and Cate, a few really stand out: confidence, individual accountability and a willingness to take smart risks.

These are not gender-specific attributes. You'll find similar qualities in other successful women and men. I think this underscores the importance of what people bring to the table, after that table is set by the company culture.

I doubt anyone will disagree that progress in gender diversity also requires champions at the highest level of an organization. At HSBC, it's on me to move the needle on diversity throughout the U.S. operation in collaboration with my executive team. And, even though I'm an advocate, it also helps that diversity objectives are in my performance scorecard. This leads to regular updates on hiring, advancement, retention — and ultimately to improvements!

With the number of women in the U.S. workforce expected to increase to 77 million by 2020, there's no better time than now to take action. It's imperative for our industry to continue the good fight and reap the rewards of more female executives in the top ranks.

Patrick Burke is president and CEO of HSBC North America Holdings and HSBC Bank USA.