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Leadership Barriers that Women Face In Asia

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Taking advantage of recent economic growth and rising incomes, women in Asia have made enormous strides in labour participation rates. However, in the formal economy, women remain significantly underrepresented at the senior-most level, finds a recent joint report by leading global advisory, broking and solutions company Willis Towers Watson (NASDAQ: WLTW) and the Economist Corporate Network.

The report, Women in Leadership in Asia Pacific, found that lingering gender stereotypes and social pressures in many Asian countries may be some of the factors responsible for the lack of representation of women at the C-suite. At focus groups conducted across the region — including in Hong Kong, Singapore, China and Malaysia — many participants said that young women still face familial pressure to marry rather than focus on their careers; later on, many mothers shift their focus away from the workforce toward coaching and supporting their older children through exam preparations (the so-called “maternal wall”, as opposed to the “glass ceiling”).

“The absence of women from senior leadership positions can have long-ranging implications in today’s dynamic work environment, including high female attrition rates and diminished female leadership pipelines,” said Naomi Denning, who is responsible for the Willis Towers Watson Investment business in Asia Pacific, and also co-chairs the Inclusion & Diversity council for Asia. “There is growing evidence that a more diverse and inclusive workforce can foster innovative thinking and better leadership skills.

“Our findings clearly highlight the need for organisations to instil equality and diversity into their company culture at the highest levels — a key foundation for building strong and diverse female leadership pipelines in Asian firms,” said Denning.

A blurry glass ceiling?

When asked about perceptions of a glass ceiling, responses were split: almost half

(49%) said yes. The breakdown by gender was interesting: 36% of men surveyed felt

there was a glass ceiling in their organisation, while 51% of women felt this was the case. A breakdown by geography was also notable: in Hong Kong, only 36% of

respondents believed in the existence of a glass ceiling, while in China and Kuala Lumpur this number was approximately 45%. Singapore had the highest number of respondents affirming the existence of a glass ceiling, at 63%.

Magnifier effects

Senior female role models can be instrumental in fostering mid- and junior-level female engagement and development. Across the region, more than half (55%) of the respondents identified availability of sponsors or mentors for women in the leadership pipeline as a key driver of successful advancement. The absence — or perceived absence — on the other hand can cause a magnifier effect and further amplify the perception of a lack of women in leadership positions at lower levels.

The report also found that a lack of confidence (56%) and exclusion from power circles (44%) were key factors inhibiting women from achieving leadership positions. By increasing the availability of female role models, organisations could address this lack of confidence by providing women with support systems. The leading barrier — cited by 58% of respondents — was family responsibilities, highlighting existing perceptions of traditional gender roles for many women and families in Asia.

What can employers do?

Interestingly, when discussing key drivers for the successful advancement of women in the workplace, many focus group participants emphasised psychological rather than practical drivers. For instance, psychological enablers such as sponsors and role models were graded as more important than flexible work arrangements.

This could be because many find it problematic to take advantage of arrangements such as flexible or part-time work due to the stigma attached to these practices. For instance in Singapore, 80% of companies offer “flexi-hour” work arrangements, but very few employees actually take advantage of this (according to participants, not more than 20%) owing to the work culture deeming this to be a reduced commitment to the job.

“Winning the ‘psychological’ war could pave the way to these practical measures being utilised better and leaders in the workplace have a critical role in setting the right culture to embrace flexibility,” said Denning.

“Diversity is often lower on the agenda for Asian companies and multinational affiliates, compared to their Western counterparts. Nonetheless, employers in the region are

being influenced by global campaigns to promote women leaders, so some filtering- down of social change is in progress,” said Mary Boyd, Director, Shanghai, The Economist Corporate Network.

“Not only does inclusion and diversity help with employee attitudes and engagement, but there is also a strong business case behind it. Research shows that better business decisions are made when they come from a diverse group of people with different experiences and perspectives. By shifting mind-sets towards encouraging and supporting women in leadership positions as a part of business strategy, companies can improve results — including overall performance and operating profit”, said Boyd.

Denning added: “There are a number of things that employers can do to help accelerate this change, including encouraging CEO activism, tracking gender diversity metrics and implementing quotas. One discussant in our focus groups noted that, without the impetus of quotas, a “business as usual” timeline would take her organisation 90 years to get to a 30% female representation at the board level!”

Other beneficial management practices cited by discussants included:

  •   Constant monitoring of female attrition rates
  •   Pro-active coaching for female leadership candidates
  •   Encouraging a more family-friendly environment in the workplace, e.g.

    provision of space for nursing mothers, gradual “return-to-work” programs

 

Callum Connects

Malcolm Tan, Founder of Gravitas Holdings

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Malcolm Tan is an ICO/ITO and Cryptocurrency advisor. He sees this new era as similar to when the internet launched.

What’s your story?
I’m a lawyer entrepreneur who owns multiple businesses, and who is now stepping into the Initial Coin Offering/Initial Token Offering/Cryptocurrency space to be a thought leader, writer (How to ICO/ITO in Singapore – A Regulatory and Compliance Viewpoint on Initial Coin Offering and Initial Token Offering in Singapore), and advisor through Gravitas Holdings – an ICO Advisory company. We are also running our own ICO campaign called AEXON, and advising 2 other ICO’s on their projects.

What excites you most about your industry?
It is the start of a whole new paradigm, and it is like being at the start of the internet era all over again. We have a chance to influence and shape the industry over the next decade and beyond and lead the paradigm shift.

What’s your connection to Asia?
I’m Singaporean and most of my business revolves around the ASEAN region. Our new ICO advisory company specialises in Singaporean ICO’s and we are now building partnerships around the region as well. One of the core business offerings of our AEXON ICO/ITO is to open up co-working spaces around the region, with a target to open 25 outlets, and perhaps more thereafter.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Singapore, since it is my hometown and most of my business contacts originate from or are located in Singapore. It is also a very open and easy place to do business.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
Be careful of your clients – sometimes they can be your worst enemies. This is very true and you have to always be careful about whom you deal with. The closest people are the ones that you trust and sometimes they have other agendas or simply don’t tell you the truth or whole story and that can easily put one in a very disadvantageous position.

Who inspires you?
Leonardo Da Vinci as a polymath and genius and leader in many fields, and in today’s world, Elon Musk for being a polymath and risk taker and energetic business leader.

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
Early stage bitcoin investors would have made 1,000,000 times profit if they had held onto their bitcoins from the start to today – in the short space of 7 years.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
Seek out good partnerships and networks from day one, and use the power of the group to grow and do things together, instead of being bogged down by operations and going it alone from start.

How do you unwind?
I hardly have any time for relaxation right now. I used to have very intense hobbies, chess when I was younger, bridge, bowling, some online real time strategy games and poker. All mentally stimulating games and requiring focus – I did all these at competitive levels and participated in national and international tournaments, winning multiple trophies, medals and awards in most of these fields.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Phuket – nature, resort life, beaches, good food and a vibrant crowd.

Everyone in business should read this book:
Rich Dad Poor Dad by Richard Kiyosaki

Shameless plug for your business:
Gravitas Holdings (Pte) Limited is the premier ICO Advisory company and we can do a full service for entrepreneurs, including legal and compliance, smart contracts and token creation, marketing and PR, and business advisory and white paper writing/planning.

How can people connect with you?
Write emails to [email protected], or [email protected]

Twitter handle?
@malcolmABM

This interview is part of the ‘Callum Connect’ series of more than 500 interviews

Callum Laing is an entrepreneur and investor based in Singapore. He has previously started, built and sold half a dozen businesses and is now a Partner at Unity-Group Private Equity and Co-Founder of The Marketing Group PLC. He is the author two best selling books ‘Progressive Partnerships’ and ‘Agglomerate’.

Connect with Callum here:
twitter.com/laingcallum
linkedin.com/in/callumlaing
Download free copies of his books here: www.callumlaing.com

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Entrepreneurship

Women on Top in Tech – Pam Weber, Chief Marketing Officer at 99Designs

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(Women on Top in Tech is a series about Women Founders, CEOs, and Leaders in technology. It aims to amplify and bring to the fore diversity in leadership in technology.)

Pam Webber is Chief Marketing Officer at 99designs, where she heads up the global marketing team responsible for acquisition, through growth marketing and traditional marketing levers, and increasing lifetime value of customers. She is passionate about using data to derive customer insights and finding “aha moments” that impact strategic direction. Pam brings a host of first-hand startup marketing experiences as an e-commerce entrepreneur herself and as the first marketing leader for many fast-growing startups. Prior to joining 99designs, she founded weeDECOR, an e-commerce company selling custom wall decals for kids’ rooms. She also worked as an executive marketing consultant at notable startups including True&Co, an e-commerce startup specializing in women’s lingerie. Earlier in her career, Pam served in various business and marketing positions with eBay and its subsidiary, PayPal, Inc. A resident of San Francisco, Pam received her BA from the University of Pennsylvania and MBA from Harvard Business School. Pam is a notable guest speaker for Venture Beat, The Next Web, Lean Startup, and Growth Hacking Forum, as well as an industry expert regularly quoted in Inc., CIO, Business News Daily, CMSwire, Smart Hustle, DIY Marketer, and various podcast and radio shows. You can follow her on Twitter at @pamwebber_sf.

What makes you do what you do?
My dad always told me make sure you choose a job you like because you’ll be doing it for a long time. I took that advice to heart and as I explored various roles over my career, I always stopped to check whether I was happy going to work every day – or at least most days :). That has guided me to the career I have in marketing today. I’m genuinely excited to go to work every day. I get to create, to analyze, to see the impact of my work. It’s very fulfilling.

How did you rise in the industry you are in?
I had a penchant for numbers and it helped me stand out in my field. This penchant became even more powerful when the Internet and digital marketing started to explode. There was a great need for marketers whose skills could span both the creative and the analytic aspects of marketing. I capitalized on that growth by bringing unique insight to the companies I worked with, well-supported with thoughtful analysis.

Why did you take on this role/start this startup?
I’m not sure this is relevant to my situation as I had been a marketing leader in various start-ups and companies. I took on the role at 99designs because I was excited by the global reach of the brand and the opportunity the company had to own the online design space. I especially liked the team as I felt they were good at heart.

The challenge I’ve faced in my time at 99designs is how do I evolve the team quickly and nimbly to address new challenges. The work we do now, is very different than the work we did a year ago and even the year before that. There is a fine line between staying focused on the goal ahead and being able to move quickly should that goal shift.

Do you have a mentor that you look up to in your industry or did you look for one or how did that work?
There is no one I’ve sought out or worked with over my entire career as my “mentee” needs have changed so much over the years. There are many people who have helped me along the way. For example, one of my peers at eBay, who was quite experienced and skilled in marketing strategy and creative execution, taught me what was in a marketing plan and how to evaluate marketing assets. As I have risen to leadership positions over the years, I often reach out to similarly experienced colleagues for advice on how they handle situations.

How did you make a match if you and how did you end up being mentored by him?
I learned early in my career that it rarely hurts to ask for advice. So that is what I have done. Additionally, there are people that are known to be quite helpful and build a reputation for giving back to others in advisory work. Michael Dearing, of Harrison Metal and ex-eBay, is one of those people. I, as well as countless others, have asked him for advice and guidance through the years and he does his best to oblige. Finding mentorship is about intuiting who in your universe might be willing and whether you are up for asking for help.

That being said, generally, I have found, if you are eager to learn and be guided, people will respond to the outreach.

Now as a leader how do you spot, develop, keep, grow and support your talent?
I generally look for a good attitude and inherent “smarts”. A good attitude can encompass anything from being willing to take on many different types of challenges to working well amongst differing personalities and perspectives. Smarts can be seen through how well someone’s done in their “passion areas” (i.e. areas where they have a keen interest in pursuing).

I try to hire those types of people because in smaller, fast-growing companies like many of the ones I’ve worked in, it’s more often than not about hiring flexible people as things move and change fast.

Once those people are on my team, I try to keep them challenged and engaged by making sure they have varying responsibilities. If I can’t give them growth in their current job or in the current company, I encourage them to seek growth opportunities elsewhere. I’d rather have one of my stars leave for a better growth opportunity than keep them in a role where they might grow stale.

Do you consciously or unconsciously support diversity and why?
I consciously support diversity. When I am hiring, I am constantly thinking about how to balance the team with as broad a range as possible of skill sets, perspectives, etc. to ensure we can take on whatever is thrown at us, or whatever we want to go after.

What is your take on what it takes to be a great leader in your industry and as a general rule of thumb?
I’m going to assume a great leader in my industry to mean a marketing leader in a technology company. I think a great leader in this industry is not afraid to learn new tricks no matter their age – it’s the growth mindset you may have heard about. I have a friend who inspires me to do this – she purchased the Apple Watch as soon as it was available, and was one of the first people I knew to use the Nest heating/cooling system. She’s not an early adopter by most definitions, but she adopts the growth mindset. This is the mindset I, too, have sought to adopt. In my field of marketing, it most recently has meant learning about Growth Marketing and how to apply this methodology to enhance growth. Independent of your industry, I think a growth mindset serves you well.

Advice for others?
I have been at 99designs for 3.5 years. During that time we’ve invested in elevating the skills and quality of our designer community, we’ve rebranded to reflect this higher level of quality, and have improved the satisfaction of our customers. Our next phase of growth will come from better matching clients to the right designer and expanding the ability to work with a designer one-on-one. We have the best platform to find, collaborate, and pay professional designers who deliver high quality design at an affordable price, and it’s only going to get better. I’m excited to deliver on that vision.

Pam Webber
Chief Marketing Officer of 99designs
Twitter: @pamwebber_sf

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