The Achieving Woman’s Guide to… rising up in the workplace

The division head of group legal and regulatory compliance at OCBC Bank is one of the few women heading a legal department in Singapore’s banking industry. She reflects on what women need to do to really get ahead

How can women make their mark in their chosen professions, especially if they work in a male-dominated field?

That is the question that was put to me when I participated as a panellist at last month’s (March 2019) Money 20/20 Rise Up event. The annual event was created to address the gender imbalance in leadership positions within the Financial Services and Fintech industry. More pertinently, it aims to provide actionable skills for working women to take the next steps to increased seniority within their careers.

The session drove me to ponder deeply on my own experience and what it has taught me. I also found several opinions from fellow panellists to be inspiring. Here are some tips that I hope will aid your own search for a place at the top.


Be Unafraid

Hong Paterson, managing director for global client coverage at the Royal Bank of Canada, noted that risk-taking in the boardroom is a muscle you have to build. She likens it to surfing, a sport she participates in. Surfer guys – who you’d think are hang-loose, cool dudes – will surf aggressively, effectively blocking her or even surfing her off a wave.

“It is scary to have a board aiming at you – and you have to just be brave about it,” Hong said in the Rise Up panel.

To me, risk-taking means that the stakes are high. But you have to ask yourself if you’re up to playing a big game. And if the answer is ‘yes’, well then be prepared to be scared – but also courageous.

(From left) Singapore Institute of Directors chairman Willie Cheng, OCBC general counsel Loretta Yuen, Lazada Group's general counsel Gladys Chun, former chief justice Chan Sek Keong and SCCA president emeritus Angeline Lee 

Photo: The Straits Times

Own Your Presence

Gladys Chun, General Counsel and the first female Asian to be hired in legal for Alibaba’s Lazada, noted that many women in the boardroom allow for “man-terruptions”. This is where men interrupt women in meetings. Worse, they often repeat what the woman has said, and claim her credit.

Do not allow this. As women, we have to own our presence. When a “man-terruption” happens to Ms Chun, she does not let it slide. “Please let me finish my statement. I am the legal counsel, and I own the legal position of this company and determine the risk profile that this company takes,” she says. This puts the “man-terruptor” in his place in a no-nonsense manner.

You don’t have to be rude or hostile, but don’t ever let someone else interrupt your sentences and finish your thoughts.


Find A Mentor

This is something out of my own experience, which I believe in strongly. When you see someone you admire, think about what exactly it is that you wish to emulate. Then, the best way to get there, is to convince them to mentor you.

You must be prepared to work for the rewards, to be able to show and prove to your mentor that you want more. Get clear on what their vision is in the corporate world – this is usually something that has to do with changing a structure or culture. Ask him or her what the “mission statement” is for them. Then, aim to help him or her with achieving their vision. In turn, they will help open doors for you and promote you to others, including upper management.