After graduating in 2004 with Honours in Mechanical & Aeronautical Engineering from the Nanyang Technological University, Chris Lum started a career in the finance industry. Two years later, he joined Saxo Markets when they set up their office in Singapore, as a licensed entity of Saxo Bank, a Fintech specialist and provider of multi-asset trading and investment founded in Denmark in 1992.
In the decade and a half since, he has assumed responsibilities to head the Malaysia and Indonesia desks as well as head of Shanghai office. He currently holds the post of regional head of digital sales for Asia Pacific region.
Being part of an organisation that values diversity and inclusion, he has always been vigilant in all his roles to ensure his female colleagues are not discriminated against. As a male ally to the cause of gender parity at the workplace who has held several leadership roles, he has even contributed towards addressing social biases on many occasions. He speaks of all these experiences with the Women Icons Network.
Workplace Gender Diversity
According to Chris, there are four major traits needed in leaders to ensure effective gender diversity measures at the workplace – good communication skills, empathy, equality and open-mindedness.
“I see a lot of value in being able to communicate well with every individual in the team, peers and your manager. Understanding that every individual is different and making the effort to think and consider other viewpoints always helps,” he elaborates. He goes on to assert the importance of ensuring that every individual has access to equal opportunities based on their own merit. “Being able to think critically and rationally from different angles is also an important skill, more so in this age where debates are so easily polarised and views can be distorted when taken out of context,” he adds.
Assessing individuals solely based on their skills to accomplish their roles and responsibilities would be the first step towards eliminating unfair biases in hiring processes, he believes. The corporate world, he says, also needs to work towards closing the gender pay gap and promoting work-life balance. About the latter, he hopes that the pandemic brings a positive outcome as we all re-evaluate our roles at home and at work. “Both men and women must focus on improving their quality of life without compromising on productivity and level of motivation,” he feels.
Women in Trading
Stating that Saxo has always been a huge advocate for diversity in the workplace, Chris acknowledges that historically trading and investing tend to be male-dominated domains. This is why the organisation has rolled out several key initiatives over the years with the aim of becoming the leading broker for female traders and investors, he informs. These range from running basic ‘Investing 101’ education campaigns for women, to more comprehensive trading knowledge and investing workshops for female clients.
“We have an ongoing list of initiatives to help women start their investing journey. All these were strategized and executed with comprehensive input of female Saxo employees from all over the organisation contributing a myriad of ideas of how to better empower the women investors and traders,” he shares. Many Saxo employees have reflected that their involvement in these initiatives have been very fulfilling and empowering, he adds.
Chris thinks that men play an exceptionally vital role at the workplace in achieving gender equality. He believes that men at the workplace must be aligned with and supportive of the organisation’s efforts towards gender equality. It is important for all employees in the organisation to understand the reasons and benefits of promoting gender equality, he adds.
In his experience, the instances of harassment and discriminatory behaviours appear to have gone down as people grow more aware of sensitivities around those issues. One frequent misstep on this count that he faces is someone making the stereotypical, and casual, passing remark that women have no clue about trading or investing during external meetings. He usually talks to these individuals to understand why they would make such a comment and ask what made them arrive at such a conclusion. He feels that engaging with them in a friendly, good-humoured manner prompts the individual to self-reflect.
“I think it is very important to continuously inspire and mentor both male and female colleagues in a fair and equitable manner. Many-a-times, it is not just providing guidance to younger male colleagues about the benefits of gender diversity. Female colleagues need to unlock the inner belief that the sky is truly the limit and that glass ceilings are not real,” he shares. He says he strives to support the many talented and ambitious women by increasing their self-confidence.
Pandemic’s Silver Lining
Through the dark cloud that the last two years have been, Chris believes the silver lining is that awareness of gender diversity has taken a giant leap in this duration. While it is still common for women to take on most of the household responsibilities, the pandemic and work from home have allowed men more time to discover what it means to spend more time at home, he feels.
This change, he says, has made the men step up to help out with household chores and children’s responsibilities. All this has also made them appreciate the immense amount of efforts women put in when it comes to balancing career and home life, he thinks.
Going forward, he feels that the most challenging aspect of gender diversity is the changing of mindsets among individuals. Men, he points out, must understand that society is moving away from traditional gender norms while women need to understand that they can and should have equal representation. “This requires a top-down approach where leaders, influencers, and the media show their understanding and support for gender diversity and cascade in a clear and concise importance of gender diversity,” he says.