CEO, Half The Sky
Many entrepreneurs will tell you that the impetus for their bold new business idea stems from a deep dissatisfaction with the status quo. The same holds true for Sabrina Ho, whose career platform – Half The Sky – connects women to companies that don’t just say they believe in equal opportunities for all but have the policies and initiatives in place to enable women to succeed in the workplace.
The last time Ho graced our pages, she shared the numerous instances of condescension and discrimination she faced in her previous jobs in recruitment that led her to the founding of Half The Sky in 2019. Today, her stories are ones of triumph, passion and small but encouraging victories in the war against gender inequality. “We turned a profit in less than 24 months of operation, and we just closed our biggest quarter, so I know we are solving the right problems,” she beams.
Besides finding the right companies for the right women, a big part of Ho’s mission involves educating companies on the research-backed benefits of a more diverse workforce. Half The Sky has jobs across various industries in more than 14 countries and the companies listed include giant multinationals like J.P. Morgan, DuPont, IBM, Johnson Controls and more.
The first and biggest obstacle to all this success, however, wasn’t companies that opposed her vision, but Ho’s own self-doubt. “I was sitting on the idea of starting this company for a while because I was afraid. What if I fail? What if no one cares? What if everyone laughs at me? Eventually, I decided I was more afraid of regret, so I told myself to suck it up and just do it.”
This is why Ho believes the Next Gen Woman isn’t fearless but courageous. “She can look fear in the face and decide to do it anyway because it’s a choice. Take more chances. If there’s an opportunity to speak, raise your hand. Even if you’re freaking out about something you’ve never done before, trust that you will figure it out. Take that promotion, ask for that pay raise – just say yes. You will become a role model for the women who come after you.”
CEO, IPG Howden
Singapore Today, Michelle Lau, the CEO of global life insurance brokerage firm IPG Howden, is part of an executive committee on which women slightly outnumber men, but she remembers a time in her working life when a man had a greater chance of being promoted or sent on overseas postings because of his gender.
Lau, also a mother of two grown-up children, recalls, “In the ’90s, I was doing private banking at a very traditional local bank. They used to have this ethos where they didn’t want to disrupt families, so they would rather post the guy overseas because, say, his wife was a homemaker. The thinking was that he could move more easily than a married woman with children, who would probably have a whole barrage of things to consider.”
Even so, it is clear that her gender has not held her back professionally. For this, she credits a shifting social landscape, bosses who promoted gender diversity especially at the higher-management levels – and her own persistent but flexible personality. Acknowledging the responsibilities unique to working women, she believes that one of her roles is helping other women figure out how they can overcome these challenges and advance professionally.
“Women must be bold enough to put up their hands and say: I want to do this or I want to do that.” However, Lau emphasises that success can take many forms. She cites, for instance, friends and family who gave up successful careers to become stay-home mums to raise their kids and influence them positively.
Being a panellist for The Peak Power List this year also made Lau reflect on what success means for a woman in these changing times. “When I think about the next generation of women, I think that success may not be not about how much money they can make. Covid-19 has brought the focus back to the home and the local scene. Rather than just people who are heading big, international institutions, I think it’s important that we focus on those who are doing something for the community.”
Co-founder and General Partner, Purpose Venture Capital
As the mother of a 13-year-old, Sharon Sim wants a world where her daughter can grow up being true to herself. “I want her to feel she can be herself while achieving her goals. Being feminine, introverted or empathetic are not weaknesses. You don’t have to be like a man to be in a position of leadership,” says Sim.
As the co-founder of investment firm Purpose Venture Capital, Sim is keenly supportive of female founders in the early-stage venture capital space that’s traditionally male-dominated, as evidenced by places like Silicon Valley. One of its latest investments is ZumVet, an online pet health and welfare platform founded by Dr Grace Su and Athena Lee, who have created a niche for themselves in the tech industry that couldn’t have been more beyond their comfort zone. “We love stories like these,” shares Sim.
Unlike other investment firms that focus solely on women-led enterprises, Purpose doesn’t have a gender lens. Sim makes investments purely on the capability of the founders – be they male or female. It’s this distinction that can sometimes backfire. Coming from the financial world, she has witnessed affirmative action – created with the good intention of fostering equality – become reverse discrimination.
In a world where the achievements of female leaders are commonly categorised as non-meritorious, Sim is working towards transforming humility, empathy and self-awareness into strengths everyone can learn from and work towards.
ONG YENG FANG
Managing director and head of private bank, UOB
Whether raising a family while establishing her banking career or giving back to the wider community, Ong Yeng Fang has always believed in discipline, passion and mentorship. Currently the managing director and head of UOB Private Bank, Ong has held leadership roles in wealth management, corporate banking and investment banking at DBS Bank, Julius Baer and Merrill Lynch. At every stage of her career, she has immersed herself fully in each moment, building and mentoring teams, while also carving out quality family time and raising her children, who are now in their 20s.
On being a judge for this year’s Power List, Ong is aware that success is more than the upward trajectory of a career. Hence, in selecting the honourees, one criterion was that the woman must not only have achieved a lot for herself but also for society.
Ong is no stranger to community service, having stepped up her involvement three years ago by joining the board of governors at her alma mater, Raffles Girls’ School (Secondary). She says, “It is about quality and not quantity when giving back to society. Choose something you’re very passionate about then no matter how busy your schedule, you’ll make time for it.”
Given the well-rounded qualities that have defined this year’s list of honourees, it is clear Ong is also a strong advocate that women should not base their successes on societal definitions of a good wife, mother, daughter or employee. “Often we fall in to the trap of measuring ourselves against societal standards. Building a fulfilling life on your own terms is more important. However, to make a difference in the lives of others, you must take care of your physical and mental health. Build a support network from which you can draw strength so that you can step forward with confidence. Finally, never be afraid of making decisions which you believe are right and will help you achieve your life’s purpose.”