KUALA LUMPUR: It’s time women got out of their own way and stopped setting barriers for themselves, women industry leaders said.
“In addition to the structural barriers (to women assuming leadership roles), there are also innate barriers arising from the individual,” said International Trade and Industry Ministry secretary-general Tan Sri Dr Rebecca Fatima Sta Maria, who was a panellist at the “Women, Who Lead” panel discussion held here yesterday.
The others were United Nations Resident Coordinator for Malaysia Michelle Gyles-McDonnough and Multimedia Development Corporation (MDeC) CEO Datuk Yasmin Mahmood.
“I was having dinner with Gyles-McDonnough, and she pointed out that when an opportunity comes along, a man will seize it and a woman will think twice about it, question if she is competent. In this way, we set our own barriers,” said Dr Rebecca.
“Make sure your colleagues know the full quality of your work. Being too self-effacing is not going to work,” she added.
All three panellists recounted personal stories of the forging of stellar career paths.
Their origin tales were woven with one common thread: they initially second-guessed themselves, then decided to trust their abilities and take a leap of faith.
“You have to just do it, like Nike said! At the same time, choose something you care deeply about – because when the challenges come, it’s that caring that’s going to get you over them,” said Gyles-McDonnough.
The panellists also spoke about the importance of claiming space in the workplace, making themselves heard and “leaning in” (a term coined by Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg, on female workplace empowerment).
“It is undisputed that we are needed in the workforce. And while women have unique needs, we should not be apologetic about that. Support from our organisations is very important,” said Yasmin.
At the same time, balance and equality are deemed important.
“Women bear the responsibility of care, whether it is for children, or aged parents. We must find a way for men to share the care with us at home – it is not enough to just have policies that implement daycare at work, for instance,” said Gyles-McDonnough.
The discussion, moderated by US Ambassador to Asean Nina Hachigian, was organised by the United States Embassy.
Hachigian said the discussion on women in leadership roles was very relevant, as an extensive body of research showed that countries in which women did well also showed significant economic growth and stability.
“It’s been wonderful to see the advances (in the position of women) in my lifetime, but there is still so much work to be done, including in the US,” she said.