Sabrina Ho remembers the time she attended a meeting with a male colleague, only to be treated like she was the secretary or translator when she was the boss. The client assumed Ho, the managing director of executive search company KS Partners, was the subordinate because of her gender and mostly ignored her. It was only when it was time to seal the deal that the slight was revealed. Ever the consummate professional, Ho says she carried on as if nothing was amiss, preferring to brush this off as a minor incident.
Through her 15 years in the recruitment industry, she has witnessed many more examples of the unequal treatment women face in the workplace. She recounts the story of a female board member who was asked to get a glass of water for her male counterpart. In another instance, a candidate lost out on her dream job because she was newly pregnant.
“I was heartbroken and sick to the stomach,” says Ho. In the past, some companies even hinted that they preferred to hire men over women, she adds.
Determined to contribute to levelling the playing field, the 36-year-old launched Half The Sky, a career platform focused on connecting female professionals with equal opportunity employers, last year.
“I was motivated to resolve this problem to give women access to better jobs with companies that care,” says the Singapore-based Ho, who has worked in Hong Kong, New York and Beijing.
The site, targeted towards women at any level of their careers, including those who have taken a career break, has listings by large organisations such as JP Morgan, DBS, Cisco and UPS. Also included in the listings are each company’s equality policies and initiatives such as flexible working arrangements, paid parental leave, childcare facilities and leadership opportunities. “Times are changing and old cultural structures no longer work. There is no better opportunity than now for women to be what we want to be,” she says.
Since its launch, Half The Sky has expanded to 11 countries in the region, including Indonesia, Japan and India. “Employers on our platform want to hire more women to achieve a diverse work culture. It makes business sense as studies have shown that diverse companies record better performances and higher productivity,” she says.
Half The Sky is also focused on helping women to equip themselves with skills to continue thriving in tomorrow’s jobs. It regularly holds webinars and offers coaching, mentoring and training.
“Times are changing and old cultural structures no longer work. There is no better opportunity than now for women to be what we want to be.”
During the pandemic, the site logged thousands of women getting involved with its content. While recent reports have shown that women are disproportionately affected by the economic impact of the pandemic, she urges displaced individuals to continue upskilling themselves, particularly in technology. Noting that about 60 to 70 per cent of the listings on Half The Sky are tech-related, she says, “There is a high growth of technology jobs and they want women.”
Even when she’s not working, Ho continues to fuel her mission in life. Besides relying on a fitness regimen of high-intensity interval training, boxing and yoga to de-stress and stay sharp, she loves books about entrepreneurship or feminism.
And when the going gets tough, she relies on her mother’s advice to stay the course. “Both my parents are entrepreneurs. My mum told me, ‘If you are going to run a business, do something that can help people. Be of service’.”