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Pearls of wisdom: Career advice from women leaders to their younger selves

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Management and leadership guru, Maya-Hu Chan has said even if all the barriers around the glass ceiling were to magically disappear, the final obstacle to be overcome might be the mindset of the women themselves.

Ahead of International Women’s Day (8 March), Human Resources spoke to more than 60 HR and women leaders, and asked: “If you were to turn back time and meet your younger self, what message would you convey to help yourself overcome the challenges of climbing to the top?”

We will be presenting their responses in a 16-part series, so stay tuned!

In this first part, we showcase advice from 10 women leaders from banking and finance, media, to tech and consumer products. See what they have to say.


Nirupa Chander, Country Service Manager, Singapore and Digital Lead for Southeast Asia, ABB

With all the society expectations, sometimes quite disproportionately weighed against women, it is not a surprise that what starts out with a small question in a young girl’s mind metamorphosizes into a lack of self-belief or aspiration.

I would simply tell myself to continue to ignore all the signs, messages and noise around me that tells me what I can’t or shouldn’t do and firmly believe in myself.

Cristina Istria, Director, Talent & Development, Amcor Flexibles Asia Pacific

Careers are not ladders, they are jungle gyms.

You need to focus on different priorities at different life stages – being able to do it all is impossible, you need to continually reassess and decide what your priority is RIGHT NOW.

Sometimes it will be family and sometimes it will be your career, but just be true to yourself and your decisions.


Sophie Guerin, Head of Diversity & Inclusion, APJC, Dell Technologies

Identify and seek guidance from several mentors. Don’t expect to receive universal advice from just one mentor.

By getting a range of perspectives to your various career questions, you will make the right decision combined with your knowledge and instincts. Most importantly, continue to nurture your relationships as your career develops.


Sheena Ponnappan, Chief People Officer at Everise

I would tell myself to be more mindful of controlling my destiny, by not allowing other people’s expectations, opinions and validations consume me.

To dare to dream the impossible dream and be the person who embraces the possibility of change in herself, others and the industry.

Geraldine Kan, Head of Communications, HP APJ

Build knowledge and influence maps; chart a list of sponsors and mentors – you need both.

Mentors help you grow – from navigating the organisation better to getting frank feedback about how you are perceived. Sponsors advocate for you, influence your next role or have access to the people who hire for those roles.


Nik Hasniza Nik Ibrahim, Head, Group Human Resource, Kenanga Investment Bank

There is very little I would do differently. Throughout the years the following reminders to myself helped me greatly.

Stay true to yourself and NEVER compromise yourself to get ahead. Always remain professional, set high standards for yourself, treat a challenge as an opportunity and take ownership and pride in your work.

Rebecca Lewis, Strategic Director, Mutant Communications

Don’t stress so much. There’s always going to be worries, but don’t let them consume you. Work hard, but don’t neglect your passions.

Shut up and listen to your smart friends who are trying to help. Yes, you’re awesome, but you’re not the best at everything. You don’t have all the answers and you never will… you’ll be truly liberated when you realise this.


Balaka Niyazee, Vice President& General Manager, P&G Korea and Gender Equality Executive Sponsor, P&G Asia Pacific

You are not alone in this. You will meet managers and mentors who believe in you and will invest in your growth.

Take up opportunities to acquire new experiences and skills. Don’t hesitate to ask for more challenges.

Participate in leadership programs within your company to build your capability and “lean in” to be more assertive about your aspirations and challenges.


Amy Huang, Head of Design, RedMart

Be your own biggest fan, and stay true to your strengths. Don’t try to win at somebody else’s game.

It may seem like only the loudest voices are heard, but you can find another way. With preparation, persistence, and support, you will earn the respect that gets people to listen.


Bianca Stringuini, Senior Director, Inclusion & Community, Asia Pacific, Visa

I would tell my younger self, don’t get comfortable, you’ll change roles and industries.

I would also tell myself to hold on, it will be a hell of a ride, say yes more often and to try as many different things as possible, because you’ll learn from all of them.


This is just the first article in this 16-part series focusing on women leadership, and bridging the gap in gender diversity in organisations. Stay tuned for more!

Part 2: IWD2019 special: How CDL, Mars Inc, Standard Chartered Bank, and more are building balanced workplaces

Part 3: How leaders across Asia are taking responsibility to advocate a gender-balanced society

Part 4: Advice from 12 women leaders on overcoming career challenges

Part 5: 10 D&I initiatives that some of Asia’s most successful employers do

Part 6: If you could meet your younger self, what career advice would you give?

Part 7: ‘Don’t be afraid to be different’: Career advice from leaders across Asia

Part 8: 13 ways leaders like yourself can make an impact on gender equality

Part 9: How-To: 10 ideas you can adopt to help #BalanceForBetter

Part 10: Take a leaf out of these 10 women leaders’ career diary

Part 11: Action for change: How leaders from BASF, Emirates, Henkel, and more are taking responsibility for D&I

Part 12: Interviews with AXA Insurance, Cisco, HP, Roland Berger, and more on D&I issues

Part 13: #BalanceForBetter: Equal pay for equal work, meritocracy approach, and more

Part 14: Building diversity isn’t an HR role: How leaders across the board invest time into it

Part 15: [Watch] Nuggets of wisdom: 10 women leaders share career advice to their younger selves

Part 16: Be fearless and fight for your right: Tips for overcoming career challenges



Asia’s most renowned regional HR Excellence Awards is back in October in Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia to sieve out HR’s finest gems. Are you a diamond in the rough? View the categories and find out more.

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