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13 ways leaders like yourself can make an impact on gender equality

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Openly sharing experiences, breeding a culture of inclusivity starting from home, and treating others as you’d want to be treated yourself – these are just some things leaders are doing to build a gender inclusive environment in all aspects of their life.

In this eighth part of our 16-part series, see what leaders such as Laura Wong of Amcor Flexibles Asia Pacific, Michelle Woodley of Preferred Hotels & Resorts, Chris Clark of Visa, and many more are doing.


Laura Wong, Vice President, Sales & Marketing, Amcor Flexibles Asia Pacific

As a senior leader, I encourage other women to take on leadership positions when I mentor them; openly sharing my experiences and being candid about any difficulties I’ve encountered. I am proud of my achievements at work and in my personal life, and I show by example how women can achieve both.


Michelle Zatlyn, Co-Founder and COO, Cloudflare

Diverse teams are more productive, more effective and more enjoyable to spend time with. As a leader, I believe it is essential that we talk openly about the importance of building a gender-inclusive environment. I find that by making it a part of everyday conversations, including at leadership team meetings, men and women are better able to help enable a gender-inclusive workplace.


Sophie Guerin, Head of Diversity & Inclusion, APJC, Dell Technologies

Increasingly, I find more women like myself in business, and it is through sharing our personal circumstances that we can highlight multiple, successful career paths and family dynamics. As such, I make sure to talk about my husband, our careers and how we make decisions. He is a primary school teacher, and I work in a corporate environment that dictates where we live. Sharing these differences can help us challenge unconscious bias and in that process, explore and embrace various careers.


Nunzio Mirtillo, Senior Vice President and Head of Ericsson South East Asia, Oceania & India

As an Italian, I have been brought up from a young age to understand the importance of gender parity. I am convinced that both men and women have an equal part to play for a more gender-balanced society.

Within my family, I make sure that all of us share the responsibilities in the household equally, with the liberty of choice to pursue our own passions and interests. I strongly encourage both my daughter and son to choose their academic and professional pursuits with a gender-free lens.

At Ericsson, I also make it a point to have diversity in my leadership team – in terms of gender, age, nationality and culture and even experience. Diversity fuels innovation, which makes us a more effective team. This is why I have ensured that we establish a Diversity & Inclusion Council for our overall region as well as for each market within our region.


Angelica Lim, General Manager, Aerospace & Defence Group, Experia Events

While there are more women than men in events management, there are fewer in leadership roles. Gender disparity has long always been an issue in the MICE industry.

However, it heartens me to see the progressive evolution of women leaders in this traditionally male-dominated industry today. Throughout my career, I have grown to appreciate the power that comes from diverse teams and I believe that the MICE industry presents several opportunities for women from various backgrounds to come together, push boundaries and raise the bar by setting new benchmarks and standards.

At Experia Events, we recognise strong talents as we seek to fulfil our mission to create events that influence. Such purpose for a higher good requires a committed and gender-inclusive environment.


Dr. Iri Sato Baran, Co-Founder and President, Genesis Healthcare Asia

I stopped thinking about gender issues altogether and have ensured that the transformation starts with me, as an individual, where at the workplace and across all aspects of my life, being female or male didn’t alter end results. We all need to change our mindset to believe that diversity should be the standard norm and gender should serve as one component. Rather than segregating gender issues, the society should address it in a bigger topic of humanitarianism. These are the thoughts I have carried with me over the years, and one that I portray and lead with.


Sharon Lee, COO, HReasily

I do not look at a person’s gender as it has always been about who is the best person for the job, at work or at home. At HReasily, the co-founders, with their own expertise, complement each other in many ways. We empower our colleagues with the right skills to out-perform their roles. At home, I have a supportive family – a husband, two daughters and my parents, who have roles to play too. In general, mutual respect makes work and life tick like clockwork.


Samantha Buttle, Managing Director, Ka-BLOOM Group

Every day, I challenge assumptions that there are certain molds that people should fit into. I do this by simply questioning and probing my own thinking, and the thoughts my clients express through our coaching sessions and consulting work. There is a reality that our brains have limited capacity and stereotypes simply make things more efficient, but I am aware of, and resist my own individual urges to reduce people to those stereotypes, and I try to encourage those around me to critically analyse these automatic thoughts too.

As part of my work with the Women’s Foundation in Hong Kong, and with our clients at Ka- BLOOM Group, I work with organisations to improve diversity and gender inclusiveness. This work is sometimes done within small teams where there’s an acute issue, or at the organisational level where there’s infrastructure, policies or commonly held beliefs that deserve reconsidering. In particular, I advocate for personalised approaches to HR and management — for example, when recruiting, to look at the individual’s capabilities for the role and the transferability of their skills, rather than just their previous experience and background.


Michelle Woodley, President, Preferred Hotels & Resorts

I believe it is important for us to breed a culture of inclusivity across all ages, and all genders and much of this starts at home.

As a mother of 2 boys – we have always led a family life that celebrates all aspects of diversity and inclusion. For example, my boys have accompanied me to get manicures and pedicures! They cook meals with me in the kitchen and we share new recipes that we find online. Likewise, I have been active with them on the football field and in watching videos on how to build a car engine.

My husband and I have been conscious of avoiding phrases like “that’s only for girls”, or “boys are supposed to do this.”  Our sons have witnessed two parents who both work hard outside the home while contributing equally to household needs like cooking, cleaning and shopping. As teenagers now, we believe they have an enlightened view of the world and no pre-dispositions about gender roles.

This attitude carries over into my work life as well. Whether a male or female associate, the requirements are based on job function, not on gender.


Tara O’Sullivan, CMO, Skillsoft

I ask everyone the same question in interviews. There is this fantastic piece of research about VC funding and what they asked female led companies versus male led. They asked men about the opportunities for gain, women were asked about the opportunity for losses.  It’s a promotion versus prevention concept.  The problem with these questions is that you answer them in different ways; a promotion question gets a promotion answer and a prevention question causes women to stay talking about the potential losses. Rather than the potential for the business.

I think people tend to do this in job interviews too. So I ask the same 8 questions to everyone. Whatever gender, age or religion. A lot of this is subconscious behavior. But even so, we have to make people more aware.


Chris Clark, Regional President, Asia Pacific, Visa

My personal approach is to always treat others as you’d want to be treated yourself, regardless of gender or anything else. If you think about it is a pretty high bar in most cases.

I’ve found that in the many countries in which I’ve worked and lived, being inclusive in my words and actions has served me well across different cultures and people. This can include something as simple as ensuring my team has the flexibility they need to manage personal or family obligations or celebrate milestone events.

But it also includes recognising my own potential for unconscious bias and working to balance that with input from colleagues, friends and my own family members. This is actually a core behaviour that I believe drives an inclusive environment for all, ensuring diversity of thought and background as well as gender and culture.


Vivek Nath, Head of Southeast Asia & South Asia, and Country Head, Singapore, Willis Towers Watson

My “aha” moment happened when a friend shattered a long held belief that I was gender inclusive. That conversation made me recognise the difference between just believing in gender inclusiveness versus being actively involved in shaping the conversation around gender inclusiveness.

For instance, one might believe that there is no gender bias in our hiring decisions. However, as a leader, what role have we played in ensuring that our organisation has the enablement structures to ensure that a diverse candidate profile is coming to our desk in the first place?

This discussion can stretch to how we as an organisation make a host of reward and talent management decisions. I have, as a result of that conversation, become a more active participant in the gender conversation and work closely with colleagues to create a culture of enablement. This is important for us as our vision is to become an inclusive, empowering workplace that attracts and retains the best talent in Willis Towers Watson.


Marita Abraham, Chief Marketing Officer, Zilingo

Gender biases exist in some form or the other whether we admit it or not. While we can’t wage war every time we witness prejudice, we can definitely make a conscientious effort to fight the battles which are in our control. The expectation for women leaders to make economies more gender inclusive goes beyond creating just a balanced headcount. Questions arise of culture – how we make the workplace more women friendly, do they feel empowered to raise their hand and ask for help or flag bias, and so on.

We’ve seen that injecting a culture of gender equality in all our decisions, our mission and our vision is crucial. We can only teach what we believe in and strive for, anything else is disingenuous and won’t sustain. So it’s important to follow the same values and principles in our own way of life.


We still have eight more parts to our series focusing on women leadership, and bridging the gap in gender diversity in organisations. Stay tuned for more!

Part 1: Pearls of wisdom: Career advice from women leaders to their younger selves

Part 2: IWD2019 special: How CDL, Mars Inc, Standard Chartered Bank, and more are building balanced workplaces

Part 3: How leaders across Asia are taking responsibility to advocate a gender-balanced society

Part 4: Advice from 12 women leaders on overcoming career challenges

Part 5: 10 D&I initiatives that some of Asia’s most successful employers do

Part 6: If you could meet your younger self, what career advice would you give?

Part 7: ‘Don’t be afraid to be different’: Career advice from leaders across Asia

Part 9: How-To: 10 ideas you can adopt to help #BalanceForBetter

Part 10: Take a leaf out of these 10 women leaders’ career diary

Part 11: Action for change: How leaders from BASF, Emirates, Henkel, and more are taking responsibility for D&I

Part 12: Interviews with AXA Insurance, Cisco, HP, Roland Berger, and more on D&I issues

Part 13: #BalanceForBetter: Equal pay for equal work, meritocracy approach, and more

Part 14: Building diversity isn’t an HR role: How leaders across the board invest time into it

Part 15: [Watch] Nuggets of wisdom: 10 women leaders share career advice to their younger selves

Part 16: Be fearless and fight for your right: Tips for overcoming career challenges



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