Article: Empowering women in finance: An interview with VP Bank's Heline Lam


Empowering women in finance: An interview with VP Bank's Heline Lam

Heline Lam shares insights on the bank's DEI strategy, including their target of 25% female leadership by 2026, and the challenges women face in the financial sector.
Empowering women in finance: An interview with VP Bank's Heline Lam

While the Asia-Pacific financial services industry has made strides in diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), gender representation remains a significant challenge. Heline Lam, Chief Operating Officer and Chief of Staff Asia at VP Bank, reveals the persistent barriers women face, including internalised fears and societal pressures. 

In this edited interview, Lam shares her insights on the path forward for DEI in the financial services sector.

What are your views on the broader Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) landscape in financial services across the Asia-Pacific region?

The DEI landscape in APAC's financial services has evolved significantly. Early in my career, banking was predominantly male-dominated, especially in leadership. It's encouraging to witness the gradual shift towards greater diversity over time.

However, industry surveys highlight persistent gaps in gender representation. Personally, ascending to a senior executive role as a woman presented unique challenges. Navigating societal expectations and stereotypes, I found it crucial to dismantle self-imposed barriers to success.

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The "fear of success" is a pervasive experience for many women, both professionally and personally. It's not the achievement itself that's daunting, but rather the journey, often fraught with concerns about being judged or deemed unworthy. These internalized pressures can stifle potential and perpetuate a sense of unease.

To truly empower women in finance, the industry must foster inclusive environments that celebrate achievements, encourage ambition, and actively dismantle the barriers that hold women back.

What are the key pillars of VP Bank's DEI strategy, and how do you measure progress?

At VP Bank, we firmly believe that a diverse and inclusive workforce is essential to our success. DEI is woven into our corporate values and our responsibility as a corporate citizen. Our diverse workforce, representing 47 nationalities with a higher-than-average proportion of women (40.5%), reflects our commitment.

We've set ambitious goals, such as aiming to fill 25% of management positions with women by 2026. We're actively working towards this through various initiatives, including participation in the UN's Target Gender Equality programme, succession planning, talent management programmes, leadership development, and flexible work arrangements. We've joined organisations like Advance and signed the Women in Finance Charter, reinforcing our dedication to gender equality.

We support external sponsorships in sports, culture, and the arts, providing platforms for diverse talent. We also conducted a comprehensive pay gap analysis, earning "Fair-ON-Pay" certification, confirming our commitment to equal pay for equal work.

Can you elaborate on VP Bank's talent development strategy and initiatives for attracting and retaining high-performing individuals?

Our talent strategy is built on three pillars: Attract, Reward, and Retain. This framework aligns with our core values – "We Explore, We Care, We Achieve" – fostering an entrepreneurial, collaborative, and solutions-oriented culture. We offer competitive compensation, performance-based incentives, and a comprehensive benefits package to attract top talent.

To retain and nurture our workforce, we prioritise continuous professional development. We equip our teams with the tools and resources they need to stay ahead of the curve. This not only enhances individual performance but also reinforces our commitment to excellence in the eyes of our clients and potential hires.

We have been recognised by industry accolades, including the "Best Private Bank – Intermediaries" award from Asian Private Banker for the third time, and several awards in Singapore for Talent Management and Employee Experience & Well-Being. 

How does VP Bank approach performance management to ensure fairness and transparency, especially concerning compensation?

Compensation is one of the key factors in attracting and retaining talent.   We recently conducted a pay gap analysis across the Group in cooperation with an external partner, which confirmed VP Bank's compliance with the principle of equal pay, with all locations participating in the analysis receiving the "Fair-ON-Pay" certificate.

What are the main challenges you face in effectively promoting diversity and equity?

The key challenge is to consistently work towards a culture of open communication and sharing of ideas, which is essential to creating a cohesive and collaborative work environment where colleagues feel "safe" constructively discussing issues and solutions. Teamwork makes the dream work, and much of this comes from an emphasis on employee engagement, regardless of age, gender, nationality, or seniority.

In promoting diversity, it is essential to lead by example and ensure that inclusivity is embedded in our business strategies and decision-making processes. We must 'talk the talk and walk the walk'. Inclusivity is not a luxury but a necessity for the sustainability and success of any organisation, enabling a greater sense of accountability.

Looking ahead to 2024 and beyond, what are VP Bank's top priorities for DEI?

We recognise that DEI is a journey, not a destination. It requires ongoing commitment, perseverance, and patience. It's not only the right thing to do, but it's also essential for remaining competitive in today's landscape. To achieve DEI goals, the Bank is implementing a number of measures, particularly in the areas of recruitment and talent management.

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Topics: Diversity, #DEIB, #EmbraceEquity

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