Connect with us


Leadership Barriers that Women Face In Asia



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



Women on Top in Tech – Dr. Sanna Gaspard, Founder and CEO of Rubitection



(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.)

Dr. Sanna Gaspard is the Founder and CEO of Rubitection, a medical device start-up developing a diagnostic tool for early stage pressure detection, assessment, and management. She is an Entrepreneur, inventor, and biomedical engineer with a passion for innovation, entrepreneurship, healthcare and medical devices. She has received recognition and awards including being selected as a finalist for the Cartier Women’s Initiative Awards(’13), a semi-finalist for the Big C competition (’14), a finalist for the Mass Challenge Business accelerator in Boston, and taking 1st place at the 3 Rivers Investment Venture Fair’s Technology showcase (‘11). Her vision is to make the Rubitect Assessment System the global standard solution for early bedsore detection and management.

What makes you do what you do? 
I am driven to have impact and improve healthcare as I have a strong drive to problem solve, comes up with new ideas, and see them come to life.

How did you rise in the industry you are in? 
I first focused on getting the educational background and then I pursued the goals I have for myself. I got my PhD in Biomedical Engineering with a specialization in medical device development. Having the educational background is important as a woman and minority to assist people in taking your seriously.  After completing my PhD, I focused on bringing my invention for a medical device for early bedsore detection and prevention called the Rubitect Assessment System to market to help save lives and improve care.

Why did you take on this role/start this startup especially since this is perhaps a stretch or challenge for you (or viewed as one since you are not the usual leadership demographics)?
I started my startup, Rubitection , because I felt it was the best way to bring the technology to market. I knew that if I did not try to commercialize the technology, it would not make it to the doctors and nurses. I also have confidence that I could manage developing the technology since I had taken classes on entrepreneurship and had my PhD in biomedical engineering with a specialization in medical devices.

Do you have a mentor that you look up to in your industries or did you look for one or how did that work? How did you make a match if you did, and how did you end up being mentored by him/her?
No, I don’t have a specific mentor in my field. I am looking for one at the moment. However, I do look up to Steve Jobs and Oprah as examples of how one can start with nothing and work their way up and build a successful, global, and reputable business and brand.

Now as a leader how do you spot, develop, keep, grow and support your talent?  
I first try to find people who have fundamental technical or work experience to be competent to complete the work. I then evaluate the person for intangible skills like independent thinking, reliability, leadership, resilience, organizational skills, strong work ethic, open mindedness/flexibility, and good communication skills.

Do you consciously or unconsciously support diversity and why? 
I consciously make an effort as a minority woman in tech, I intimately understand the need to promote diversity within my business and outside my business. I first hire the best people for the job and also make a point to hire women and minorities qualified for the position.

What is your take on what it takes to be a great leader in your industry and as a general rule of thumb?  
It takes resilience, vision, being a team player, an ability to inspire others and delegate work, knowing your weakness, and knowing when to put your business or yourself first.

Advice for others?
My advice to others is to take calculated risks, pursue every opportunity, surround yourself with supporters, build your team with smart dedicated people, and stay focused on your vision. I am striving to implement this advice myself as I work towards commercializing my technology for early bedsore detection, grow my team, and recruit clinical partners to address an $11 billion US healthcare problem which affects millions around the world.

If anyone is interested in learning more about our work or company, please contact us at [email protected].

To learn more about Dr. Sanna Gaspard, CEO of Rubitection visit:

If you’d like to get in touch with Dr. Sanna Gaspard, please feel free to reach out to her on LinkedIn:

To learn more about Rubitection, please click here.

Continue Reading


Women on Top in Tech – Suzanne Wisse-Huiskes, Founder of MatchBox Consultancy and an Advocate at the Global Tech Advocates Network



(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.)

Suzanne Wisse-Huiskes is a Strategic Consultant and Founder at MatchBox Consultancy with offices in the United Kingdom and Nigeria. MatchBox provides expert advise in Impact Investing, Alternative Finance, Venture Capital, Fundraising, Women Leadership, Business Development, and Economic Empowerment. She is also an Advocate at the Global Tech Advocates Network. Dedicated to challenging talented entrepreneurs, Suzanne is an official mentor at startup/accelerator programs in Africa, Europe, and Asia. She was awarded top 400 most successful women in the Netherlands for two years in a row.

What makes you do what you do?
My drive is to enable entrepreneurs to grow their businesses by improving their access to funding. This can elevate an entire community. I believe that Alternative Finance can potentially be a powerful catalyst for shifting the way our financial markets work.

I love the ingredients of the alternative finance market: the innovative nature of the industry; the global playing field; the turbo speed of change. The market is booming and shows little sign of slowing down.

I founded MatchBox to support highly motivated entrepreneurs and investors in their mission to create profitable businesses with impact. MatchBox has become a trusted partner to these clients: they value our strategic and operational expertise, as well as our strong global network used to consult and connect. The requests vary from developing large investing programs to ensure access to capital for SME’s, to developing funding strategies for entrepreneurs. What works in one country may not work in others. We understand the local players and the local markets. This work is fully aligned with what is important to me.

How did you rise in the industry you are in?
I’ve been in the crowdfunding industry since 2008. Back then, Facebook only had a 100 million active users as opposed to the 2.000 million users today. Kickstarter, one of the world’s largest funding platforms, was yet to launch. Joining the industry that early in the game, allowed me to rise with it. I was fortunate to be part of initiatives that pushed the Alternative Finance ecosystem, first in Amsterdam, then on a broader European level.

Then later on other emerging markets began to interest me. I moved to Nigeria, to work in Africa’s fastest growing economy and home to exciting trends in capital and fintech. I familiarized myself with the investing ecosystems in African countries. Today, I work in alternative finance ecosystems in Asia, Africa and Europe. Being able to learn, share and compare best practices from different economies to me is key in the rise of the industry. Currently, the crowdfunding market in Asia alone is worth over 200 billion Euros. That’s huge!

Why did you take on this role/start this startup especially since this is perhaps a stretch or challenge for you (or viewed as one since you are not the usual leadership demographics)?
I’ve always followed my heart in my professional life. I focus on work that I am passionate about and am not afraid to take the path less travelled. So leadership, demographics never held me back. With my experience and skills I am well positioned to successfully get the job done. For me it doesn’t feel like it’s a stretch.

Even more so, my clients see it as a big advantage to have women on the job. I recently worked on an impact investing program in West Africa focussing on women-led SME’s and experienced the benefits of a diverse team. Women entrepreneurs see the world through a different lens and, in turn, do things differently.

Do you have a mentor that you look up to in your industries or did you look for one or how did that work? How did you make a match if you did, and how did you end up being mentored by him/her?
The industry was completely new when I started, with no seniors to learn from. As a strong believer in mentorship, I do reach out to people in other industries for feedback and to bounce ideas.

I also learn a lot from working with various entrepreneurs. Collaborating with Sir Richard Branson in the beginning of my career was encouraging. We did a successful Crowdfunding Campaign for the elephants in Botswana. But I’m equally impressed by entrepreneurs that make a huge impact on their community no matter the circumstances. I’ve seen exceptional people grow businesses in the poorest regions of Nigeria. One can only admire their leadership.

Now as a leader how do you spot, develop, keep, grow and support your talent?
For me, mentoring young entrepreneurs is a great way to develop and grow talent. My focus is usually on two mentees at a time to ensure there is enough time to discuss ideas and challenges. I worked at fintech startups for almost 10 years before founding MatchBox. So there are plenty of stories to share and learn from, both on failures as well as on successes.

Do you consciously or unconsciously support diversity and why?
I’m very vocal on the need for diversity. I’ve always found myself in the male dominated groups. First at University, then in my first corporate position, and later as a Board Member. At some of my MBA Finance classes, I was the only woman in a room of 50 men. It never bothered or intimidated me. It just made me work a little harder.

Nonetheless, diversity is much needed. I strongly believe the industry is missing out on many brilliant women. That is why I dedicate a great deal of time mentoring female entrepreneurs. We discuss the tools their businesses require to grow and attract the right type of capital. Investors still have a different approach towards female founders. This year, we are launching an initiative called ‘the Republic of Female Founders’, to provide practical tools and guidelines that are specific for this group.

What is your take on what it takes to be a great leader in your industry and as a general rule of thumb?
My general rule of thumb: If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together. For me, it’s all about collaborative leadership. My industry is becoming increasingly complex, so sharing best practices will bring us far. That’s why I became an Advocate of the Tech Shanghai Advocates, part of the Global Tech Advocates. This group of senior leaders in the tech community is created to champion and accelerate the growth of the local technology sector.

I am also a fan of the CrowdfundingHub and Crowddialog in Europe, and Ingressive in Africa for similar reasons: Ordinary people doing extraordinary things because they believe in the positive impact of innovation in finance. My peers are all trailblazers in the alternative finance industry, I consider myself to be in great company.

Advice for others?
I strongly believe in collaboration, so building business relationships is key. I truly foster my relations. To me it doesn’t feel like work, but rather like building bonds. Seek opportunities to connect and reach out. It really pays off to have a strong network. At MatchBox, I work with a network of exceptional local experts. If you need advice and consulting on your funding strategy, impact investing program or crowdfunding strategy, we will gladly work with you. Contact us at MatchBox.

If you’d like to get in touch with Suzanne Wisse – Huiskes, please feel free to reach out to her on LinkedIn:

To learn more about MatchBox Consultancy, please click here.

To learn more about  Global Tech Advocates Network, please click here.

Continue Reading