Developing Asian Women Leaders: Event Highlights

Posted on November 2, 2017

Developing Asian Women Leaders: Event Highlights

Developing Asian Women Leaders - Aperian Global

October 30th, 2017, Singapore

Aperian Global recently facilitated a discussion on the topic of Developing Asian Women Leaders, hosted by our global client and partner, Johnson & Johnson and attended by over 40 global organizations based in Singapore.

The focus was on the specific challenges women in Asia face to reach senior level leadership positions. Aperian Global shared insights and actionable strategies that organizations, as well as individual men and women, can take to move the needle.

Mui Hwa Ng, Director of Consulting, Singapore for Aperian Global spoke about the systemic barriers women face organizationally and culturally to get to top leadership positions. This included key cultural barriers for women in Japan, Singapore, Korea, China, Indonesia, and India. She shared data on how organizations are under-utilizing 50% of the population at senior leadership levels and how organizations often overlook the unique leadership qualities women bring in the areas of employee engagement, customer focus, and change.

Janet Mi, Aperian Global’s Director of Consulting, Greater China shared insights from GlobeSmart® data in relation to statistics of female representation on boards globally. GlobeSmart, Aperian Global’s proprietary tool which focuses on understanding work-style differences across cultures, helped raise awareness of the cultural work styles of Asian women that may be hindering their progress to leadership positions. Linking cultural work styles to their leadership journey, Janet led a discussion around questions such as, “What happens when women are more independent and egalitarian?” and “Do these traits hamper or progress support their leadership development?”.

Regina Yeo, Asia Pacific D&I champion for Pharmaceutical Supply Chain, Johnson & Johnson explained why this an important event for her organization.

“Johnson & Johnson has been developing female employees to be leaders because we believe that they make a difference. As one of the first companies to employ females at the turn of the 20th century, our focus continues to ensure that we maintain a diverse workforce with unique strengths and expertise. When Aperian Global told me about their research on Asian female leaders, we were very keen to participate in this event, as it provides us and other global organizations the opportunity to co-create solutions for gender inclusion from a cultural perspective, and to share what we have been doing at Johnson & Johnson in this area”.

Aperian Global also invited several other esteemed speakers who shared their perspectives with the group. Uma Thana, Co-Founder, Lean In, Singapore, shared her personal story which inspired her to start the Lean In Singapore chapter with Helen Duce. She discussed the key challenges for women in the workplace, different patterns of gender bias and the power of Lean In Circles, small groups of women who meet regularly to share and learn together. One of the most recently created circles, HeForShe, invites men to level the playing field, addressing gender bias when they see it and advocate for women in the workplace.

The mid-career female and male perspectives were provided by Darshini Santhanam, Marketing Manager, Microsoft and Joel Leong, Talent Management Director, Jabil, respectively. Darshini articulated the most common problem for women:

“It’s hard not to feel the self-doubt entirely. It’s the first and most natural reaction for us as women. But, it helps to check yourself when it creeps up, let that feeling pass, and then tackle the issue at hand as opposed to struggle with self-doubt”.

Joel provided an insight into the critical male perspective saying that men often do not know how to contribute to the diversity conversation in a sustainable way. Men need to be an active part of the dialogue but organizations really need to facilitate the culture of inclusion and help men understand their roles as change agents.

Last but not least, Johnson & Johnson had two great perspectives by Hwee Yee Yong, VP – Janssen Supply Chain and Sarah McKensey, APAC Diversity & Inclusion Leader.

In an inspiring and humorous talk, Hwee Yee shared her personal career success story. She explored the various events in a woman’s life that can be seen as roadblocks to a career. She further explained how she was able to navigate some of these key milestones, such as attending business school with her one-year-old son, fixing a critical production issue early in her career and the best advice she had received from a mentor focused on principle, hope, and expectations.

Sarah McKensey spoke about HR’s role as a change agent:

“HR has a critical role in helping to amplify the inspiring voices of our employees. We need to help them to connect, mobilize and be empowered to share their stories to help us achieve a culture of inclusion.”

Mui Hwa concluded with specific actions, policies, and communication efforts that organizations, men, and women can apply to improve the gender gap. A snapshot of the solutions co-created with the audience can be seen below:

  • Review critical leadership competencies where women have proven to be strong in and are valued in your organization
  • Ensure engagement of women and gender balance at all levels, i.e relatable role models
  • Ensure visible, senior and global roles in Asian geographies
  • Use functional rotation strategically for women who can’t relocate
  • Ensure diversity communication is balanced; it should not alienate men and should not patronize women
  • Recognize one’s self -limiting beliefs and challenge oneself to be stretched (seek support from mentor or coach)
  • Create and monitor a clear developmental path for one’s career
  • Share personal stories of challenges and successes
  • Encourage other women to look at their self-limiting beliefs and focus on the value they bring
  • Raise awareness in self and others about the gender disparity as experienced by most women
  • Understand and articulate the business case for gender inclusion
  • Become more self-aware of unconscious and unintended bias, including the sense of fear and threat
  • Take intentional action to mitigate bias
  • Show confidence to speak up for gender parity, but do not ‘mansplain’
  • Be a role model as a parent and partner

With over 25 years of experience, Aperian Global is uniquely positioned to help our clients navigate the best approach to diversity and inclusion, and to ensure the solution is global in reach and local for adaptability.

For more information on how we can help your organization become more inclusive and perform more effectively worldwide, contact us today.

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