Finance warrior and feminist advocate Trina Liang is a force to be reckoned with. Having worked at various global investment banks, Trina is now Managing Director of Templebridge Investments, sits on the boards of several organisations and is the President of UN Women Singapore. Her impact is wide ranging and her down to earth candour, disarming. Walking along the stretch of conservation shophouses at Keong Saik Road, Trina shares with us her path to success, her take on the issues of the world today, and on the importance of setting priorities.
What is a good day and a bad day like for you?
A good day to me is when the day begins with a good start – having the right shade of makeup with matching clothes and getting to meetings on time for one! A bad day is when things don’t go smoothly, like having breakfast in my hair, wearing the wrong pair of shoes and getting my shoes stuck in every grille and hole in Raffles Place!
I think wearing the right set of clothes is very important, especially when you first start out on your job. You first communicate your attitude through your dress. I like to power dress on weekdays with blacks, whites and grays with big jewellery for a more serious tone. But for Fridays to Sundays, I tend to wear more colours, like today.
The financial industry is reputed to be a man’s world. Are there any learnings on succeeding as a woman?
In an industry like investment banking, I think the criteria for success is the same for both men and women. You are measured on the same results. You need to be able to understand concepts quickly and present them in a way that is coherent, that makes sense. As someone young starting out, you also have to be constantly learning on the job.
What would you have done differently if you could do it all over again?
I could have gone into jewellery, or maybe fashion. I remember being in university and roaming the streets of Covent Garden looking into all the shop windows. However, at that time, my priority just earning enough money to pay the rent!
Young ones, beware that getting what you want takes time and sacrifice, and sometimes you have to spend time doing things you don’t enjoy to get to where you want to be. I spent 2 years working in a bank in Hong Kong an didn’t really enjoy it; but it had to be done. Right now, I can truly say I am at a place where I wouldn’t do anything else. I’ve managed to create a space where I can do what I am good at and known for, as well as give back through other means. I sit on the boards of National Volunteer & Philanthropy Centre (NVPC) and Singapore Repertory Theatre (SRT), and really enjoy the work and diversity of learning curves.
Priorities will always change throughout your life. If you told me in my 20s that I would be so focused on community work and giving back now, I wouldn’t have believed it because at the time I just had to make enough to get by!
My advice to young people is to understand what their priorities are, and that they will change as you change. Its important to hold a long term goal in mind, but be certain of your priorities at each life stage, and just go for them.
What issues do you think women currently face in Singapore?
The biggest issue is work-life balance. The government has recognised this issue and is improving the situation with new policies like increasing childcare facilities, especially in the business district.
Another issue is in gender representation. Female board representation is still very low. In Singapore it’s only 8.9% compared to a benchmark of 20%. I think there are few willing women as there is quite a lot of work to be done when you are on a board. There is also a work culture difference. Women may feel that they do not need the recognition and so do not aim for such placements.
On the other hand, I do not think that quota setting is the way to go. I’m more for moral suasion and meritocracy as a selection criterion instead of setting limiting rules.
What was your catalyst for joining UN Women?
At the time I was the President of the Financial Women’s Association of Singapore (FWA). We were looking for organisations to help fundraise, and assessed about 15 organisations with the criterion that they had to be working with women and children. In the end, we chose UN Women. As the President then was stepping down, she asked if I would like to step up as the President for UN Women. I accepted and joined in 2005.
Working with UN Women has really expanded my horizons. Experiencing Asia at its two extreme points changed my perspective on so many matters. Working in the financial industry, I only saw the gleaming metropolises in this region each time I traveled for business. With UN Women, we make trips out to really rural areas and villages where people are on the other end of the spectrum, living day by day. Seeing people struggle daily to meet their ends makes the daily problems we face seem insignificant.
It has been very fulfilling to see Singapore used as a fundraising platform to help our neighbors in the region, and with UN Women we’re able to help through that.
What’s the one thing you would change in the world?
The one thing I would like to change is the increasing inequality gap. This gap is quickly widening in many fast-developing countries, including Singapore. Many governments are realising this problem so they are increasing taxes from the rich as a solution, which I think you will see become the norm in the coming years. There will be less tax havens for the wealthy.
If we were all a bit more equal, if we had similar opportunities, there would be much less anger, greed and envy in the world.
Trina is a trailblazing financial whiz and compelling advocate for women’s issues and rights. She stays incredibly humble and grounded while holding several positions in top social and financial institutions across the region, using her influence for social good. In 2006, she was voted for Woman of the Year (Business and Finance) by Women’s Weekly Magazine and Her World’s 50 Most Inspiring Women Under 40 in 2010.
We are inspired by her earnestness, compassion and ambition, and are proud to have her as a Fieldtester, a group of inspiring friends that regularly test MATTER products in their workplace and travels to help us improve durability and design. Trina wears the Sideswept Dhoti in Mobi Pomegranate, Size 1.