Women empowerment at every step: From intern to CEO


“A woman can do the job as well as any man, and then some.”, goes the saying. And in recent times, women in Asia have been proving this adage true.

Although employment opportunities for both genders have been abundant in Asia, there are still more men than women in business, especially ones who seem to have succeeded in the tough climb up to the C-­suite. It’s heartening to observe, however, that year on year, the number of working women taking on key positions in Asia has slowly been increasing.

The increase of successful women at the top can be attributed to various factors such as progress in women empowerment, corporate initiatives and even support on a national level. For example, Japan’s Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, is a strong advocate of having working women contribute more to the economy, and has set a goal of increasing the number of female executives in Japan’s companies to more than 30% by 2020. This would undoubtedly be a huge boost in the gradual reshuffling of cultural mindsets with regards to women in business and to attitudes towards female leadership.

Japan is one of the countries that is raising the bar in the struggle for women empowerment – change has been set in motion by successful women such as Junko Nakagawa, who holds the honour of being Nomura Holdings Inc.’s first female CFO in 86 years, and Miyuki Suzuki, who became Jetstar Japan’s CEO in 2011. These excellent female role models represent the benefits that could be reaped by businesses through female leadership.

Other successful women in Asia worth mentioning are Olivia Lum, founder and CEO of Hyflux, Sun YaFang, chairwoman of the board of Huawei Technologies and Zhang Xin, CEO of SOHO China. These household names share career success in male-dominated industries whilst being immaculately groomed, and they embody the concept of women empowerment, showing other working women what they, too, can aspire to, in order to ascend to greater heights.

But how did they do it? According to Claire Chiang, Senior VP of Banyan Tree Holdings Limited, “You don’t get to a destination by dreaming about it; you take the first step towards the direction now. You give time to achieving the goal.”

While Ms. Chiang’s advice is invaluable, here are some other pointers to set you on the right path to success.

There is no better time than now

Regardless of whether you are an intern figuring out how to navigate the corporate maze or a female executive who wants to turbo-charge your career, stop putting off goal ­setting and decision ­making. Always keep your main objective in mind and develop a strategic route to it. Whether it is speaking to your boss about volunteering to take on more responsibilities or taking relevant courses to reach that goal, only you can set your plan in motion and eventually make it happen.

Constantly re­-evaluate your performance. Falling prey to complacency and getting stuck in the comfort zone may ruin even the most well-laid plans.

Confidence is everything

Watch interviews by other successful women in business. Through that, one thing will become apparent – they are no shrinking wallflowers. They are educated, opinionated, and have strong and unique perspectives on what they believe in. Have confidence in your abilities and contributions to your organisation, but also be mindful that there is always room for improvement. Speak up during performance reviews and don’t be afraid to ask for that well­ deserved raise or promotion.

Go about achieving your goals with strength, but execute them with grace.

Tap on support networks

Women tend to be more relationship oriented and thrive on being mentors and team players. Check if your company has female oriented associations or groups – they may be a good source of support and great for networking. If they don’t yet exist, consider proposing and heading a group of your own. Be the change you want to see and you may end up benefiting many female colleagues with that one idea. Doing so will also give you a prominent voice in your organisation as well as a chance to mentor others. And there you have it – women empowerment in a nutshell.

For those in managerial positions, aim to make your employees feel comfortable in seeking leadership and management training on the job by providing adequate resources for it.

Knock down the walls

Unfortunately, gender stereotyping and sexism still persist despite it being the 21st century. Women on all rungs of the corporate ladder have probably faced some form of gender discrimination at some point, as most working women will tell you. While you cannot control the thoughts and actions of others, you can look at these incidents as opportunities to prove yourself to your peers and superiors. This is often what distinguishes those female executives who make it to the uppermost rungs of women leadership; spotting opportunities where others may only see barriers.

By having your goal in clear focus and proving your critics wrong with determination and hard work, you’ll be able to turn a negative experience into a positive one.

The desire to forge ahead may be strong but the traditional ingredients for success will always remain the same regardless of gender, age or role. Think smart, work hard, stay humble, and leverage on all your strengths, and you’ll be able to go above and beyond what your role requires with natural ease and grace. After all, an equal opportunity employer is one that will foster goodwill, respect and love in their employees.

Create a place for employees to love what they do.

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