Ipek Akinci, Philips DA

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Ipek Akinci, General Manager (Singapore, Malaysia, and Emerging Markets), Philips Domestic Appliances (Philips DA) is a firm believer in building a high-performing team through compassionate leadership as she steers the brand's growth in the region. 

She implements the values of compassionate leadership at Philips DA by prioritising holistic wellbeing for employees, be it through its 'Oxygen Fridays' that empower employees to find 'balcony moments' to self-reflect or upskill their own capabilities; by enhancing flexi-benefits for health and wellness needs; or through the 24/7 employee assistance programme hotline that supports employees’ emotional wellbeing.

In this Breaking Barriers interview, she talks to Aditi Sharma Kalra about addressing common challenges that women continue to face in the workplace, as well as tips for leaders to advance gender equity, diversity, and inclusion.

Q With all the focus around employee wellbeing at Philips, what to you is the definition of compassionate leadership, and why is it so hard to build?

The pandemic has taken leadership back to its most fundamental element - making a positive difference to people’s lives. It is important for leaders in such times, if not all times, to demonstrate compassionate leadership. The focus of compassionate leadership is to influence, not direct. We need to understand the hopes and fears of our people. Yes, the business is important, but the success and effectiveness of a business are very much dependent on the people that work in it.

As compassionate leaders, we need to create a safe environment where we can guide and support team members, acknowledge success and learn from failures, create stronger connections between people, raise the level of trust, and prioritise their wellbeing. All of these are to be done while moving the organisation towards its goals. It is definitely not easy, but it is crucial.

Q With Philips DA being in the STEM space, how are you and your team supporting women in the workplace and encouraging women to consider a career in technology?

I think this is a complex issue that is systemic, structural, and cultural. It should start from early education where we shouldn’t be pigeon-holing genders in their supposed natural calling.

The glass ceiling is increasingly being broken and this is evident with women in powerful leadership roles across the world. That being said, there is still work to be done as women continue to face challenges within the workplace around gender equity as well as diversity and inclusion.

At Philips Domestic Appliances, we provide equal opportunities and treatment for everyone so as to foster a diverse and inclusive culture for our people. As leaders, we provide women the support, tools, and guidance to help them develop their individual leadership style that helps them accentuate their strengths. If their interest lies in technology-related fields, then we explore how we can train and nurture them in realising their goals.

Some ways of encouraging women in pursuing a career in technology are by removing bias in the hiring process through developing neutral job descriptions, raising awareness on gender equality, and nurturing talent through career development and mentorship.

I am delighted to say that for the countries I oversee, which are Singapore, Malaysia, and Emerging Markets, the gender ratio is 60-40 in favour of women.

Q What are some meaningful lessons in leadership you've adapted over the course of your career?

The organisation is an organic creature, like a human body. Each limb and organ has a role to play and complements each other. The key is how to utilise specific and diverse skillsets to achieve a common goal. As a leader, you must be confident enough to acknowledge your own strengths and weaknesses and find people who complement or even challenge you. No one knows everything and every aspect of an organisation. You need to move like an organic whole towards the objective.

Having a good mentor or a role model is also helpful. This person can guide and impart to you invaluable lessons. We learn from each other’s successes and failures. We pick what is relevant and good and give it our own flavour based on our own experiences.

Q With 'Oxygen Friday' and flexi-benefits among your holistic wellbeing measures, how do you typically 'listen' to what employees want and cater to their needs?

A company is as good as the team behind it, and it is important for organisations to acknowledge the work the team has done by listening to their needs and wants.

Over the last two years, we understand how working from home while juggling a family can be draining, both mentally and physically. We’ve therefore enhanced the flexi-benefits scheme for employee health and wellness needs and introduced an employee assistance programme hotline that runs 24/7 to support employees’ emotional wellbeing.

We have also introduced a hybrid working model comprising a three-day work-from-home and two-day work-from-office model. This aims to improve the productivity and overall wellbeing of employees and encourage them to disconnect for meaningful downtime. Through feedback from our employees across APAC, we introduced 'Oxygen Friday' so employees can spend one day to be free from internal meetings and other non-critical work to pause, think, catch up, and connect.

Q If you could have lunch with any three people who inspire you the most, who would they be, and why?

Indra Nooyi - Her story is simply an inspiration. She climbed the career ladder despite the obstacles placed before her just because she is a mother and a woman of colour. She was also bold enough to admit when things didn't go that well.

Simon Sinek - I admire people who speak and think fast and yet still make sense. Most important of all, his human touch to our harsh world is very valuable.

Greta Thunberg - She is such an inspiration at such a young age! Her single-mindedness and passion to save the planet should motivate and inspire all of us to do our parts.


In this brand-new series of interviews, titled Breaking BarriersHRO speaks to women leaders globally who have forged their paths and made a mark in their career of choice, doing what they love best — living out their passions and uplifting others to go further and faster. Read all our Breaking Barriers interviews here

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