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Equity Allies: Yayasan Sime Darby's CEO stresses the importance of merit and tenacity in career progression

Equity Allies: Yayasan Sime Darby's CEO stresses the importance of merit and tenacity in career progression

From her talents and abilities failing to be recognised, to being appointed the Foundation's first-ever CEO — Dr. Hjh. Yatela Zainal Abidin of Yayasan Sime Darby shares more in this brand new column.

Before taking on the role of Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Yayasan of Sime Darby (YSD), equity was, admittedly, off her radar, Dr. Hjh. Yatela Zainal Abidin (pictured above) reflects. "I was working hard, proving my worth in my various positions. Unfortunately, despite working efficiently and with more achievements throughout my pregnancies and immediate post-partum periods, my talents and abilities failed to be recognised - a norm for us then." 

It, therefore, came as a "welcome surprise" to her when Tun Musa Hitam, then Chairman of Sime Darby, appointed her as the Foundation's first-ever CEO. "He was surprised to have built a women-led management team for the foundation. I remember his welcoming remark at the first YSD Council meeting I attended: 'Women are taking over the world!'"

"Since then, my impression and passion for equity have evolved. We support and practise equity in the work we do across all YSD’s five pillars: by encouraging the impact from both male and female talents and leaders equally, as well as individuals with disabilities."

Dr. Hjh Yatela is the first leader to be featured in our brand-new column, Equity Allies, in which you'll get to meet the allies championing the way for equity in their businesses and everyday lives. Listen to their stories as they share what diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) mean to them, and how they are actively furthering their DEI journey.  

In this interview, we learn how Dr. Hjh Yatela is emphasising the importance of merit in her team's career progression, her tips for providing greater support for women employees, and more. Read the full journey of our Equity Ally of the week below.

Q How can we eliminate internal biases that prevent us from progressing equity at the workplace?

We strive to eliminate the impact of internal biases such as educating employees about stereotyping. For over a decade, we have supported our long-term partner, the Women's Aid Organisation (WAO), to advance various agendas, including the Anti-Sexual Harassment and Anti-Stalking bills, which have helped advance equity in the community and at work.

Furthermore, as proactive measures, YSD enabled WAO to provide training for Sime Darby Plantation employees, allowing for a secure and conducive work environment while recognising the rights of those marginalised. We further empower scholars with disabilities by providing them with access to development programmes and assisting them in employability, enabling them to be a part of the working ecosystem and eliminating internal biases.

Besides focusing on developing women and girls in sports, we take active measures in our sports pillar to build career opportunities for women such as sports coaches. YSD believes this will help showcase their skills in a typically male-dominated job field.

Q Could you share some steps you're taking as a C-suite leader to ensure you are #EmbracingEquity?

Firstly, I must acknowledge that my senior management team is all women, and we certainly need more men to Embrace Equity. However, I am never less proud of the team who have arrived where they are based on merit and tenacity.

I empower them to take the lead and stand out with my full support. I also encourage them to be creative in decision-making while practising strict governance standards, which has shaped them into formidable leaders. I also stress the importance of merit in the career progression of my team and provide opportunities to showcase this, such as unearthing the potential of employees from underprivileged and marginalised communities.

In YSD’s work, I also urge every level of the community to receive the assistance they need, such as toward benefiting people from the B40 group, those living with HIV, stateless children, and the Orang Asli.

Q Do you have any tips or recommendations for those of us who want to ensure greater support for women, regardless of their in-office or at-home work environment?

I continue to implement work-from-home arrangements for my team here, which has undoubtedly supported both men and women as it gives them the flexibility, they need without compromising their delivery at work to achieve YSD objectives. I believe that if we could work from home during the pandemic while performing at least three times more relief work on the ground, we should be able to carry on our work efficiently from wherever we are in this advanced world.

With this arrangement, not only do the women in my team benefit, but the men can also take care of the children and manage the household alongside their wives while carrying out their tasks and duties at YSD. As my team is small, any slack from a team member would be immediately detected – but I don’t have to worry about this. Everyone is motivated, ensuring YSD objectives are achieved when working in a conducive environment.

Thank you for reading our story! If you have any feedback, feel free to let us know — take our 2023 Readers' Survey here.

Lead image / Provided

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