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Chimers in leadership: Meet Shara Chang, Chief Compliance Officer

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“I’m really grateful to have come from a line of strong, bold, and incredibly hardworking women who were culture carriers for our family and community,” says Shara Chang, Chime’s Chief Compliance Officer. “All of the women in my family worked hard and had several jobs — and they taught me to work hard, too.”

One example of leadership that shaped who Shara is today is her great-aunt. “She was Chinese Jamaican and a true culture carrier,” Shara says. “She made a point to travel from Jamaica and meet all of her grandchildren across the US and in Canada — where I grew up — and teach them to play dominoes, which left us all with the same memory of her teaching us and, of course, our family’s stories. Her example helps me bring a more human side to a lot of my meetings. I always open with icebreakers or photos of my children because, when we view each other as people, we’re more likely to collaborate with empathy and respect.”

Seeking representation — and then becoming it.

With many examples of hard work and how to cultivate connection at home, Shara set out to become the first lawyer in her family — something she knew early on that she wanted to be. She worked hard but, over the years, she struggled with a lack of representation in her field and in leadership. “While I had leaders and managers who were good to me and saw me as smart, capable, and hard-working, I had a nagging feeling that I didn’t belong because nobody looked like me,” she says. “One day I hit a turning point and realized that there needed to be more people who look like me in leadership roles, so I set out to become a leader.”

She started by informally mentoring others, taking the lead on Inclusion and Diversity initiatives and internship programs, and becoming a frequent speaker at industry conferences on topics ranging from mentorship to fair lending and unlocking innovation to serve the underserved in financial services. “That’s where I found that more junior people gravitated toward me and appreciated how raw and transparent I was — they could see themselves in me,” she says.

Becoming a peacock in a land of penguins.

Years ago, an old friend of Shara’s gave her a book called A Peacock in the Land of Penguins. A fable about a peacock that struggles to be itself while surrounded by penguins, it’s intended to help managers maximize the potential of their teams. “The first time I read it, I had just graduated from college and didn’t really understand it,” Shara says. “Later, when I was moving and purging my law school books, I found it and read it again — that time, I cried.”

The book tells the story of a peacock who works with penguins. The penguins show up, stay in line, wear black suits, and talk a certain way. The peacock, full of color, is forced to wear a suit and hide its true self. “Eventually, when the penguins see the richness of what the peacock’s many colors have to offer, they realize it’s not just ok — but good — to be different,” Shara says.

“The book taught me that the world needs more peacocks. When I learned to be authentic and that it was ok to speak in my voice and my truth — whether people were ready for it or not — I became better at what I do. Now, I encourage others to be their full selves, even if they might be the only woman, person of color, or Caribbean person in the room.”

When it comes to being a peacock in the world of compliance, Shara has learned that while her journey is different from many of her counterparts, there is a lot of value in her experiences — and that she shouldn’t be afraid to share them. “With a richness and breadth of information, we can understand each other, make better decisions, and get to better outcomes,” she says. “In compliance, it’s critical for people to consider fairness, accessibility, and diversity of experiences. This line of work requires us to be real, representative humans because, if we aren’t, then we aren’t serving everybody as best as we can. Bringing our own experiences to the table helps us create products that serve our members.”

Start by listening.

When it comes to her leadership philosophy, Shara tries to listen and understand before speaking. “We have two ears and one mouth for a reason,” she says. She also tries to understand everyone she works with, because it helps her frame her own messaging.

“I’ve learned to be transparent and direct while also being respectful; it’s a great way to foster trust because people understand they might not always agree with me, but they will always know where I stand,” she says. “A lot of people don’t take the time to share news or feedback if it’s less than positive, but I believe that being transparent shows that I care.”

Through her years as a leader, Shara has fallen in love with mentoring and developing people. “I’m not usually the loudest person in the room — I’m actually fairly introverted,” she says. “That lends itself well to giving people on my team opportunities to shine, and I love doing that.”

She also loves learning more about how her team got to where they are: “Everyone is so different, and it’s fascinating to see how the universe brought us together,” she says.

Outside of her direct team, Shara enjoys building relationships, gaining influence, and shifting perceptions of Compliance with cross-functional partners. “Like a kid who’s dreading going to the dentist and comes out smiling with a lollipop, I love going into meetings where people are thinking, ‘This is going to be a rough meeting with Compliance,’” she says. “Coming out knowing that we changed their minds, brought our worlds together, and saw the common good — that’s such a great feeling for everyone involved.”

You might be the first and only, but don’t let that stop you.

While gender equality has made great strides, there are still many things Shara sees as falling on women. Her advice to women in leadership is to “Be firm in what your values are and what success looks like to you, and if, as Michelle Obama says, you can’t have everything at the same time, get to know your non-negotiables,” she says.

In fact, Shara took the interview for this blog post from the car as she waited to pick up her young children. “They’re my non-negotiables,” she says.

She also likes to remind folks not to be held back by being the first or the only. “While you might be the first and only in this setting, you’re standing on the shoulders of giants who have been the first or only before you,” she says. “Remember that impostor syndrome is always going to be a thing. Have faith in the fact that you’re there because you earned that right. Personally, I’m grateful to be in an environment where I can stick to my values, be my authentic self, and lay part of the path for those to come.”