Diana Chan, former CEO of financial services firm EuroCCP, has been a PAWA supporter since 2011. After graduating from the University of Hong Kong, her first job was selling multi-media training courses for information technology professionals. Diana then went to Harvard Business School and subsequently started her career in financial services. She worked in New York, Singapore, Brussels and Paris for JP Morgan and Citibank, before moving to London in 2005. She was on the Financial New’s annual list of the 100 Most Influential Women in Finance for nine years between 2008 and 2017. After leaving full-time employment two years ago, Diana can now spend more time volunteering for PAWA.
She talks to Kamalekshi Mehta about gender roles, the importance of being proactive in the workplace, and why she’s a PAWA Champion.
“Discrimination exists, but don’t let it drag you down.”
What, in your view, is the single most important factor in achieving greater equality for women in Asia?
The most important factor in achieving greater equality for women in Asia is to change social norms. Equality is a human right, but in many Asian cultures, women are expected to be followers, to take second place at home and at work. This expectation causes women not to realise that there are many more life choices open to them. It is a terrible waste to humanity when a woman’s choices are constrained by social norms. There is a cost to a woman’s family and to her community when gender-related social barriers prevent her abilities from being developed to their full potential.
What policy changes would you like to see to facilitate a better equation for women?
Changes in social norms take time, but legislation and education help speed them up. I think there are at least 3 areas of policy change that would improve equality for women. First, there should be a legal requirement for equal access to education, equal opportunity for employment, and equal pay for equal work. Second, in order for legislation to be effective, institutions should be held accountable, through transparency, for their compliance with legal requirements. For example, companies should be required to disclose any inequality in pay between men and women doing the same jobs. Transparency requirements put institutions under pressure to comply with the law and enable women to step forward and insist on their legal rights. Third, children should be educated about the social cost of discrimination and the benefits of inclusion. Gender equality should be emphasised in schools. Boys need to be educated early on to respect and treat girls as equals, and to recognise female leaders as nothing exceptional. Girls introduced to female role models through education from an early age at school will see what is possible for them to achieve, even when they might have families that are still male-dominated.
Finance is still a very male dominated field — what advice would you give young women entering the sector today?
Yes, there are relatively few women leaders in finance. The first advice I would offer to young women is to be proactive: learn from women who have a successful career. Everyone comes from a different background and faces her own challenges, but even a small piece of advice could be hugely inspiring and make a big difference in how you find your unique solution. Several years ago I started an annual conference called Women Leaders in Financial Infrastructures. Senior women in the industry share their know-how and experience in how they have reached their leadership positions in finance, in order to help young women reach their career potential faster and easier. If what you are doing isn’t getting you to where you want to be, then try something different.
I would also advice young women to avoid a victim’s mindset. Discrimination exists, but don’t let it drag you down and, more importantly, never use it as an excuse. I am used to being not only the only woman in a roomful of men but, in the several decades I have worked in Europe and America, also the only person of Asian origin and physically the smallest. I would have made it difficult for myself to advance in my career if I had let any of these differences bother me.
How important is mentoring, and have there been strong female influences along your professional journey?
I have worked for companies with formal mentoring programs. I have not benefitted from them personally, but maybe it is just because I was not lucky to have been assigned mentors who were a good match. I think one could learn from many people, without entering a formal mentor relationship, just by being observant and not reluctant to ask for advice and feedback.
When I started work in financial services, my first three managers were all women. One reported to the division head of a major international bank, and two reported to the chief executive of a very large financial services firm. Therefore, from the outset I have never had the notion that a senior management position was out of my reach as a woman.
You have supported PAWA from the start, for which we are very grateful. What is it about its approach that appeals to you?
The PAWA Champion program enabled me to volunteer to raise funds with the flexibility that I needed, via an activity that I enjoyed. When I was working full-time, I kept long hours and travelled a lot. I could not commit to volunteering on a regular basis because my work schedule was heavy and unpredictable.
My first fundraising project for PAWA was a lucky draw; I offered to cook a dinner for six people at the winner’s home or mine on a weekend evening. I thoroughly enjoyed composing the menu and all the preparations.
The PAWA Champion program enables supporters to channel their creativity and enthusiasm towards a worthy cause, using an amount of time that they can make available.