Michelle Kam is the Director, Risk Customer Proposition for the Emerging & Frontier Markets at Refinitiv. She is responsible for developing the Risk product proposition and solutions (focused on Financial Crime, Digital Identity and Enterprise Risk Management) for our clients and communities.
Refinitiv is one of the world’s largest providers of financial markets data and infrastructure, serving over 40,000 institutions in over 190 countries. It provides leading data and insights, trading platforms, and open data and technology platforms that connect the global financial markets community - driving performance in trading, investment, wealth management, regulatory compliance, market data management, enterprise risk and fighting financial crime.
Can you tell us about your career progression into your current role?
I have over 15 years of banking and technology vendor experience. My first management position entailed the responsibility of running a global operation function for a large investment bank. Since then, I have held multiple management roles, each with increasing leadership and management responsibilities.
After spending a substantial number of years in Financial Markets Operations, I made a switch into Operational Risk Management.
Subsequently, internal opportunities opened for me to move into Sales Support in Client Onboarding and Account Management for Corporate and Institutional Bank.
As the industry shifted to explore KYC utilities, I joined Refinitiv’s Risk Proposition Team covering Asia (which has now expanded to Emerging and Frontier Markets). With my industry experience, my current role focuses on growing the Risk business.
What one factor has helped you the most throughout your career?
I have this underlying passion that drives my motivation to deliver; it pushes me to learn new things and gain new experiences, which is what my career has been pivoted around as I explored new businesses and built new teams. The excitement in adventuring through unfamiliar territories really fuels my curiosity to succeed.
As someone working in a role that requires a lot of travelling, how do you balance work with your personal life?
My role at times requires me to travel two to three weeks a month, and as a mother to two young kids that can be quite challenging. Balancing between work and family is never easy, which is why I have come to appreciate the few things that help make it much more manageable.
First and foremost, it would be having a supportive spouse. We are at a time when traditional gender roles are less binding – child rearing is no longer just the women’s responsibility, men can take a bigger role in running the household too. And with modern day technology like WhatsApp and Skype, parents can still connect with their kids even when they’re away on business trips.
Apart from that, having a supportive boss that understands what it is like to balance work and family helps.
I have found work-life integration of my schedule very effective. For example, leaving work early and taking night calls from home.
Do you have any advice for working moms or those who are aspiring to be a mum?
One of the most common concerns I’ve heard from women is whether to put their careers on hold or maybe take on a smaller role and prioritise their kids first. If a good opportunity comes along, take it, keeping in mind family in your plans too. Also, if the relationship permits, be transparent to your boss, ask about possible forms of flexibility. I don’t think it’s a case of stepping back, but how you can make both work, so you can thrive at work and at home.
Have you ever felt the need to work harder because of your gender?
No, I’ve never felt that way. While I’ve had instances where I needed to prove my worth, it was never because of my gender, but more so on the increasing responsibility with each new role that I have taken.
Refinitiv was awarded WatersTechnology's WITAD 2019 Best Company for Diversity (Vendor), what is Refinitiv doing differently to achieving its diversity goals?
At Refinitiv, there is a shift in culture for diversity and inclusion, we’re challenging the traditional approach of quotas, data and salary figures, and switching our mindset from “should we” to “how do we”. The company is moving away from a model where we “fix” women, to one that addresses questions like how bias impacts decision-making and how we can support leaders to be more inclusive in the way that they naturally lead. We’re taking a proactive top-down approach by placing ownership in the hands of the leaders to drive these changes.
Following up on that, what is the notion of "fixing" women and what do you think companies should do instead?
While we’ve seen efforts to advance women in the workplace for years, we have yet to see any paradigm shift and gender equality has only marginally improved. Therefore, simply creating and putting women into programs or mentorship schemes won’t be enough; companies would need to make a conscious effort to include women in the pathway of the company and pay attention to the skill sets that they can bring to the table.
Gender balance is a business issue, not a women’s issue. The consulting firm Accenture recently released the report When She Rises, We All Rise, for which Michelle King summarised, “Equal workplaces do not just improve the career prospects for women. Men are twice as likely to rise to senior management positions in cultures that support equality. It is not just about creating things that help women. It is about leveling the playing field for men and women so they are both included in the dialogue around equality.”
Could you tell me more about Refinitiv's Diversity & Inclusion Ratings and what the data tell us?
Refinitiv’s Diversity and Inclusion Index ranks over 7,000 companies globally and identifies the top 100 publicly traded companies with the most diverse and inclusive workplaces, as measured by 24 separate metrics across 4 key pillars: Diversity, Inclusion, News & Controversies and People Development.
It is designed on the hypothesis that companies tracking, reporting, and achieving on measures of diversity, inclusion and people development will offer better performance over time than those achieving lower scores, or not tracking these measures.
In 2018, we ranked the top 100 most diverse and inclusive organisations globally via our Index. What the data tells us is that the global evidence is overwhelmingly clear, diversity is a growth engine driving better performance outcomes and companies can no longer afford not to realize its societal benefits. Additionally, companies with more diverse workplace outperform their competitors and achieve greater profits.
Through the various trend analysis performed, the top quartile rankings in 2018 are dominated by companies in pharmaceutical, retail, telecoms, cosmetics, professional services, outperforming the financial group sectors.
Currently, only 15% of the top 100 most diverse and inclusive organisations in the world are based in Asia, which shows us that there is still a lot of work to be done in terms of diversity in the workplace within Asia.
Is there a Women In Leadership program at Refinitiv and how successful do you feel the program is?
Refinitiv has pledged their aspirations to reach the goal of 40% or more women in senior leadership roles by 2020.
Our organisation is focused on making clear and visible investments in women leaders, which include two key women’s leadership programs – the Leadership Program for Women (LPW) and the Emerging Women in Leadership Program (EWLP). The programs are aimed at increasing engagement and sustaining high performance and aspirations of future female leaders.
LPW was awarded one of the Best International/Global Leadership Program for HR.com’s Leadership Excellence Awards.
Lastly, can you share with us some leaders who have inspired you to be who you are today?
Sir Richard Branson, Jack Ma and Jacinda Ardern are a few on my list. I admire Sir Richard for his adventurous explorations, Jack for his visionary spirit and Jacinda for breaking new grounds for women. These leaders are original and motivating and act as a constant reminder to myself to live an adventurous life, one that is on my own terms.