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.

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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.
 

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Understand Your Own Leadership Style

Once you’re in a position where you can lead – this can even be on a very small team, or just on a project – get clear on an approach you want to take.

I started at OCBC in 2001 as an assistant manager. I know what the struggles and challenges are. I try practice being nurturing, and I try to nurture trust. I trust that the people I hire are qualified, and they must be given leeway to explore, opine. If they make a mistake, I will stand behind them, rectify the mistake, and see how to best move on. My aim for those under me is that my people move up the ranks and grow to their best potential, to add value to the division and the bank as an organisation.
 

Understand That You Don’t Have To Be One Of The Guys
When it comes to how one should be at work, women often have tried to emulate men. Jennifer Reynolds, president and CEO of Toronto Finance International, told the audience that she spent her younger years projecting a certain image of herself. She felt she needed to be seen as commanding and assertive. And she would never talk about things that would identify her as female – the fact that she had children, for instance.

She now recalls this way of being as very harsh on herself and on others. It also led to an uncomfortable schizophrenia – one where there were two versions of her: A “work Jen” and a “home Jen”. No prizes for guessing which was more pleasant, or which she herself felt was authentic.

Being a good leader, as Ms Reynolds discovered, is not about being male or female. It’s about being authentically yourself. And inclusion at its core is about people – both men and women – bringing who we are to work. If it is true diversity that we are aiming for, then one of the biggest benefits of diversity is about people appreciating what each of us brings to the table, Ms Reynolds rightly noted.

 

Know Your Principles And Values

via GIPHY

I believe that principled people who can articulate their beliefs and live by the word are recognised quickly. And in my opinion, to get ahead in life, you must have guiding principles that have you acting correctly and ethically at every turn. OCBC Bank has taken much care to define its core values, which are meant to guide employees through their work, but also through their lives.

Two values of the bank, integrity and responsibility, resonate deeply for me. Indeed, I have made a career out of these principles as lawyers by nature must be held to these. They are also built into my department, Legal and Compliance.

With these principles and values, I feel I am compelled to ask myself at every turn: “What do I owe to strangers? What do I owe to my family? What does it mean to be a good person, to live a good life?” Looking through the lens of integrity and responsibility, I often find that I am able to quickly make decisions that are aligned with myself and what is true and right for others. I may stumble sometimes, but going back to the principles I believe in, I am able to correct myself.

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