Change comes from challenges, and that is the main message that this year’s International Women’s Day is looking to advocate. Gender parity in workplaces is achievable through individual transformation. With IWD 2021’s #ChooseToChallenge, the campaign aspires to inspire both men and women to challenge gender bias, stereotypes and celebrate women’s achievement around the world.
ICAEW paid tribute to the first female centenarian who joined the ICAEW membership at the age of 76 in 1920. Her tenacity went against the tide in a male-dominated profession a century ago. Fast forward to today where the profession has evolved what there are more women becoming chartered accountants and excelling in their respective professions. Therefore, ICAEW is committed to promoting the importance of gender equality while making significant progress since the establishment of the institute in 1880.
This year, ICAEW invited a line-up of six prominent female leaders and entrepreneurs from across various professions to discuss diversity and inclusion, leadership in today’s digital age, and women’s evolving role in business.
#ChooseToChallenge to create a better environment that allows female workforce to thrive
As Frances McDormand once said during her Oscar acceptance speech for Best Actress, “Women have ideas and, to put those ideas into action, they need a seat at the table.” This message goes to show that women in the workplace should be treated as equal with their male colleagues. In order to achieve that, it is not only about the representation or striking gender balance, but also about bringing gender balance in leadership roles, decision-making processes, and the strategic parts of the business.
Mark Billington, ICAEW Regional Director, Greater China and South-East Asia, shared that leaders can establish an environment for growth, recognition, and advancement to spark a positive change in gender bias. In his early days as an Audit Junior, his manager was a woman. As he advanced through the corporate world, each career progression made him realise that women hold the minority in senior management positions. Even in the US Fortune 500, only 4% of companies have a female CEO. He believes that it is about time for people to stop being tied to old habits and start celebrating achievements, change inequality, and cultivate inclusion to attract talented and accomplished people into the workforce, regardless of gender.
‘Diversity calls for action, and inclusion is the outcome.’
Studies have shown that children as young as three years old have an awareness of differences and similarities between people. Professor Annie Koh and Soo Fern shared that diversity and inclusion begin with the role of parenting. As parents, we must be responsible for having these conversations, modeling inclusive behaviors, and guiding our children to accept others and their differences. While these conversations are deemed personal and complex in the past due to lack of understanding, this is vital in tackling racism or sexism within future generations.
Growing up, Professor Koh has always looked up to her mother, who raised four amazing daughters despite only pursuing education until Primary 6. An important piece of her mother’s advice that remains with her: “Choose to challenge the myth that women don’t have to study all the way.” To break the mold of this common misconception, women need the support and encouragement of others without questioning their capabilities due to their age or whether they can balance work and family responsibilities. Through higher education, women can use it as an important tool to help them realise their true potential, hone their skills, and make real progress in closing the gender gap. As Soo Fern shared during the forum, “Women should be included in every conversation and in every position. So that we will get new and better perspectives.”
It is crucial to push your own limits that are set by you, not for you by others
Based on a 2020 McKinsey report, diverse companies perform better with more talented hires and retain employees better than those who fail to focus on diversity and inclusion. Nevertheless, women are still incredibly underrepresented in the tech industry. According to Daphne Ng, co-founder of Dedoco and a seasoned speaker and advisor on blockchain and data application, and Karen Ko, who leads IBM strategies, several top executives in the tech arena are female. Both Daphne and Karen agreed that this has successfully set the tone for future female leaders as having women in senior leadership positions can positively impact female employee engagement and retention.
Nonetheless, all of these begs the question of “Does that unwittingly lead to happiness?” While success is getting what we want, happiness is liking what we get, which is precisely what Susanna Chio, the COO and Executive Director at Bonjour Holdings highlight on. As a young person, it can be hard to grasp that while humans are all the same, there will always be different treatment between women and men. However, as Susanna had said, nothing is out of reach for anyone if only they build themselves into a strong, confident, and self-sufficient person. Looking at Lavinia Koh, her life journey from studying at LSE to working in one of the Big 4 and now, leading the finance transformation at MyRepublic while successfully raising a family. Lavinia shared that her secret to success is to have a good support system and mentorship. To be an active listener and learner, and be open and respectful of others’ advice. As one day, everyone will reach a point in time where they too will become an impactful mentor to someone as well.
If you enjoyed the read and would like to watch the full recording of the ICAEW Women’s Forum 2021 session, you can visit the following link: http://bit.ly/38O4SlX