Gender 'not a big issue'

Don't be hampered by a perceived glass ceiling, say top women execs

Gender 'not a big issue'

Gender 'not a big issue' -- ST ILLUSTRATION: PAUL ERIC ROCA

GENDER diversity has become the latest catchphrase in corporate circles with much lamenting about the lack of women numbers.

For some women in power, gender and the glass ceiling are not always big issues in their business life.

'Don't make every issue out to be about gender,' says Ms Teo Lay Lim, Accenture's country managing director for Singapore and managing director for Asean.

Being a female leader in a male-dominated world, for instance, is not a gender issue to her.

'Seniority in any job is tough as the scope and complexity of your role will change, your span of control is broader and there will be more moving parts in your day-to-day position.'

Women who moan about the glass ceiling might be better off taking charge and defining their own destinies.

That view got an airing at a conference on Thursday last week to mark International Women's Day.

Ms Tan Gek Khim, senior director at the Management Development Institute of Singapore, said glass ceilings, if they exist at all, should have been shattered long ago.

'Women should not stifle themselves by harbouring negative perceptions. They should not let the proverbial 'glass ceiling' hamper them in their aspirations for higher positions,' she says.

'Such perceived constraints serve only to perpetuate the weaknesses of women.'

Ms Monica Sun, president of Henkel Singapore and Malaysia and its vice-president for the adhesive technologies unit in South-east Asia, adds: 'I believe the glass ceiling can be only oneself.

'If a woman has an aspiration, and if she is determined and if she works hard, then the ceiling is where she sets it for herself.'

Companies do not have separate requirements for female and male leaders, though men need to fight the natural tendency to hire another male in a senior position as that provides a level of comfort and familiarity, says Ms Kerry Condon, recruitment firm AMS' head of client services for Asia Pacific.

'Having women in leadership roles signals that this is an organisation... that is looking to cultivate a culture of collaboration.'

Ultimately, it is the leader's capabilities that matter, regardless of gender.

Ms Lim Lay Wah, ANZ Bank's head of financial institutions group, South and South-east Asia and Middle East, says: 'If you are good at what you do, people will respect your competence.'

Combine that with integrity and you will be able to avoid many unnecessary battles, she says. 'You must deliver on your word - that is absolutely key.'

Ms Teo's advice for other aspiring female leaders is to understand what it takes to do the job.

'Know your strengths... and know when you need to bring in other resources and talent to complement you as a high-performing team.'

While Ms Sun, who is married with no children, is lucky to have always had the trust of the management team and the visibility at each stage of her career, she says it is also about her having a clear target and ambition of what and where she wants to be.

'I think I am a quick learner. I am also a very curious person and I ask a lot of questions. And I work very hard,' she says.

Indeed, women today can shape their destiny through lifelong learning and active networking as well as mentoring, says Ms Tan.

In her previous role as Henkel's vice-president for human resources, Asia Pacific, Ms Sun set up a mentorship programme to help women become more self-confident, know where their strengths are and to encourage them to aspire further.

Working mothers also have to manage their time so they can balance family and work.

ANZ's Ms Lim says she starts work at 7am and leaves around 6pm so she can spend the evening with her four school-age children.

'I really value the flexibility of coming in early and being able to leave without being under a culture of having to clock in hours for the sake of doing so.'

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