Born in an economically liberal but culturally conservative place in Southeastern China, I was lucky to have a father who believes in education for women.
While other parents spent their money on material things (for example, a bigger, expensive TV), my father spent a big portion of his hard earned money on the education of his three children (And yes, despite the one-child policy, I have a younger sister and a younger brother and that’s another story).
The most frequent question my father received in those days from other parents, is why he spent so much money on sending daughters to good schools? “They will marry a man and then have kids and so there is no use for a good education”. That was the typical thoughts of most parents in that generation in the place I was growing up. As you can imagine, my father had to defend his decision, but as you can also imagine, my sister and I had to “perform” to prove my father right and those parents wrong – that women’s education is critically important, not only for the individuals and the family, but also for organisations and our society as a whole.
Fast forward so many years, society has come a long way in terms of gender equality. No parents today will choose a TV over their daughters’ education. As I rise up the corporate ladder, I have worked for female leaders and male leaders, worked with female peers and male peers and have built teams and led teams of both sexes. However, the sad fact is that today, there still aren’t many female senior leaders out there. As I rise up the corporate ladder, I have worked more and more with male leaders, male peers and male subordinates. Like so many female senior leaders, I wondered where these women went and why they disappeared?
This article is not an attempt to solve this big problem of our time, but I would like to share some practical learnings and tips from my corporate experience and encourage you to share your thoughts about how to advance women in their career.
For male leaders
- Please feel free to challenge a female leader by asking her views about the world economy, US-China trade war, global warming, post COVID world, vaccinations, mission to Mars etc, etc etc, instead of just asking her how she manages her work-life balance. There is nothing wrong with this question, it’s just we female leaders have been asked too many times in our career and we got tired of assumptions that ‘family balance’ is a bigger limitation or concern for us than it would be to a man.
- Instill confidence in your female team members by creating opportunities for them to stretch and help them gain necessary experience and skills. Mentoring and sharing your experience and how you view things is extremely beneficial for their career development.
- Recognise the native genius (as defined in the book “Multipliers’) in women. Leverage that native genius. Women are so much better at certain things than men!
- Do not assume. At every decision point when you need to select people for a task, a project or a role, compare candidates based on merit. If you have concerns, ask for clarification, instead of making assumptions. I have seen women miss out opportunities for promotion at other companies, because their male managers assume that their performance will be compromised because they are starting a family or have started a family. Family and work are not mutually exclusive. In fact, they both enrich our lives and stretch our capabilities.
- Promoting and encouraging women does NOT have to mean that we downplay or ignore the achievements of men. Rather, it is about recognizing the performance of men and women, highlighting the strengths of both sexes, and how they can be utilised together to achieve the best possible outcome.
For females who want to have a corner office
- Nice girls do not get the corner office. Stop trying to please others. Young ladies out there, please pick up this book, “Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office”, read it and have a good laugh at ourselves. This book may get you the corner office if this is what you want.
- Put yourself forward for opportunities, challenges, projects and promotions. If you do not, your male counterpart will. Males put their hand up for opportunities when they are 50% ready, but females need to wait until they are 90% ready or have done a previous job that’s 90% similar. Please, ladies, when you are 50% ready, you are already good enough for the job. The rest is just selling! Our CEO Darren Pithie would say 80% is just selling!
- Master the power of delegating, not only at work but also at home. I know you are the best at what you do, but try not to do everything yourself. Let everyone do their share, and let everyone learn to suffer others’ imperfection better!
- Conserve your energy. A career is not a sprint but a marathon. In many stages of women’s life, we need a heightened level of energy; in our personal lives (such as the birth of a child and looking after the young one), and in our working lives (such as working on a project that will determine the next step in your career). It is really important that you pace yourself correctly over this long journey. Do not let trivial things bother you and waste your energy. Conserve your energy so when you need it the most, it’s there.
- Broaden your horizons and develop genuine curiosity about the bigger world surrounding our small world. This is especially important when a milestone of your life has been achieved; this is often when we develop the tendency to stop broadening our horizons!
The tech industry struggles to attract women due to years of underdevelopment of the female talent pipeline from STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) disciplines.
Fortunately, Spinifex has numerous successful female leaders who are at the front line of customer engagement, project delivery and corporate support functions. As a company, we are committed to providing equal opportunities for women’s career development and advancement.
I am very proud to report that we have an equal percentage of employees who won the Employee of the Quarter award that started in FY2017, despite a smaller percentage of females in the employee population in our company. This is not an artificial design but a genuine demonstration of the performance of our female employees. I am proud of the achievements of all of our female employees. Well done, ladies!
In the Payroll/HR function of our customers, we work with a large number of female leaders, stakeholders and users. Women in our company are uniquely positioned to understand and feel our customers’ pain, help our customers solve their problems and make an impactful difference at Spinifex for our customers’ success.
Let’s all advance the cause of gender equality! Happy International Women’s Day!