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

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Asking questions to combat unconscious biases, creating a culture that lets each individual thrive by being their best selves, and setting an example for people to follow – these are just some things leaders are doing to build a gender inclusive environment in all aspects of their life.

In this 11th part of our 16-part series, see what leaders such as Anna Di Silverio of Avanade, Lina Marican of Mutant Communications, Sandie Overtveld of Zendesk, and many more are doing.


Anna Di Silverio, Area President, Growth Markets (Asia Pacific and Brazil), Avanade

“Am I saying or doing this because of who I think he or she is?” I ask myself this question as often as I can – whether at work, at home or at my favorite restaurant with friends.

More often than not, our unconscious biases and the assumptions that we make can slip through our language, our actions and reactions. This is an aspect which I am always conscious of – in professional and personal settings – to ensure all of us, starting from myself, start playing an active role to challenge societal ‘norms’ and stereotypes.

Coming to terms with our biases and taking the steps to see past them can empower not only yourself but the people around you as well.


Andy Postlethwaite, Chairman & Director on the Board of Directors of BASF South East Asia

At BASF, everyone has the opportunity to develop and contribute in the best way they can, regardless of ethnicity, gender or age. There are equal opportunities for all based on talent and potential. Having said that, women employees may still require some extra push in realising their potential, and this can be tied to personal, organisational or societal reasons. For this reason, I make it a point to encourage female leaders to pursue leadership and development courses and giving them opportunities to shine. We commemorated International Women’s Day by holding a panel discussion with employees on the topic of the impact of gender on career.

On a more personal note, I have daughters myself and it is my goal to empower them to take charge of their lives and not let gender get in the way at all. Whether it is pursuing a “masculine” sport like football or rugby, or choosing a “male-dominated” discipline like science and engineering, I am all for being consciously unbiased towards gender.


Andrew Bunn, Emirates Area Manager for Singapore, Brunei and Malaysia

At Emirates, we help empower our female employees by creating a flexible, inclusive and fair work environment that supports and enables them to realise their full potential. We also offer learning and development opportunities through a suite of programmes. Globally, female employees constitute over 40% of the workforce at Emirates, and while many are cabin crew, women also occupy over 20% of all supervisorial and managerial roles within Emirates, including in roles as diverse as aircraft engineers, mechanics, and technicians for aircraft maintenance and repairs. In Singapore, over 60% of our staff are females, with most of our departments here headed by women.

As a father of two daughters, I fully understand the importance of setting a good example at work and supporting an inclusive, diverse team. This year, we aim to attract and develop more female talent in the business, starting with our pilot roadshows and cabin crew open days to spread awareness about aviation as a viable career option for women.


Sisca Margaretta, Chief Marketing Officer, Experian Asia Pacific

Building equal opportunities for inclusion, across genders, is key to developing thriving economies and communities. In Asia, many women (and men) lack financial knowledge and access. Enabling fairer access to financing creates greater opportunities for personal growth, leadership and entrepreneurship.

In my personal capacity, I am building a diverse team that is dedicated to financially empowering more communities. We have worked with 1,000 women in Vietnam to improve financial education levels and daily earnings, supported thousands of female foreign domestic workers in Asia with financial literacy programmes and educated 30,000 low-income individuals in India, especially women, on digital financial services. We aim to improve levels of financial inclusion, and as a result, economic inclusion, for societies in the region.


Tan Siok Peng, Senior Vice President Finance, Exyte Asia-Pacific

Building a balanced and inclusive environment is essential for economies and communities to thrive, and it is not a numbers’ game. Balance to me, is an amalgamation of various factors.

Whether at home or at work, I consciously ensure that I harness the best potential in the people around me. Regardless of the differences that may exist within societies, at the workplace or at home, I believe that by adopting a combination of “best person for the best job” mantra, showing encouragement and walking the talk, that to me will help towards building a more balanced and inclusive environment.


Thomas Holenia, President of Henkel Singapore and Managing Director of Global Supply Chain Hub in Singapore

At Henkel, Diversity & Inclusion is deeply embedded in our corporate culture and is the responsibility of every leader. When hiring for my team, for example, we strive for a balanced mix of female and male candidates where possible. That said, we don’t follow a quota but hire the best suited person.

Additionally, I believe in taking all necessary steps to allow our employees – regardless of gender – to accommodate their private and professional life. This includes flexible work arrangements, such as home office. Another aspect is providing equal opportunities in terms of assignments and exposure for career development.

With these efforts, I am pleased that we have achieved an equal mix of male and female employees in our Asia-Pacific Purchasing department and leadership team.


Helen McGuire, Co-Founder & MD, Hopscotch.work

Equality starts at home. It is truly impossible for men and women to be on an equal footing if there isn’t an understanding of that within a family.

For us, we’re lucky that we each have our own businesses, meaning we can easily build the flexibility we need to make life balance with our young children (we have three under five).  In essence, this has meant that not only do we share the load of daycare pick ups and drop offs, bedtimes and allowing each of us to travel for work when needed; but also that we can implement flexible working policies for our staff and those around us.

For my business, Hopscotch.work, which is a women’s careers platform that actively promotes flexible work, we employ staff on part time and flexible hours.  For my husband’s company, it’s meant ensuring flexible start and end times for all employees – not just the mums – so that the responsibilities can be shared by dads, uncles, aunties or even friends!

This all means a fairer approach and is a small change that can make a huge difference to a work life balance and career.


Evonne Chung, Managing Director, Landor Singapore 

I think about inclusivity in an overarching manner, where gender is one tenet of a larger conversation about equality, embracing diversity and enabling empowerment. The starting point should be about engaging as individuals, and not along gender lines.

At Landor, for example, we focus on one’s person and capability, rather than make assumptions based on gender. Do they have the right skills and aptitude to drive shared ambition? Where are they on their personal journey, and how can we, as an organisation, add value so we engender mutual growth? Do they possess characteristics that will shape culture? How can we remove barriers and not get in the way of talent? These are foundational blocks that in turn, foster the right environment to create equal opportunities and keep unconscious bias at bay.

I try to be objective about what I first see, then look keenly for the sparks of ‘all things bright and beautiful’ and figure out how to amplify it a thousandfold.


David Hickey, VP Sales APAC, Meltwater

At Meltwater, it is my responsibility to help grow and align our teams so that we’re set up for success and growth. One key factor in achieving that goal is to create an environment where everyone – regardless of gender – feels that they can speak up and voice their opinions.

I’m fortunate enough to work in a diverse organisation, but being an ally and creating a safe space does require a certain degree of mindfulness, especially towards unconscious biases and even language. Ultimately, I realise that this is not something I can achieve on my own, and I’m thankful to the colleagues I work closely with that help me build this ecosystem where everyone can thrive.


Lina Marican, Managing Director, Mutant Communications

Agencies are notorious for long, inflexible hours – and I’ve seen many talented women leave because of that. My biggest priority is to create a culture that lets each individual thrive by being their best selves.

By empowering each employee to take ownership of their own schedules, I’ve seen them grow by leaps and bounds as they enjoy the flexibility to shape when and where they want to work. From choosing their own schedules to start their day earlier, to a staggered approach to ease them back into work after maternity leave, we help each employee create an ideal situation that helps them manage both work and life.

We trust each of our Mutants to make adult decisions, and this is why we have a happy, loyal and engaged team where everyone brings their A game to the table.


Jay Huang, CEO and co-founder of Pulsifi

As a person who strives to be objective in all my life evaluations, I would like to think that gender inclusion is a fundamental part of my value system, and something I don’t have to consciously think of anymore. This is reflected in Pulsifi, where we are blind to gender identity and expression when we hire and groom our team members. Right now, we have women in key leadership positions, even in technical areas like software engineering, and 40% of our team members are female, which is more than double the global average proportion in young technology companies.

At home, I share the usual household responsibilities that need to be done, such as sweeping, mopping and cleaning. When it comes to cooking, however, I get the brunt of the load as I enjoy it more than anyone else.


Anneliese Schulz, Regional President for Software AG Asia Pacific and Japan (APJ) 

Diversity is a key enabler for organisations to excel in performance and creativity. As such I have personally driven the Software AG Asia mission to realise a balanced mix of male and female talent across the sales function. Internally, I have supported diverse activities such as an internal “faces” campaign, women network calls, #beyourbestyou campaign, etc to support with my contribution and presence the realisation that Software AG has female talent in sales functions, too.

Externally, I have worked with Petersen&Petersen and various other female leadership networks to support awareness of female in senior leadership positions and discuss how to further support a conscious build of a gender diverse organisation.

Last but not least, I am a proud godmother of a young girl, who one day asked me to explain what I do for work. After a while, she asked summarising if I am a boss, and confirmed her understanding with a smile, saying that this is what she wants to be one day, too. It is has been humbling to see that I am able to impact such a young girl’s life.


Larissa Tan, CEO of Vanda Electric

A gender-balanced society affects both men and women for the better. There are many different skills that both genders bring to the table that the other may not have. We have to be aware that when certain situations arise, our unconscious bias kicks in. This could be because the other person is of a different gender, ethnicity or background.

But to build a truly diverse workforce, we need to focus on the results. Future successes will not all be based on know-how and experience, but judgement, resilience, empathy and different thought ideas will be valued equally.

If we can accept that men and women are inherently different, we are not equal, we can start to see the good and the different values and skills that each bring to the table that will set our society for balance and businesses up for success. What we strive for is not equality of the genders, but equality in opportunity for all.


Sandie Overtveld, VP APAC, Zendesk

Zendesk is very proud of its commitment to gender inclusiveness, which has been a cornerstone of our corporate culture for the past 12 years.

My role is to be an ally: to try to set an example for our people to follow; to be an active participant in initiatives that help us break down barriers to encouraging women to take on a variety of roles in our business; and to constantly be open to listening, learning about and understanding the challenges our colleagues face.

I encourage our teams to foster a culture where open, honest and respectful communications are the norm – even if it means sometimes having uncomfortable conversations that highlight areas we still need to learn and improve. Our ultimate aim is to empower everyone – regardless of gender, sexual orientation or race – the ability to speak up and be heard.


We still have five 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 8: 13 ways leaders like yourself can make an impact on gender equality

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 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

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