Cover AMTD Digital CIOO Osman Faiz (Image: Matthias Chng)

The chief information and operating officer of AMTD Digital shares what it means when men become allies to empowering women in the workplace—and building an equitable world

Osman Faiz was just eight when he realised “how men and women were treated differently—and unfairly—especially in Asian culture”. He shares: “We were having dinner as a family, and as my mother cut the chicken and passed it out, she casually mentioned that she had never eaten a chicken leg growing up. The tastiest parts of the chicken were always given to her four brothers to enjoy and she received whatever meat was left.”

This revelation left an impression on the young Faiz and made him look out for the women around him. The chief information and operating officer of AMTD Digital, the Singapore-based fintech arm of Hong Kong-headquartered financial services conglomerate AMTD Group, was recently named a HERoes Top 35 Advocate Executive for the fourth consecutive year, as part of management consultancy Involve’s global 2021 HERoes Role Model Lists of leaders dedicated to creating more diverse and inclusive business environments.

“Championing gender equality and female empowerment is my lifelong mission, to make the society we live in a more just and equitable one. There is much work to be done in creating more supportive and inclusive workplaces, to empower so many talented, dedicated women to develop more confidence in themselves and step up to key leadership positions,” expounds the veteran banker.

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In his international banking career spanning more than 25 years, Faiz observes that “there is a ‘confidence gap’ between men and women in the workplace”. He explains: “Many studies show that men tend to overestimate their abilities and performance, while women tend to underestimate theirs. Several of my female mentees have shared with me that they feel they’re not good enough, or ready, for a more senior role. I don’t recall any of my male mentees saying so.”

Faiz, who was most recently the COO of Standard Chartered Bank Singapore, where he led the Diversity & Inclusion Council to create more inclusive business environments where men and women have equal chances to lead and succeed, adds that these observations “have made me realise the importance of mentoring women, investing in their career development to empower them with confidence, and encouraging them to be bold—be it taking on an expanded job scope, an overseas assignment or even a mid‑career switch. Sometimes, it just takes an encouraging nudge or a gentle ‘you have what it takes’ reminder for them to get going.”

Having made Singapore home since 2005, Faiz launched the HeForShe network, a UN initiative to advance gender equality, here in 2018 and a year later in his native Bangladesh, one of the first Muslim markets. He had good role models in his parents. His late mother, Syeda Razia Faiz, was the first female member of parliament in Bangladesh and subsequently, a full cabinet minister. “It was tough enough to be a Muslim woman in the 1960s, to be a good mother to three children and a wife in a patriarchal conservative Muslim society, [much less] to join politics. I’m so proud of how she had made a positive impact as a voice for women and people around her.”

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His late father, Mohammad Abul Faiz, was a former air force pilot in British India who turned civil engineer, naval architect and top-ranking government official. “He stayed in the background as the silent hero to my mother for 45 years,” Faiz shares. “He trusted her, and gave his full support to her political career and social work.”

When asked about gender norms we should do away with today, Faiz, unsurprisingly, says: “I’d like to see less of patriarchal values in society. This means not assigning gender biasness to traditionally ‘female’ roles such as caregiver and homemaker. Household chores and looking after the children shouldn’t fall on the woman alone, even with dual‑income couples, which is common these days. Also, if a couple decides that the man is in a better position to be a homemaker, then we should be more open to it. It’s time we move forward with more acceptance, with fewer of these gender labels.”

While it is disheartening that the Covid-19 pandemic has pushed gender parity by another generation—the global gender gap will now take 135.6 years to close, up from the 99.5 years pre-pandemic, according to the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2021—Faiz is determined to push on. He offers three ways to level the playing field: “First, narrow the gender pay gap and salary disparity. Second, set corporate targets to advance more women to senior leadership levels. Third, encourage more female leadership representation in male-dominated technology industries, especially in fintech and cybersecurity.”

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Female leadership, diversity and education are part of AMTD’s strategy and core values. In June last year, it partnered Xiaomi Finance, the Singapore Management University and the Institute of Systems Science at the National University of Singapore to jointly launch the AMTD-Xiaomi-SMU-ISS (AXSI) Digital Finance Leadership Programme. This five-day digital finance leadership programme aims to deepen the knowledge and ability of senior finance and regulatory leaders as well as fintech entrepreneurs in Asia. Faiz strongly encourages more female fintech practitioners to join the programme.

Beyond creating diverse and inclusive workplaces, Faiz is passionate about advancing financial inclusion through digital mobile banking, especially for the unbanked and underserved population in Southeast Asia, in particular women, who have no access to formal financial services such as transactions and savings. “With the high mobile phone and smartphone penetration rate, this is the gap that digital mobile banking and digital financial services can bridge, to enable financial inclusion,” he says. “Digital mobile banking can boost the effectiveness of micro-financing.”

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