The theme for this year’s International Women's Day (IWD) is #BreakTheBias, which envisions a world that is diverse, equitable, and inclusive.
In this brand-new series of interviews, titled Breaking Barriers, HRO speaks to women leaders globally who have forged their paths and made a mark in their career of choice, doing what they love best — living out their passions and uplifting others to go further and faster. We're going to be speaking to leaders in a range of sectors so stay tuned, and enjoy this debut interview featuring a leader from the paint and chemical industry!
Pamela Phua, Product Management Director, Decorative Paints, Southeast Asia and South Asia (SESA), AkzoNobel has spent 18 years in R&D and product management at AkzoNobel, launching innovative products such as Dulux Weathershield/PowerFlexx. She also contributed to the development of various Singapore Standards for paint, such as SS 345, SS 579*, and many others.
Based in Singapore, she covers the SEA, South Asia, and APAC regions, with the key markets for decorative paints being India, Pakistan, Indonesia, Vietnam, Singapore, Malaysia, and Thailand. Phua is also an A*STAR certified auditor, and is actively involved in projects to create inspiring living spaces for local communities and to promote green architecture trends, which really speaks to her passion for sustainability.
Having had to work part-time to supplement her family’s income and siblings’ education growing up, here's how Pamela Phua surmounted several walls over the course of her career thanks to leaders who believed in her, as Aditi Sharma Kalra finds out.
Read on for the interview:
Q Tell us some of the highlights of your journey with AkzoNobel.
My initial role at AkzoNobel was in R&D – a natural starting point for me as I majored in industrial chemistry. Over the past 20 years, we have developed exciting innovations that are commercially successful and environmentally friendly, such as the popular Dulux Weathershield, Ambiance, and Easyclean.
In 2017, I took over as General Director of Decorative Paints in Vietnam. My 4.5 years working with the Vietnam team was one of the most remarkable times in my career. We achieved the highest operating income in the region and the highest growth rate and return on sales worldwide. We were recognised as one of the most sustainable companies in Vietnam and an active contributor to community projects. We helped to promote green architecture in Vietnam and protect the country’s heritage through repainting, smart city, and heritage preservation projects.
My expertise and experience have been instrumental in the setting up of industry standards in Singapore. I am the President and Technical Chairperson for the Singapore Paint Industry Association and an industry consultant to organisations such as Enterprise Singapore, Singapore Green Label, Housing and Development Board, among others. I have also contributed to the development of various Singapore standards for paint.
I had the privilege of taking part in various United Nations' Climate Change Conferences, the last one being COP26 in Glasgow where I shared how paint can combat climate change challenges.
Most recently, I was appointed Product Management Director of Decorative BU, SESA in 2021. In this strategic role, I will focus on developing innovative products in line with our sustainability strategy.
Q Have you faced any barriers in your career due to being a woman? How did you overcome them?
Women face barriers in all stages of their lives. When I interviewed for medical school, it was clear that men were preferred as “female doctors might leave the profession when they start a family”. Social and cultural mores tell a woman to stay home to take care of her family. Even at work, women must work twice as hard to gain recognition.
I feel there is a perception that being a leader is too challenging for women – although I think that is slowly changing in more progressive companies.
AkzoNobel creates an environment where everyone can speak their minds and be passionate about what they do. This helped me to get outside my comfort zone to take on various important positions in the company.
Q What drives you? Are there any personal beliefs/people from whom you draw strength?
I have been a fighter since young. Growing up, my family wasn’t well off. As the oldest of four siblings, I had to work part-time to supplement my family’s income and my siblings’ education.
I had the fortune of working for leaders who believed in me and pushed me to achieve more than I thought I could. I managed to surmount many walls by standing on their shoulders.
The most important role of any leader is to break down barriers and inspire their teams to do what they thought is impossible.
Now that I am a senior people leader myself, I am compelled to do the same for my team. I actively put aside my biases and push members of my team to achieve their full potential. I strive to create a level playing field for everyone to reach their aspirations.
Q What is the most important message you want to send out to young women thinking about their careers?
Bruce Lee said, “be like water”, I say:
• Be resilient – Love what you do and work hard to achieve your goals but do it with passion and poise.
• Be patient – Accept that sometimes there are detours along the path of life. Give yourself time to learn and forgive yourself when you make mistakes. Don’t be your worst enemy.
• Be creative – You can’t drive innovation if you don’t try new things and fail along the way.
• Be curious – Every day and every interaction whether positive or negative is a learning opportunity.
SS 345 – Specification for emulsion paints for decorative paints
SS 579 – Specification for water-based sealer for interior and exterior uses
Photo / Provided