Lex Shu Chan has been awarded the top spot of the OUTstanding LGBT+ Future Leader list 2021.
Leading as a beacon in the legal industry, which has traditionally not been a diverse sector, Chan is general counsel and co-head of the Diversity & Inclusion Council at fashion industry bible Business of Fashion.
Having studied at top institutions such as the London School of Economics and Oxford University, Chan then trained to be a solicitor at a top US law firm and worked as an IP associate for three years after.
The lists, prepared by diversity and inclusion membership organisation INvolve, highlight role models for others to follow when it comes to being out and proud at work, driving positive change in the office, or supporting your LGBT+ colleagues.
Executives on the allies list work within at least three levels from the chief executive at large companies or lead small organisations themselves. All of the allies on the list — who are not LGBT+ themselves but support LGBT+ inclusion — were nominated by peers and colleagues, or put themselves forward.
Nominations were then reviewed by the OUTstanding judging panel, who scored each person on the influence of their role, their impact on staff inside and outside the workplace, and their business achievements.
We caught up with Chan to find out what being an LGBT role model means to them.
Answers have been edited for clarity
What does being an ally and role model mean to you?
Being featured alongside such amazing role models is both an honour and a surprise. It also hopefully gives younger gender diverse people the fearlessness to pursue their ambitions, and the tenacity to not let the prejudices or ignorance of others lead them to believe that they should not have a seat at the table because of their identity.
When I began my career, I did not see any visible transgender and gender nonconforming role models in the legal profession, so I focused on conforming and rarely brought my authentic self to work. Things have thankfully evolved over the past few years, but I do often wonder whether if there had been more visible representation at the time, I would have had the courage to take bigger risks and to elevate my community earlier on in my career.
Those with marginalised identities can be deeply impacted by bias and prejudice, so for individuals with privileged identities, allyship is a moral imperative. Identity is intersectional and none of us are a monolith, so we can all strive to be better allies.
In the words of Karen Suyemoto: “To be an ally means to be willing to value justice over comfort.” [Suyemoto is the Professor of Clinical Psychology and Asian American Studies and core faculty for the Critical Ethnic and Community Studies graduate program at the University of Massachusetts, Boston.]
To me, this encapsulates what allyship represents since the times I have navigated my discomfort and spoken up are also the times when an individual has needed someone to advocate on their behalf the most.
Can you talk about two points in your career you are proud of?
I began my legal career in the City, and have been fortunate to work across international markets from London to Tokyo, as well as a wide range of corporate cultures in industries ranging from film, music and fashion to investment banking.
When I left private practice law several years ago, I began consulting for several startups and scaleups and eventually found my home at The Business of Fashion (BoF), where I have been for the past four years. One moment in my career I am most proud is co-founding Belong, BoF’s Diversity, Inclusion, Community & Equity Council. In parallel to the moral case for creating and fostering diverse and inclusive workplaces, it has been proven that belonging uncertainty reduces productivity.
There is now so much publicly available empirical evidence on the business benefits of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) – in terms of increasing employee engagement, enhancing creativity and innovation, retention, amplifying the benefits of diversity and a company’s bottom line – that we are past the point of having to prove why DEI should be front of mind, so I am incredibly proud to have been able to collaborate with my wonderful colleagues at BoF in co-creating an inclusive culture.
I am also proud to have had a non-linear and dynamic career journey. In parallel to my legal role, I am also a writer, and have contributed opinion pieces on topics such as visibility for the Trans+ and Asian communities and coming out narratives.
This year, I also co-founded Sachiko & Shu, an events and fundraising business, and released “Recipes Against Racism”, a charity cookbook in support of two anti-racism charities in the UK.
What advice would you give to leaders in other companies?
Being leaders automatically provides certain privileges when it comes to being influential, having the ability to speak up and to advocate. While advancing inclusion should be everyone’s responsibility, for leaders it is doubly important to lean in, speak up for those not in the room and, most importantly look at why marginalised voices aren't included and bring them in.
In the fashion industry specifically, such advancement efforts can range from increasing representation beyond campaigns and runways. It should be extended to boardrooms, photographers, stylists, hair and makeup artists etc. and investing in education to equip creatives with the tools and knowledge to work with talent across identities and intersectionalities.
Leaders can also commit to partnering with organisations and supporting community initiatives that elevate, support and empower marginalised communities. The opportunities are truly endless!
How do you measure your success and what does it look like to you? Who are your role models?
To me, success is measured not by how much power one wields or owns, but how much one can do to sustainably empower and elevate others.
The people who I consider role models are those who use their privilege, skills, time and/or resources to “raise the floor” for everyone else.