Shopee's Geraldine Ho, for instance, a mother of two who is currently expecting, has learned that the key to growth and development is to create an environment where employees feel respected and supported, equally.
For these 10 leaders, equity goes beyond the workplace — it has been ingrained in their personal lives. In this special feature, Arina Sofiah explores how equity has impacted their everyday experiences, be it in their role as a parent, or even back in their childhood. In turn, these experiences have shaped them into being the equitable leaders they are today.
This story is part of HRO's larger IWD campaign this year, with three separate concepts surrounding the same theme. To read all the stories, click here.
Geraldine Ho, Head of Retail and FMCG cluster, Shopee
With a leap of faith, I challenged myself to make a mid-career switch from management consulting to leading the retail business at Shopee. I am grateful for the opportunity to kick-start my e-commerce journey at Shopee and advance my career as a working mother.
As a pregnant mother of two boys, I strive to always be an equitable mom by treating each child as an individual, catering to their unique needs, strengths, and weaknesses, without playing favourites. I believe that the key to supporting their growth and development is to create an environment in which they feel equally respected, supported, and loved.
Likewise, as a team lead at Shopee, I endeavour to create an inclusive work environment for everyone and practise active communication with my team to help them grow holistically. People development is top-of-mind for me as I strongly believe that without good people, even the best strategy would be challenging to execute.
Naomi Ballantyne, Managing Director, Partners Life
Having grown up with a "Boadicea" mother who was physically strong and good at any sport; mentally resilient in the face of an incredibly tough childhood and marriage; able to maintain her self-respect and pride in a New Zealand where her Pacific Island heritage and accented English made her a target for racism; and still be the warm, cuddly mum who filled our home with love – I knew that girls could do anything and everything. I just didn’t know they could be celebrated for being able to do anything and everything.
In my career, there have been plenty of people (mostly men but also some women) who certainly didn’t celebrate my capabilities or my opinions, but my mother was always metaphorically sitting on my shoulder. As long as I believed she would be proud of what I had said or done, then I was right to keep saying it and doing it.
It is not other people’s opinions of you that matter – it is your own opinion of yourself that does. If you know you are a person of substance – then you are, and all the people who are not jealous of or threatened by you will be right beside you cheering you on.
Keren Cook, Global Consumer Advocate, NatureBee
Having worked in other industries where equity wasn’t embraced naturally, I count myself lucky to now be in the opposite position at NatureBee. Both at home and work, we have a very equal leadership and a flat organisational structure.
With a multi-national footprint, embracing equality has been a natural part of our DNA and encoded into our way of working across markets in the US and Asia-Pacific.
As CEO, it’s important for me that my team feel they can bring their full selves to work, and for our customers to feel represented. We hire based on skill and attitude, and while we do so, our team is conscious of being inclusive not just in the work culture we foster, but also in our product design and marketing strategy.
I’m proud that embracing equity is part of our DNA, and hope to see this become the norm for others globally.
Dr Troy Coyle, CEO, HERA
I recently read How to raise a feminist son by Sonoroa Jha. By far the most impactful follow-up action with my seven-year-old son was also the simplest. I merely explained to him the Oxford dictionary meaning of feminist, i.e., someone 'having the belief that women should have the same rights and opportunities as men'. I then explained the gender pay gap with some relatable examples.
Asha Gupta, Regional President Asia & Chief Strategy & Corporate Development Officer, Amway
I have had the good fortune of being blessed on many counts – be it my upbringing, where I was encouraged to always pursue my dreams, or my husband, who continues to support me both through all my global career moves and in the heavy lifting when it comes to parenting. Professionally, working for a company like Amway is the icing on the cake as we have truly built an equitable ecosystem that supports women in their careers by offering them flexibility and opportunity.
For me, embracing equity is all about how I can pay this forward to as many women in our workplace as possible, and in the mentoring circles that I am active in. I’m deeply grateful for my journey, and don’t take the real challenges women face lightly – I believe it’s my purpose as a leader to lean in strongly to support them.
Antoinette S. Gutierrez , Country Head, OMRON Management Center for Asia Pacific (The Philippines branch)
I was born and raised in the Philippines. As a child, I observed how other children feel anxious and always had this feeling of never being good enough when facing foreigners. I guess this has been the product of hundreds of years of colonisation from Spain and the United States. Generally, also, most of us as individuals do experience different levels of self-doubt, we go through phases of low self-esteem and also feel the need to withdraw from social situations.
Despite the above, sharing the family environment with four other female siblings, and living in a country where the 'you’re not good enough' feeling is normal, we were provided with opportunities to view ourselves as equal beings to the male gender and equal to other races or ethnicity. My parents helped cultivate the mindsets and practices necessary to create an affirming, inclusive, and equitable atmosphere for us, especially during our teenage years. Where I am now and what I have become is a product of a family that has always embraced equity.
The same culture is what I continue to pass on to my children, my community, my colleagues, my teammates, and my organisation, believing that embracing equity does make the world better for all of us.
Patricia Lee, Corporate Affairs Director, Asia Pacific Breweries Singapore (APBS)
At Asia Pacific Breweries Singapore (APBS), people are at the heart of our business. So embracing equity and inclusion in the workplace is not only the right thing to do, but it's also critical to our business success. As a leader working in a traditionally male-dominated industry, I'm in a privileged position to champion the DEI agenda at APBS. Amongst the many initiatives that we've rolled out include offering flexible work arrangements to make it easier for staff to balance their work and personal commitments; and prioritising mentorship and development programmes to help women feel supported in their careers.
I've seen firsthand how this has enhanced our winning culture and enabled us to attract more female talents to join our brewery. Today, women also make up 40% of APB’s leadership team. It's heartening to see this positive change and I look forward to continuing to brew a more equitable and inclusive workplace.
Joyce To, Instructor, XYZ
My fairly academic upbringing is somewhat at odds with my (part-time) life as a spin (indoor cycling) instructor. Growing up, it was envisaged that I would enter some high-flying corporate job and, indeed, I embarked on a legal career in my early 20s.
When I started turning my passion for spin into a part-time gig at the boutique wellness centre XYZ, I was somewhat unprepared for the challenges that lay ahead. From the physical demands and heavily client-facing obligations of the fitness industry, to the creative aspects of putting together a playlist and curating a wellness experience, I was definitely outside of my comfort zone. Luckily, the team at XYZ is one that embraces equity and therefore gives me ample support to thrive.
For example, my spin classes are scheduled around my legal day job. Fellow instructors also give me specific guidance on the technical aspects of fitness teaching. In return, my experiences outside of the fitness industry contribute to diversifying the roster of instructors at XYZ. #EmbracingEquity is a two-way street!
Jacqueline May Ling Liau, Head of Securities Services for ASEAN, HSBC
By the third year of my career, I started to think about, and practice, how I needed to conduct myself to be perceived as confident, knowledgeable, impactful, senior, etc. I got lots of input from my managers, mentors, sponsors, and coaches. They had good intentions and wanted to coach me so I could better fit in/impress/progress.
Having worked across multiple cultures, everyone’s advice eventually became confusing. I was increasingly uncomfortable in my own skin and wondered if banking was really right for me.
Eventually, I built up the self-assurance to let go of who I was supposed to be and embrace who I actually am – my values, my personality, and my priorities.
How? The unconditional love (and overwhelming fatigue), I got from having children showed me what really matters. Now, I have the ultimate 'equity' stake in raising my sons to be allies. Everybody needs one and the best way to get one is to be one.
Lara Jefferies, Founder and Managing Director, PLUG
Throughout my career, managing people has been the most challenging, humbling, and yet rewarding work I’ve done. People management is an organic, living, and evolving process as you are working with individuals who are all at different stages of their own unique journeys. Personally, I’ve had to adopt different coaching styles and provide varied training to my team members based on their own personal needs and in order to give each of them the best chance to grow.
There is no longer room for a 'one size fits all' management style if we want our team members to feel heard, understood, and respected. At PLUG, like in any business, we want our team members to thrive. That means cultivating a universal mindset and culture of thoughtfulness, openness, respect, and compassion, embracing our differences as individuals, appreciating them as strengths, and creating a safe environment for people to feel comfortable expressing their individuality.
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