Leaders should focus on individual experiences and capabilities, rather than family situations. "Many mid-career job seekers have very valuable experience in adjacent industries and are hungry to learn and grow. They also bring with them a maturity to handle challenges at work, whether it is managing difficult stakeholders or dealing with unexpected problems," she says.
Years into her career in management consulting, Shaowen Ang realised she wanted to pursue a career that allowed her to focus more on strategy, as well as end-to-end implementation. So when the opportunity arose with an offer to work with Shopee over five years ago — when it was just at its nascent stage — it felt like a natural step to take.
"However, at that time, I felt that I knew too little about the e-commerce space in Singapore and was worried that I would need a lot of time to adjust to this new environment. So, I told myself to be open to learning new things in a new environment, and, with the support of my colleagues, I was able to ease into my role seamlessly," she tells us.
Today, Ang is Director of Regional Operations at Shopee, where she oversees e-commerce operations, design strategy, and implementation of the processes and policies, which are essential to the relationship between buyers and sellers.
In this edition of Breaking Barriers, let's hear from her on how she overcame challenges in the transition to a new industry, how she as a mother of three young children finds balance between work and home commitments, the one mindset leaders should do away with when hiring and employing working mothers, and her advice for aspiring women leaders.
Q Given the difference in industry/setting, what challenges did you face transiting from one industry to the other, and how did you overcome them?
Back in 2016, when I first started at Shopee, it was still in its early stages of hypergrowth. That meant that there were some ambiguities to navigate, which included deciding the level of governance required for our ecosystems of partners, sellers, and buyers. However, I knew this also meant that there would be plenty of room for me to contribute to the company and my team’s overall processes and growth.
Since then, Shopee has grown to be a leading e-commerce platform, connecting shoppers, brands, and sellers across Asia and other fast-growing markets. Within Shopee itself, our team size has also expanded and we are proud to be continuously grooming local talent in the tech industry in Singapore.
Despite our fast growth, we are still focused on building an inclusive digital ecosystem that addresses the underserved needs of the markets we operate in.
Q How is your experience in management consulting helping you as a leader/manager today? What meaningful leadership lessons, qualities, and skills have you brought along with you?
My management consulting background has given me a variety of skills that I feel are useful for my current role in the e-commerce industry. For example, my experience in solving complex problems and addressing issues from a structured and logical perspective is an asset in my daily work as I am required to make calculated decisions daily on how to allocate resources.
Q In the same vein, having risen to a leadership role in five years at Shopee, what has stood out to you most about your journey, and what are you most excited about, going forward?
I am glad to see my own family grow alongside my team in Shopee. Through juggling roles at home and at work, I have learnt the importance of prioritisation and delegation. As our scope of work grows in tandem with Shopee’s strong momentum, it was crucial to delegate tasks and trust my team to perform and deliver. As a leader, I believe that this empowers my team to drive initiatives independently and assume more responsibilities.
I also actively foster open communication channels within my team so they know they have my support when facing challenges or complex decisions.
Our day-to-day work in Shopee’s Regional Operations team involves leveraging data to build actionable insights that help us solve problems and improve our processes. This is especially important for our teams who are responsible for user-facing features such as customer service, logistics, and seller operations.
Also, I believe that with the growing e-commerce market, small and medium businesses (SMEs) are definitely the backbone of our regional economy. Looking ahead, as part of the Regional Operations team, I am excited to continue our efforts to drive operational excellence and provide a seamless user experience for all.
Q How do you continue to maintain a work-life balance in this role & at home?
Spreading out my four months of maternity leave rather than taking it at one go has enabled me to ease back into working life slowly yet stay connected and involved in my babies’ formative first year. At Shopee, I have the flexibility to take leave when needed to attend to their needs, such as when I have to bring them to get immunisation shots at the doctor's.
I also try to bring my full self when I am at work or at home. This means being fully present with my children outside of work and on weekends, while being focused during working hours. I am fortunate to have a good support structure at home.
Q What is one mindset HR leaders/employers should do away with when hiring and employing working mothers?
HR leaders/employers should focus on individual experiences and capabilities, rather than family situations. Many mid-career job seekers have very valuable experience in adjacent industries and are hungry to learn and grow. They also bring with them a maturity to handle challenges at work, whether it is managing difficult stakeholders or dealing with unexpected problems.
At work, offering flexibility and understanding to working parents will motivate and retain some of the best staff. Of course, there must be strong mutual trust.
Q Instead, what is one mindset these leaders must adopt in embracing working mothers in leadership roles?
Understand that people are the foundation of progress and believe in enabling all employees to grow and develop in their careers, so they can drive the organisation and industry forward. This includes creating an environment where working mothers get the right support and resources to grow their careers and take on potential leadership roles, as well as balance their family commitments.
Shopee creates a welcoming and vibrant environment for female employees by offering a wide range of development opportunities, strong communities of support, and ways to build better wellbeing. These include child-friendly policies for working mothers, such as flexible work arrangements and childcare leave entitlements.
Working parents form a big part of the overall talent pool in Singapore, so being fair and inclusive is necessary for any organisation to stay competitive.
Q What is one piece of advice you have for aspiring women leaders?
Be clear about what you want and work towards your goals. Once we accept that some trade-offs are necessary, we free ourselves from unnecessary guilt or distraction, and get to enjoy the journey towards these goals.
Q Please also share some tips for these aspiring leaders who are working mothers, and mothers looking to return to work after a break.
Identify what is most important to you and make it work. Personally, I decided that it was a priority for me to put my babies to bed every night at 7.30pm. In order to make that happen, I choose to leave work earlier, only coming back online once my babies are asleep and if needed. I think as a mother who works full-time in the tech industry, it is necessary to make sacrifices. For me, this means waking up earlier in order to take my children for a walk every morning before I go to work.
It also helps to plan your childcare arrangements early, be it support from relatives or childcare centres.
Lastly, give yourself grace if you have a bad day at work or at home. Try your best not to compare and put too much pressure on yourself.
In this 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. Read all our Breaking Barriers interviews here.
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