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How Do Girls Become Leaders?

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I recently read an article on the International Day of the Girl with very mixed feelings. It has been some time that my heart and brain were challenged at the same time. It made me cry and it made me brainstorm. I believe if there isn’t such a word yet — I will coin it now — I had a “heart-storm“.

Firstly as a female, I knew that we aren’t always treated equally as men. I saw it first-hand in my highly male-dominated household where my dad controlled all the conversations. It was his way or the highway. However, I forgot or probably never had the true tension of struggle that many of my other Asian and international sisters had. Unlike many baby girls in China or India, in Singapore I was treasured at birth. My government was so intent on keeping us healthy, they sent milk to schools for every child to drink, and even oatmeal for me to take home when I was found at health checks to be underweight.

In the article, I read that globally, twice as many girls as boys will never start school. My history involved me being the top student in kindergarten, but then falling down to twentieth position in the following year when I realized that the cute boy I liked in class preferred less smart girls. My parents never pressured me to marry. Society around me suggested that marriage would be a great thing and my Indonesian helper would look at me in despair when I cut my hair into a bob and stayed at home to read rather than go out on a date. As time went on, I grew past the typical marrying age. My girl friends told me I was too strong and offered many means for me to look more “marriage-able” material. Most of these tips involved keeping my mouth shut and smiling more. I tried my best when I was 28 and then I simply gave up.

I, did, however encounter my first gender and age-ist discrimination when I started to teach night classes in the community college. I would have the older male, usually Chinese (the dominant ethnic race in Singapore) lecturers try to chase me out of the office lounge or ask me if I enjoyed their classes simply because I couldn’t possibly in their minds have a Masters from Harvard at age 32, right? I was the one (wo)man out.

In the article, it said that “Unicef, published figures that showed girls between the ages of five and 14 spend 40% more time doing unpaid housework and collecting water than boys – a trend that will continue into adulthood.” (https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2016/oct/11/how-are-you-marking-international-day-of-the-girl-share-your-stories-guardianwitness). I myself don’t know how to cook, and I have a part-time cleaner. My parents never made housework my thing; rather, studying was. And I repaid them with degrees and certificates and awards. So I began to look less and less like an average career woman and started playing the ‘male road warrior’ game. I train in Bangalore and the entire hotel is male except for the hotel staff and perhaps five women guests. I train male-dominated industries like airforce pilots, the police force, and lead meetings with the all male orthopedics who shout at my staff (male) and me. It just becomes something I just do.

I am not surprised that while “world leaders have also committed to end discrimination against women and girls by 2030; although this will need a huge effort – if we continue at the current rate of progress, it will take more than 100 years to achieve.” (https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2016/oct/11/how-are-you-marking-international-day-of-the-girl-share-your-stories-guardianwitness).

This is where my heart-storm arises. I slipped through the cracks? I passed through the broken glass shards? Broken by the women before me who may not have survived the cuts. Yet I look around and there are wayyyyy to few of us here at the “Top”. Does it take the sacrifice of working night and day and having no family of my own? Does it take brilliance to be awarded the scholarships to universities that most girls never get? Does it take a father whose emphasis on education made the woman I am today? Or does it need a new version of what being on the “Top” really means?

What if it means that all voices are leading? Not the “Top” — rather, collaboration, inclusion and letting all our full potentials arise regardless of the the body form it takes. More voices of diversity should be leading not just the ones who are dominant because of gender, ethnicity and social economic status. I find it lonelier and harder to be one of the few women in the room. Yet I know I must stand there. As too few of my sisters ever will have this opportunity. These opportunities — to be born; to be educated; to be looked at in school as precious and talented and able to take on any work, gender-blind (this is what happens more in all girls schools like the one I attended); to be able to take on the same job as a man and be seen for my ability; to be able to speak and advocate for change and conscious leadership in places where leaders look exactly alike and think exactly alike; to make my one voice and influence facilitate more voices and women leaders and leaders-to-be to be heard.

Maybe then and only then — will this heart-storm of mine ease.


Follow my one-month tribute to the International Day of the Girl “Women on Top in Tech” series, where I feature the women who broke through the glass ceilings or basically made their own paths where there seemed to be few or none (like Damini Mahajan: http://www.asianentrepreneur.org/tiecon-2016-damini-mahajan-ceoco-founder-make-scholars/.)

I am looking for more women to feature! Please contact me at [email protected] if you know of any who lead in the tech/digital space.

Callum Connects

Denise Mossis Kipnis, Founder & Principal of ChangeFlow Consulting

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Denise Mossis Kipnis’ curiosity in people and the world, lead her to set up ChangeFlow Consulting.

What’s your story?
I’m driven by curiosity. Having been the only one in a room who looks like me for most of my life, I developed a curiosity about who stays, who leaves and who thrives in minority/majority situations including when and how connection and collaboration happen. I was a systems thinker long before I knew what that was, always asking why and so what; and seeing the pieces, the whole, and the places in between. So helping people and organisations move through the complexity of transformation feels natural to me.

What excites you most about your industry?
I see change and inclusion as two sides of the same thing; I don’t practice one without the other. Some people see change as death, as loss, as exhausting. And it can be. But I see in the work I do as an opportunity for something new or hidden to emerge. When an organisation understands that it is first a group of people, who themselves represent and belong to groups of people, and it begins to tackle what it would mean to understand and learn from all that talent, all that diversity, to have them all working for and not against the organisation, to truly unleash all that their people have to offer; that’s magic.

What’s your connection to Asia?
Change and inclusion are personal values as well as professional strengths. For me, living and working outside of the States was a bold experiment to see whether any of the stuff I’d learned about change and inclusion would work outside of the US. My husband and I targeted Asia specifically: it would be the greatest contrast, culturally speaking, for me; and a unique career springboard for him.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Although I’ve practiced in other cities, I am biased towards Singapore. In some ways it’s what Los Angeles is to the rest of the United States, a microcosm of sorts. The regional/global nature of it means that so many different nationalities and cultures are represented. As a result of this mix, you never know what you might get. In some situations, cultural dynamics are obvious, sometimes subdued. The variability is compelling.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
“Never ask anyone to do anything you wouldn’t do yourself.” Michael Rouan.

Who inspires you?
Often it’s a “what” not a “who.” I can get inspiration from a passage in a book or a situation in a movie, as well as a turn of a phrase or watching people interact. I often make the biggest connections between the various threads I’m working on when I’m sitting in someone else’s event.

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
I’m honestly not blown away by much. Instead, I’m struck how circular things can be: ideas often come back around with a slightly different twist and I watch the way it shakes things loose for people. I recently sat through a workshop on Self as Instrument, and despite being thoroughly versed already, I learned something. In preparing for a panel on design thinking, I unearthed a new language to describe things.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
You’ve caught me at a good time. I’m sitting in appreciation and gratitude for all my experiences, because I wouldn’t be who I was today if all that has happened, didn’t. And yet one thing comes to mind: It wasn’t until I redesigned my website two years ago (shout out to Brew Creative!) that I realised I hadn’t made explicit agreements with my past clients as to what I could share publicly about our engagement, or whether I could use their logos in my promotional materials. In my business, confidentiality is so important, and yet I need to be able to talk about the work as reputation and experience leads to the next success, and so on. It turned out a lot of the contacts I had known had left the organisations where the work was done, so they couldn’t help at that point. So the practice I’m carrying forward is to get those agreements up front, and to make sure my relationships in client systems are broad as well as deep.

How do you unwind?
Science fiction, puzzles, wine.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Home. I don’t travel to relax, I travel to learn and explore.

Everyone in business should read this book:
Built to Change, by Ed Lawler and Chris Worley. To my knowledge, it’s the first pivot from advising organisations away from stability and toward dynamism, from strategic planning to strategizing as an action verb; to blow up the traditions and rigidity that impede organisations from developing change capability.

Shameless plug for your business:
We’re taught that there are two kinds of people: those who see forests, and those who see trees. There is a third type, my type, and we see the ecosystem. Worms, climate, birds, the spaces in between. This is the perspective organisations need to be successful in solving complex problems and thriving in change.
ChangeFlow uniquely blends four disciplines (two of which are multi-disciplinary in themselves): organisation development, culture and inclusion, change management and project management.

How can people connect with you?
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ChangeFlowConsulting/
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/dmorriskipnis/
LinkedIn Company page: https://www.linkedin.com/company/4862954/
Email: [email protected]
Website: http://www.changeflowconsulting.com

Twitter handle?
@ChangeFlow

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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Callum Connects

Agnes Yee, Legal & Compliance Recruiter of Space Executive

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Agnes Yee started Space Executive in Singapore, which is a hub for businesses in some of the world’s fastest growing economies.

What’s your story?
After graduation, I joined a design media company as a Business Development Executive, during the era when ‘reading a magazine online’ was unheard of. I believe that laid the foundation for being unfazed by rejections.

I fell into recruitment pre-GFC and rode the highs and lows in the early years. A decade later, I decided to set up my own recruitment company, partly because I could. I’m acutely aware of the face that being an Asian female in Singapore is sometimes a privilege, and that many women in the world are living a very different existence.
Thereafter, we joined Space Executive as part of a merger. I am currently the Partner of Space Executive, a recruitment company focused specialist disciplines, including Legal, Finance, Digital, Sales and Marketing and Change. We also run Space Ventures, a venture capital business, which invests in seed and pre-series A businesses.

What excites you most about your industry?
On a daily basis, we’re influencing how one spends a third of their day. It is interesting how the Internet has transformed the industry, and I’m excited to see how we can harness technology to bring us to the next phase of this business.

The VC is an extension of applying our skills and experience in reading people. We very much invest in the people as much as the idea. Being a native Singaporean, it’s been exhilarating watching Southeast Asia becoming a hotbed of ideas; and young entrepreneurs simply daring to dream.

What’s your connection to Asia?
I’m a born and bred Singaporean. I love that I speak both English and Mandarin, grew up playing with Indian friends and eating Malay food.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Singapore for the low barriers of entry to set up a business, but has to be China (and Hong Kong) for their hunger and constant innovation.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
青春不要留白 which translates to ‘Don’t waste your youth.’

Who inspires you?
Anyone who has gone against the grain.

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
It wasn’t recent but reading the article on https://waitbutwhy.com/2015/12/the-tail-end.html never fails to blow my mind how little time we have left. Charting our lives in weeks, and realising I only have enough time left to enjoy 60 Christmas turkeys, read 300 books (all if I’m lucky); and mostly, I’m left with the last 5% of the time that I spend in-person with my parents.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
I’m cognisant that every decision I made in life has brought me to where I am today, and I wouldn’t change one thing. But I’d really like to have had more time to travel.

How do you unwind?
Exercise and wine.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Trekking any mountain in Asia. It brings us back to the most basic. To overcome elements of nature and our own mind.

Everyone in business should read this book:
Start with Why, Simon Sinek

Shameless plug for your business:
Space Executive started in Singapore, a hub for businesses in some of the world’s fastest growing economies. We assist organisations in accessing a targeted and specialised, and often times transient talent pool.

Out of Singapore, we have recruited across 14 countries; and have embarked on our global expansion plans with offices in Hong Kong and London this year, and US, Japan and Europe in the following years.

Space Ventures provides funding, management and financial guidance to young businesses with original ideas. We have invested in peer to peer lending platforms, credit scoring, social media education, and other start-ups spanning diverse industries. We are always interested in hearing more about new ideas.

How can people connect with you?
https://www.linkedin.com/in/agnesyee/

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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