As part of our series of 22 stories under the overarching theme of #ChooseToChallenge, the team at Human Resources Online reached out to about 70 leaders (women and men - because we believe men play a part too) to ask "What is one action you are taking at work, and at home, to challenge the existing gender stereotypes?"

In this 20th part of our series, leaders from Adjust, AWWA, FIS, ICAEW, Jebsen & Jessen Ingredients, Lark, Uniphore, and Verizon Media, share the following: 

  • Fostering a harmonious work environment, providing open and safe spaces for everyone.
  • Celebrating how differences make us strong individually.
  • Challenging the use of gendered language.
  • Creating platforms and opportunities for different stakeholders to come together for open and honest dialogues.
  • How the way leaders lead and manage teams have a ripple effect in the company culture.
  • Offering equal opportunity for all and empowering other women to take on leadership roles.
  • Mentoring and contributing to a trusted network of mentors.
  • Being aware of implicit bias that has been ingrained with socialisation and life experiences.

April Tayson, Regional Vice President, INSEA, Adjust

In my role, I am dedicated to forging positive visibility of women in the workplace by encouraging women participation in meaningful ways, nominating them for opportunities to go out of their comfort zones and by celebrating their achievements and journeys.

At Adjust, we intend to create, foster and encourage women to be the strongest voices in defining our direction and culture as a company. Through our various programs including diversity and inclusion training, flexible working schedule, equitable parental leave and mentorship opportunities, we have established a positive environment for all.

Within my team, I strive to foster a harmonious work environment, providing open and safe spaces for everyone to share ideas, express their thoughts, challenge ideas and arrive at decisions taking into consideration various opinions.

I personally do not believe in behind-the-scenes contributors, but rather encourage my team to be at the forefront by creating ample opportunities for everyone to shine.

The pandemic has also added to existing challenges of working parents and it hasn’t spared young and single professions as well, which is why Adjust has introduced counselling sessions via Spill, an all-in-one workplace mental health support integrated into Slack. All Adjusters now have access to Spill for free, including video sessions and written advice, and a six-part therapy program.

I am a firm believer that without equal inclusion of women in business, education, health and politics, we will not be able to solve the world’s most pressing problems and achieve a prosperous, vibrant future.

As Ruth Bader Ginsburg rightly said ‘Women belong in all places where decisions are being made. It shouldn't be that women are the exception.'

Closer to home, many women leaders have made a long-standing impact on Asian political landscape even while women leaders in the west were trying to break the glass ceiling until recently. This is reflected in every sphere-business, economics, judiciary, sports and entertainment.

My personal inspiration is the late Miriam Defensor Santiago, a Filipina academic, lawyer, judge, author, and stateswoman, who served in all three branches of the Philippines government (judicial, executive, and legislative).

She encapsulated bold and moral leadership in a space that had little women representation for centuries. Her no-nonsense style of leadership set her apart from the rest of the pack, and her legacy has inspired countless young women in the Philippines.

Ng Lee Lee, Assistant Director, Adult Disability & Inclusion, AWWA

I am passionate about seeing abilities beyond disabilities, focusing on strengths instead of perceived shortcomings.

No matter our gender or abilities, we should celebrate how differences make us strong individually and collectively.

Inequality is a social construct, and I believe we can tear it down stereotype by stereotype, bias by bias. In doing so, we can build a more accessible world for all. For each and every young heart and adult that I work with – my steadfast belief in their empowerment through participation will continue to drive me to challenge all stereotypes through my action and words.

Isabel Naidoo, Inclusion & Talent Lead, FIS

I believe words matter.

The use of inclusive language goes a long way in creating an environment where people feel a sense of belonging. Conversely, gendered language can lead to an immediate sense of otherness or hostility. Hence I am choosing to challenge our use of language.

For instance, when someone uses a gender-specific or gender-bias term that assumes a male default (e.g. women’s football), I point it out and use it as an opportunity to spark conversation on the topic. [Note: This concept is covered in detail, in Cristina Criado Perez’s marvellous book ‘Invisible Women’].

Certain words or traits are also predominantly being used to describe women, such as “chatty” or “bossy”, perpetuating bias. I would ask what the person means by that term and whether they would use it to describe a man too.

Asking questions is a good way to promote awareness and challenging behaviour. It’s time that we embrace a more inclusive way of communicating both at work and at home.

I am proud of the work we are driving at FIS where we have a unique combination of geography, age, gender, gender identity, race, ethnicity, ability, language, culture, religion, sexual orientation, beliefs, thinking styles, education, work history, socio-economic status, and life experiences. By providing an inclusive employee experience where everyone's views count, FIS empowers our employees to thrive and achieve their full potential.

Mark Billington, Managing Director International, ICAEW

Choosing to challenge stereotypes both at work and at home is an active and conscious decision that business leaders have to commit to each and every day.

In my opinion, education and communication are key to addressing gender stereotypes. Only by recognising, understanding and addressing how stereotypes influence individuals, communities and businesses, can we make real progress when it comes to diversity and inclusion.

Both in my personal capacity and in the workplace, I advocate creating platforms and opportunities for different stakeholders to come together and have open and honest dialogues about what gender equality looks like.

These conversations will set the foundation for us to establish real targets that can mobilise the wider community, guide our diversity efforts and inculcate these values in the next generation of leaders.

Lim Siew Tin, Chief Executive Officer, Jebsen & Jessen Ingredients

As a woman leading a regional team in a male-dominated industry, I understand the pressure on women to prove themselves.

I believe the way we lead and manage teams has a ripple effect in the company culture.

So, I try to manage in a way that exhibits strong core values. These include open communication, as well as building long-term trust and personal relationships. I hope this helps create an environment where my team respects one another, and performance is duly recognised.

There is so much we can achieve when everyone leverages each other's strength, regardless of gender, to build a better workplace and society.

Joey Lim, Vice-President of Commercial Asia, at Lark

As a leader at a tech start-up and mother of three, I believe that our actions can shape young minds and inspire others. Having worked in tech since 2007, I understand how this industry can seem intimidating for women, especially as it’s traditionally male-dominated.

I actively challenge this gender stereotype by offering equal opportunity for all and empowering other women to take on leadership roles.

Lark is also a diverse and inclusive workplace, where half of our leaders are women. At home, I try to expose my kids to all paths in life. Children have a unique, natural ability to see the world as limitless, and as a mum, I hope to nurture this mindset and support them in whichever area they choose to pursue.

Annie Shea Weckesser, CMO + People, Uniphore

I have a passion for building companies and achieving incredible things with stellar teams. At Uniphore, we coach leaders to embrace diversity and inclusion.

I believe mentoring is key for success, especially for women in any male-dominated industry. With two decades of experience, I have learned from others who have blazed a trail and am grateful.

Be brave! Choose to challenge and call out others for their assumptions. Be authentic and acknowledge what has helped you overcome your own hurdles. It’s essential to have and contribute to a network of trusted mentors, which will help you challenge the status quo.

Carol Tay, Senior Director Sales Southeast Asia, Verizon Media

As a woman, at home and within society, I am passionate to advance gender equality. As a leader in the workplace, I recognise that equality is a great business decision and that I am able to increase opportunities for others, especially women.

To tackle unconscious bias against gender stereotypes, I try to be aware of my own implicit bias that has been ingrained with socialisation and life experiences.

This includes keeping myself educated and learning from role models in the industry. In the workplace, to minimise unconscious bias, objective criteria are set to ensure that rewards are based on merit - a good way to harness the best of everyone.

Photos / provided

First row, L-R: April Tayson, Ng Lee Lee, Isabel Naidoo, and Mark Billington. Second row, L-R: Lim Siew Tin, Joey Lim, Annie Shea Weckesser, and Carol Tay.

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