Balance is not a women's issue, it's a societal issue. As they say, “it takes two hands to clap”. To achieve the balance essential for economies and communities to thrive, every individual (both women and men) have to play a part.
In this third part of our 16-part International Women’s Day series, we ask top leaders: "In your personal capacity, what do you do (or don't do) in order to build a gender inclusive environment in all aspects of your life?"
Here, we present the responses from leaders in these 10 organisations: AdNovum, AIA, Diageo, DBS Bank, Essence, Human Resources Development Fund (HRDF), Integral Ad Science, Quest, Shopee, and Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices (TAFEP).
As a bonus, also check out what the panellists from Standard Chartered Bank’s International Women’s Day breakfast event have shared - including an exclusive from Singapore's Minister for Manpower, Josephine Teo.
Leonard Cheong, Managing Director, AdNovum SingaporePromoting gender balance, diversity and equal opportunities in the workplace should be priorities for all business leaders. At AdNovum, we embrace diversity as part of our organisational DNA and promote the hiring of talents across different genders and backgrounds, including those with special needs. To ensure the success of inclusion initiatives, I believe that business leaders must take an active role in the recruitment and talent retention cycle.
I work with my hiring managers to ensure capability, job and culture fit in new hires first and foremost, concurrently with the commitment of building inclusivity.
Ho Lee Yen, Chief Customer and Marketing Officer, AIA SingaporeBuilding a gender inclusive environment is essentially about seeing everyone as people and talents, and not as men or women.
Everyone has the capacity to succeed and it takes a wise leader to look beyond superficial traits that cannot be changed and place higher regard on qualities such as hard work and attitude.
I personally make the effort to offer guidance and advice to everyone in my team, regardless of gender, race, religion, etc. I find it a lot more rewarding when everybody is empowered, knows that they have a chance to excel, and strives to be the best version of themselves.
Sam Fischer, President of Greater China and Asia Pacific, DiageoAt Diageo, we champion diversity both inside and outside of the workplace. In fact the very name of our company, ‘Diageo’, comes from the Latin word ‘dia’ and the Greek work ‘geo’ and gives us our purpose of “celebrating life everyday, everywhere”. That purpose is inclusive of everyone regardless of gender, ethnicity, sexual preference or religious beliefs. At our core, we believe that our culture gives us a competitive advantage and enables us to actively shape the future of our company, our partners, and the industry in which we operate. We draw upon our talented employees to unlock business opportunities – the fast-changing nature of trade and commerce means our employees are often the best assets we have to identify new and emerging trends.
I am also proud that our diversity targets are treated like financial ones, and they are regularly reviewed by senior management.
We’ve also taken a closer look at the construct of our organisation – moving to a flatter, more agile structure which encourage speeds, diversity of thinking and collaboration. It enables our people to be much closer to the decision makers, experience strategy and key messages and absorb from role models within Diageo.
While it absolutely comes from the top and our CEO Ivan Menezes, you cannot only build it from the top down. It needs to come from the middle and from the bottom - it has to come from everywhere around the organisation. Diversity and inclusion matters to our people. In Diageo in Asia-Pacific it’s not even really that it’s part of our agenda anymore – rather it is embedded firmly in our way of working, engrained within every fibre and a critical part of our DNA.
Soh Siew Choo, Managing Director and Head of Consumer Banking and Big Data Analytics Technology, DBS BankIn order to build a gender inclusive environment, the most important thing is to start with the right mindset. Education plays a fundamental role in removing stereotypes and unconscious bias. Both men and women need to put in effort to make the right choices and do the right thing when it comes to recognising and avoiding gender stereotypes.
At work and in my personal life, I consistently make a conscious effort to ensure my choices and decisions are free from pre-conceived stereotypes.
Creating a network of support for women is my next goal. A network of support is important as it enables transfer of learning from one person to another, and it’s also a good form of support.
Haruna McWilliams, Senior Vice President, Strategy, APAC, EssenceBeing a Japanese female, born in a country that ranks 110th out of 149 countries in terms of gender disparity, this is a topic that is very close to my heart.
It wasn’t so long ago that when I was interviewing for a strategy director role in Japan, the HR Director flat out told me, “I understand you’ve worked overseas and all - but you are a 30-year-old woman, so we can only pay you this much.” And while working on a beauty brand in my previous role, I learnt that 70% of working women leave the workforce when they have their first child. How is this being reflected in the Japanese economy? The average annual income for Japanese women in their 20s is US$29k while the same for men is US$35k, reflecting a ratio of 10:9.
That gap dramatically widens as women get older - in their 30s, the ratio becomes 10:8, and it deteriorates much further to 10:6 in their 50s. In other words, women in Japan are not able to maintain and grow their economic contribution as they become older. This problem extends beyond the corporate world, with over half of single mothers in Japan living in poverty mainly due to the lack of career paths and development for women, especially post childbirth.
So I have taken a very conscious decision:
For me, building a gender inclusive environment starts with me being present and living by example.
To enable greater gender balance in work-life settings, Japanese men in particular need to understand that working long hours is not better. Japan has the lowest productivity amongst the G7, and its economy has been stagnant for over two decades. By being present, I hope to encourage senior male leaders, in particular, to play an active role and have an earnest conversation about our progress towards gender parity.
Wan Yon Shahima binti Wan Othman, Chief Customer Officer, Human Resources Development FundIn my personal capacity, the balancing act extends to my family, work and the people I interact with every day.
Through my interactions in these instances and by not subscribing to traditional gender norms, I push the boundaries for not only what women can do but also men.
At work, I am the only woman in a C-suite position in my organisation and what I’ve realised in my journey to get here is that the further up the ladder you climb, the more apparent the glass ceiling is. It is undeniable that in Malaysia, more men are in higher positions and the not-so-invisible “boys club” still exists.
As an enthusiast of women leadership, I believe in actively providing deserving women the due recognition and opportunities that will help them go further professionally.
Women should be given certain opportunities to make up for the chances they are trailing due to a lack of gender diversity at work.
In whichever way I can, I make sure to bring up conversations on matters such as this with my superiors as incremental changes to matters such as these can immensely impact the gender balance across all aspects of life, which is a tough balance to achieve.
Maria Pousa, CMO, Integral Ad ScienceI think one of the biggest misconceptions about gender-balanced society is that it only benefits women, but the McKinsey Global Institute report finds that $12 trillion could be added to global GDP by 2025 by advancing women’s equality and participation. Greater women participation in the workforce can make a greater impact on the economy and society.
Now that numbers make the case for closing the gap, it’s also our responsibility as employers and governments to provide female employees with flexible workplace arrangements, child care facilities and other support groups needed so that they are able to find the balance and don’t drop off mid-way, citing family reasons.
To me, gender inclusivity is also about valuing diverse experiences, embracing the voices and ideas of all members of my team or family, regardless of gender, and incorporating those perspectives into the fabric of my decision making.
Vivien Li, Director, Human Resources, Quest Technology Systems Singapore
I’m working on being a mentor to female employees at work and in the community particularly on not being afraid of asking for fair and equal treatment that men enjoy.
Note: Quest Technology Systems Singapore is an adopter of the Tripartite Standard on Recruitment Practices, Tripartite Standard on Employment of Term Contract Employees, Tripartite Standard on Flexible Work Arrangements, and Tripartite Standard on Grievance Handling.
Zhou Junjie, Chief Commercial Officer, ShopeeI believe that equality is the way forward, and the onus is on business leaders to set the tone at the workplace. As the saying goes, “change starts from the top”.
I take it upon myself to set an example by ensuring that equal opportunities are the norm through fostering an inclusive, open and dynamic environment in the workplace.
Our recruiters and hiring managers take a zero tolerance approach to all forms of discrimination, and every job applicant is given a fair opportunity to interview, no matter the gender. At Shopee, employees will get equal chances to grow and develop, and will have equal access to opportunities. Additionally, all employees, regardless of department or seniority, work together in a shared open-concept space, which encourages cross-department discussion and interaction.
Roslyn Ten, General Manager, TAFEPGender diversity is vital to any workplace. It is not simply about hiring a certain number of female employees.
To be truly gender-inclusive, there must be mindset change and steps taken to reduce gender bias in the workplace. This gender-inclusive mindset must be communicated to everyone in the organisation so that everyone is aware and contributes towards a gender-inclusive workforce.
Note: Employers who need guidance to implement diversity policies can refer to TAFEP’s “Creating an Inclusive Workplace: A Start-Up Kit” for more details.
Bonus: Inputs from Standard Chartered Bank’s International Women’s Day breakfast eventJosephine Teo, Minister for Manpower, Republic of Singapore
While there will be prejudice everywhere you go, the vast majority of people are fair-minded. The vast majority of people will respond to feedback and they will respond to observation.
I like to ask questions. I think that as a result of this question, people will be put into the position to do something - not just by responding to my request to do so, but they will also internalise it and then apply it on many other occasions where they have the opportunity to influence the outcome.
It is necessary to be humble about it and yet not be so humble about it. We shouldn't overthink the impact that we make, yet also not underestimate the difference that we can make in the respective roles we are in.
You don't know to what extent you will affect people by just asking a simple question and giving them a sense of confidence so that they too can make a change in their lives and they will have the opportunity. In every single way possible, if we offer help and hope, I think that change can result from every single one of us.
Ayesha Khanna, Co-Founder and CEO, ADDO AI
From my experience, I notice that you do have to make more effort, at least in technology where women aren't equally represented.
For example, to my clients, it is often assumed that my co-founder is the techie and I'm just the business person - they are often surprised when I start to talk about algorithms. Then I start to call out the women who are quiet (ask for their opinon) and they gain more confidence.
I think that women have to encourage other women to to talk more.
Deborah Ho, Head of Southeast Asia, BlackRock
We're talking about gender today, but it's really about inclusion and including everybody.
Personally, life presented me with inclusion. I have a couple of special needs kids in my family and because I have to deal with these differences, I have to be an advocate for inclusion. That really transformed my life. It has shaped the decisions that I've made and more importantly, it has shaped how I view other people.
The first thing that comes to my mind is don't judge them, instead, enable them.
At home, I try to encourage my daughter and tell her that she has every right to succeed in any role - be it as a scientist or artist. I tell her to go out and do what she can.
At work, I find more opportunities to create more diverse platforms, bringing women into more male-dominated roles.
From L-R: Patrick Lee, Chief Executive Officer, Singapore, Standard Chartered Bank; Josephine Teo, Minister for Manpower, Republic of Singapore; Manisha Tank, award-winning journalist, CNN; Simon Cooper, Chief Executive, Corporate, Commercial & Institutional Banking, Standard Chartered Bank; Deborah Ho, Managing Director and Head of South East Asia, BlackRock; Ayesha Khanna, Co-Founder and CEO, ADDO AI. Photo by Standard Chartered Bank.
This is just the third article in our 16-part series focusing on women leadership, and bridging the gap in gender diversity in organisations. Stay tuned for more!