Alexander Aitken, Partner, Finance, Herbert Smith Freehill, shares with WiFA his motivations to be a male ally, his mentorship experience, his 2021 mantra, and much more.
Tell us about yourself
I am British by nationality but have lived here since 2008 so I consider Hong Kong home. I am married and we have three children who were all born in Hong Kong. Aside from being a banking partner covering North Asia and India, I am also a senior sponsor and active participant in our firm’s Gender Equity Matters network in Hong Kong.
What motivates you to be an ally in the financial services industry?
I passionately believe in equality and inclusion. Being an ally for women (and anyone else who feels that they are not included) is a natural part of my DNA. I have had the opportunity to work with many fantastic, able and charismatic women so being an advocate for their career aspirations is pretty easy really. I have always run a female-majority team and supporting each of them has been one of the biggest pleasures in my career to date. Also, my wife works full time in financial services and I hope my daughters will have the opportunity to do so if they wish. So being an ally resonates with me both professionally and personally.
What is one characteristic you would say that all women in finance share?
Commitment to their goals. In my experience, when given the opportunity women are tenacious in striving for their own goals; generally, they just do it a lot less noisily than us men (thankfully!)
Please provide an example of how being an ally helped to unlock the power of diversity within your team or your organization?
As I mentioned, I have always run a majority female team and work in an office where the balance of male to female has also been majority female during my tenure. I hope that being a natural ally has given the women I have worked with an environment that has helped them to achieve their goals more easily than might have been the case elsewhere.
Mentors play an important role in the development of the careers of women. Have you or are you mentoring a woman in finance? Please tell us about your experience.
I have formally mentored a number of women over the last 13 years, both lawyers and non-lawyers. I am currently mentoring two women who work in different Herbert Smith Freehills offices in Asia. That office has quite a different culture than our office and is located in a country with a strong national culture and different views on inclusion. This is a very interesting opportunity for me to help women from a different culture and learn a lot in the process. In my view, the best form of mentoring is informal mentoring. I hope to have been a positive informal mentor to many women from other partners to women with less senior positions within our organisation. I hope that all of our senior people naturally carry out this sort of informal mentorship across our business as it is key to developing a successful people business and is the right thing to do!
What advice or guidance would you provide men so they can become an ally? What can they do better to support their female colleagues professionally?
My advice is to try to look at things from the other person’s perspective (which is a rule that would apply that to any conversation, not just one with a woman). That will help you develop a listening and growth orientated mindset to the benefit of both yourself and the other person. At the end of the day, an inclusive mindset benefits everyone we interact with, it’s about an open mind and wanting to have a positive outcome out of everyone you interact with.
What will be your 2021 mantra to keep you motivated, either professionally or personally?
From my perspective being inclusive is something we do best when we are in a good place ourselves, so for me it’s about practicing self-care as well as care for others. Aside from inclusion, my other passion is raising awareness of and being supportive in relation to mental wellness. This is going to be a big challenge coming out of the COVID crisis so we all need to focus on this for our own sake and the sake of those around us. To help myself I get lots of family time, get out on the trails and open water swim in Deep Water Bay, see friends, enjoy beautiful sunsets, savour a glass of red wine on a Friday night, and try to have great interactions in the office with colleagues about something other than work!