It was extremely rare to see women in leadership roles across business and finance a decade ago.
Today, it’s a more common phenomenon, but still not as ordinary as most would hope. In Asia, for example, only 17.4% of women are in senior leadership roles across the finance industry.
Some women are hoping to lead this change by example. One of them is Shi Mei Chin.
As the current Chief Financial Officer (CFO) for Spark Systems Pte Ltd — a deep-tech foreign exchange trading platform in Singapore — she is paving the way for more women in leadership roles within the industry.
What first drew the 32-year-old to the world of business and finance?
“My mother is a successful business owner and I grew up fascinated by the idea of business and entrepreneurship,” she tells Study International.
“When the time came for me to go to university, I chose accounting and finance because it was a good stepping stone to understand the inner workings of a business.”
From accounting student to CFO
Chin spent her undergraduate years at the University of Melbourne, choosing to undertake a Bachelor of Commerce.
Here, she began experimenting with leadership roles outside of her studies, such as taking on the role of Vice President for the Dancesport Club and Publicity Officer for the Flare Dance Ensemble.
Upon graduation, she became a Certified Public Accountant and Chartered Accounted — which marked the beginning of her journey in auditing and accounting.
Since then, the University of Melbourne graduate has worked in high-profile firms in Malaysia and Singapore, namely Ernst and Young and PwC.
Her experiences helped shed light on a broader issue — a lack of female representation in the finance industry, especially in finding role models for mentorship, advice, and inspiration.
“The industry can be challenging at times, which is why having a mentor to go for advice and guidance can make a huge difference as there is someone that women can relate to,” she explains.
“With more women stepping up to leadership roles and empowering young women, I believe it will be easier for ‘glass ceilings’ to get out of the way.”
We sit down with the young CFO to discover more about the challenges of navigating the finance industry as a woman, what needs to be done to close this gap, and her hopes for the future.
You went from being a professional auditor to CFO of Spark Systems Pte Ltd. Tell us more about that journey.
I started my journey from being an auditor in EY Malaysia and then moved on to PwC Singapore for financial services audit, assurance banking and capital markets.
Then, I was asked to pioneer the FinTech team for Singapore, setting up the department and gaining many clients who loved the work we did.
Soon, I joined a former start-up client, Spark Systems Pte Ltd, in managing the company’s financials as their newest CFO.
The journey was definitely not easy to navigate for young women in leadership. Still, I was well equipped with the advice and support of my mentors, as well as the professional training acquired during my Accountancy Certification with MICPA CA x ANZ.
What were the main challenges you faced in entering the industry as a woman?
One of the main challenges I faced in the industry was the stereotype of women in leadership roles.
Asia has traditionally espoused stereotypical gender roles — it goes back to traditional times when men were the breadwinners of the family while women were the homemakers.
This paradigm then shifted incrementally in the 1960s — from industrialisation, economies, and access to education. More women started to enter the workforce.
However, this stereotype continues to follow, especially when a woman reaches a certain age; family life will take precedence over their work life, and the challenge to keep up may arise.
What about the age-old argument about balancing family and work?
In my personal view, it’s all about focus and balance — having a family does not necessarily mean sacrificing their ambitions.
Women can be capable of juggling between both motherhood and careers, especially with support from office leads.
As for me, my mother played a big role in inspiring me when the challenges got more difficult.
Why is it important to have women in leadership positions in this industry?
I believe having more women in leadership positions provides a positive influence and impact on the workforce.
It’s important to have female role models and representation to inspire other young women to step up confidently and maximise their potential.
In a broader sense, diversity is important. Like how we need more people from different cultures and backgrounds, having more women leaders in the workforce can diversify workplace dynamics to creatively solve problems that benefit the company in the long run.
On top of that, women make great leaders as we are natural empaths — a trait essential when working in a team or dealing with multiple stakeholders.
What do you hope to see more of moving forward?
I look forward to more female leaders gaining confidence and taking their careers to the next level by stepping up to leadership positions.
I also hope to see governments and other leaders taking a more proactive approach by setting a workplace culture that is more inclusive towards women in the workforce.