Breaking Barriers: Jabil's global CIO is breaking the glass ceiling, and encouraging other women to do so

As a leader who holds D&I close to her heart, May Yap, Senior Vice President and Chief Information Officer, Jabil prides herself on encouraging open dialogue, and supporting women in the workforce in living up to their potential.

May Yap, Senior Vice President and Chief Information Officer (CIO), Jabil, is a source of inspiration to the company's women employees.

Referred to as Jabil's most visible woman leader, she was awarded the title of  IDC’s first Asia Pacific CIO of the Year at the Future Enterprise Awards (FE) — a regional recognition that precedes the CIO of the Year Singapore award she received in September 2021, which celebrates outstanding industry professionals who have significantly disrupted or transformed the market using digital technologies.

To add another feather in her cap, Yap is also an honouree on Forbes’ inaugural CIO Next list as one of the 50 innovative technology leaders, which recognises her use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and data analytics to enhance operations and productivity to cope with the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, in a period which saw many CIOs having to adjust or augment existing digital transformation strategies.

As a leader who holds diversity & inclusion close to her heart, Yap prides herself on being an active speaker who encourages open dialogue in the workforce, and supporting women in the workforce in living up to their potential.

In this edition of Breaking Barriers, let's hear all about Yap's growth and experience as both a leader and a professional in the industry, and the lessons she's learnt along the way. 

Q As global CIO, what are your priorities for the operating sites in Asia and the US, and how does that tie back to the people agenda? Do you work with the CHRO in rolling these out?

For a global manufacturing solutions provider like Jabil, with about 260,000 employees spread over 100 sites in 30 countries, our success and business resilience start with our people.

Our business is diverse and complex. We offer industry-specific design engineering, manufacturing and supply chain services for industries spanning healthcare, defence, computing, storage, networking, electronics manufacturing and consumer industries, as well as materials technology services, to name a few.

We intentionally place Talent/People as a critical pillar of our overall Global IT strategy, ensuring that the diversity of our team members allows us to foster innovation, advance ideas and offer new perspectives that create real business impact and resiliency.

I believe there are three fundamentals to empowering an effective workforce:

Firstly, mindset and behaviours: Across our global IT team of some 1,700 people, we are guided by our 5C principles:

  • Be customer-driven, establish a community of practice, communicate effectively, have courage, and maintain compliance.

Secondly, future-proofing: From talent strategy to adopting strategic, cutting-edge technologies to developing advanced technical skillsets, we have shifted our role from traditional IT delivery to an enabler and strategic partner to leadership, driving new value and competitive differentiation for Jabil and our customers.

Thirdly, equitable workplace: We have expanded several key talent-based initiatives such as our Early Career Talent journey, Global Talent Transformation, Mentoring Women in Tech and Train for Hard-to-Acquire skills, which allow us to create an inclusive, future-ready workforce.

The COVID-19 pandemic has also made us rethink the way work gets done. We have advanced the capabilities of human-machine collaboration, created new or upgraded skillsets, and rolled out hybrid work models to support an intelligent, dynamic, collaborative digital-led environment.

During this time, our employees were given training to leverage collaborative tools to work effectively across the globe, including holding regular virtual meetings and discussions to make up for the absence of in-person meetings.

As you can imagine, a lot of what we do involves people and we often partner with our colleagues – including our CHRO – on how to enhance productivity and collaboration across the enterprise and how to get our people to use IT tools more intelligently and intuitively. We also need to be mindful about the Future of Work, especially the impact of emerging technologies and AI, demographic shifts in the workforce and building workplaces that inspire innovation.

Q Starting your career out in Singapore, you've since worked across China and currently the US (Florida). As a leader, what are some lessons you've learnt in cross-cultural management? 

When managing a multi-cultural global team, it is important to appreciate the notion of 'culture' and its impact on the workforce; as well as groom global leaders who possess leadership traits that match the culture of the organisation.

For example, there are some key differences between Western and Eastern business ethos. In Eastern cultures, humility is valued as an important virtue and employees tend to downplay their achievements, attributing success to a team and collective effort. Employees will not be overly keen to self-promote their own capability but will wait for management to identify and make arrangements for career development or advancement opportunities.

In the West, humility may be regarded as a sign of weakness. One is often evaluated by their own merit or individual performance and unique value proposition.

Within the work hierarchy, Eastern ethos requires rank-and-file employees to know their place and abide by the unspoken rules that come with it. When engaged in casual conversations and even business discussions, these employees will be polite and indirect. At times, they find the Western way of business communication too direct and aggressive. Another difference between Western and Eastern work ethos is the interpretation of power.

In the Eastern ethos, employees respect hierarchy and managers are distinctly more directive compared to a Western culture that values open discussion and partnership.

As global leaders, it is important to nurture certain leadership traits, which include self-discipline and motivation, the ability to accept and manage ambiguity and interpersonal communication skills which include empathy, patience and good networking skills.

Q As a beneficiary of Jabil's D&I programme, what are the key learnings that you'd like to share with other women leaders who are looking to break the glass ceiling?

Before I was promoted to CIO of Jabil, I was an active speaker at the company’s Jabil Joules programme, an internal platform to create an open dialogue around diversity& inclusion through global educational forums, mentorships and community involvement activities. The programme serves all employees – male and female – and from those just starting their careers to senior leaders.

Since the start of my career, I try to embrace all genders, personalities and ethnicities. To me, it is one’s ability that determines one’s future and success. I’m also mindful of the thin line between being assertive and likeable.

Some decisions are difficult to make and are not always popular. But I have found that open dialogue is the best way of achieving a win-win situation and in doing so, I began speaking up and sharing my opinions, encouraging other female colleagues to do the same.

Supporting other female colleagues is close to my heart as I want to see more female leaders living up to their potential. As a working mother of three children, I understand how difficult it is to juggle between a professional career and raising a family. To return the kindness I have received through the course of my career, I wanted to give back by supporting female colleagues who want to take that step forward and overcome challenges that hold them back.

Today, I mentor three other female leaders and always find time to have one-on-one meetings with my direct reports and conduct regular tea talks/coffee sessions with small groups of my IT team members.

Q If there were three leaders you could have breakfast with you, who would you choose and why?

While the following is not in any particular order, I would love to meet and spend some time with these leaders:

Bill Gates – To all IT professionals, Bill is a legend and it will be a real honour to speak with him. His leadership style of empowering people because individual perspectives create new opportunities to explore ideas really inspires and resonates with me. Many people follow him because they know he can transform them into better leaders.

Elon Musk – Elon Musk is bold and innovative, and sometimes a dreamer. He is able to get people excited about his bold vision, plans, and projects; yet stay focused and committed in delivering these big and bold dreams. I think there are many interesting ideas that I can get from him.

Michelle Obama – Michelle is a real leader. How she fights for issues that matter for the average family, community and the less privileged yet stays true to herself is impressive. She is a strong role model that will aspire women all over the world now and for future generations to come.


In this 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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