Championing the Cause of Inclusivity at Work

Social causes need champions to move not just hearts and minds, but the society forward. These two individuals – Benjamin Chua and George Lam – have done exactly that.

Benjamin Chua and George Lam are champions in every sense of the word.

For the work they have done to hire and support persons with disabilities in the workforce, they were honoured with the Enabling Champion Award at the 5th Enabling Employers Awards, organised by SG Enable. Find out what they did.

A cleaning service with heart

Benjamin, 31, left a job in venture capitalism in 2016 when he heard about several older workers who had been retrenched. Soon after, he started a cleaning business to hire them, working with social service agencies from day one and partnering them to provide jobs for marginalised Singaporeans. Today, the company has grown into a sustainable business with a pool of corporate clients.

Spic & Span was set up to hire people from vulnerable communities who would usually be shunned by other employers.

“I felt I could do more, to help people more directly,” said Benjamin.

Benjamin with a member of his team.

These people include ex-convicts, displaced workers, people from marginalised families and persons with disabilities. The company has seven workers who have a range of physical and intellectual disabilities, including the company’s vice-president of business development, a man in his 50s who suffered a stroke and was retrenched from his previous job.

Hiring persons with disabilities has its challenges, but these can be addressed.

“You are concerned if they can actually physically do the job, and if they will be able to get along with colleagues and clients,” said Benjamin, whose company specialises in cleaning services for offices in downtown Singapore.

“We work with social workers to conduct job coaching, counselling and other training to ensure that the transition is a smooth one.”

Since its inception, the company has been given the Champion of Good Award by the National Volunteer and Philanthropy Centre in 2017 and 2018, and the Asia-Pacific Social Enterprise Award by Taiwan’s Ministry of Economic Affairs in 2019.

Benjamin (right) receiving the Enabling Champion Award at the 5th Enabling Employers Awards from Minister for Social and Family Development Desmond Lee.

Creating a welcoming and inclusive workplace

As HSBC’s Head of Mutual Funds and ETFs (South East Asia), George Lam was looking to fill a 6‑month position.

Amongst the many applicants who responded, Alwyn Keng, a quadriplegic, had put forward one of the strongest CVs the senior banker had ever come across. Alwyn performed superbly during the interview too.

Said George: “Since Alwyn is able to perform the role, there is no reason not to offer him the position just because he is a person with disability.”

“I treated him as I would any fresh graduate. Personally, I am heartened to see how Alwyn has grown personally and professionally over the past year. Not to mention, he is a good addition to the team and his presence has make the team stronger.”

George (right) and Alwyn (3rd from right) with colleagues.

Once the offer was accepted, George took the lead to create a welcoming and inclusive office for Alwyn. He spoke with the bank’s facilities management team to prepare for Alwyn’s first day.

They discussed potential areas that needed to be looked at, which led to the installation of an emergency button in the office’s handicapped washroom, and a desk that could accommodate his wheelchair. He also ensured that Alwyn was issued a laptop, instead of the standard-issue desktop computer, which allowed him to work from home as needed.

One day, George noticed that Alwyn had some difficulty going up a slope in the office as the floor was carpeted. He asked the facilities team to remove the carpet, which they did over the weekend.

“To me, the extra effort taken to ensure his safety and successful onboarding is what is expected of a people manager,” said George. “I hope that this example will encourage even more managers to do the same.”

Alwyn said George is an encouraging supervisor who plays to the strength of his employees and finds opportunities to let them shine.

“Unlike most contingency staff, I was given incremental responsibilities and had the opportunity to give product presentations on division-wide meetings, and suggest means to improve existing processes. It’s really my privilege to be mentored by him,” said Alwyn, who now holds a permanent position at the bank as an analyst.

George (right) receiving the Enabling Champion Award at the 5th Enabling Employers Awards from Minister for Social and Family Development Desmond Lee.