"Empowered women empower other women. Behind every successful woman is a tribe of other successful women who have her back. As women, it's our responsibility to mentor and support the next generation of female leaders, to help them rise to the top and take their seat at the table of upper management," says Jean Aw, Chief Operating Officer, Fermion Group.
Since she began her career as a Computer Science graduate from the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, Australia, Jean Aw has seen the empowerment of women in the workplace come a long way.
Primarily having worked in a field dominated by men, Jean became a specialist in business and technology transformation and gained success across a number of global, regional and local banks, where she served, among other roles, as a Vice President at OCBC Bank, a Director at Ernst & Young Advisory Services, and now as the Chief Operating Officer at Fermion, a Silverlake Axis company.
There was a time when she sat at the boardroom table with just one other woman present, but today Jean says she sees a lot more women becoming leaders. She considers herself fortunate to have worked in environments that are diverse, inclusive and value equal representation of all genders.
Jean thinks it takes an empowered woman to create an environment that fosters young women as leaders. "Despite the tech industry's historical lack of gender diversity, tech companies are now beginning to introduce internal programs to support women," Jean says.
"For instance, at Fermion, we are implementing an app, DEBI, which provides employees with access to programs that range from mental well being which can provide support for new mothers or expectant mothers. While we are putting a support system in place, I also believe it is crucial for us to support each other as colleagues," she adds.
Some of the gender challenges women face in the workplace are salary disparity, lack of leadership representation, sexual harassment, overwork, maternity leave, and microaggressions like being interrupted or talked over in meetings, having their ideas stolen or dismissed, or being criticized for their appearance or behaviour.
Jean believes that empowered women (women in leadership) have the opportunity to start addressing these issues for their younger colleagues. Women are faced with a lot of decisions to make when they are young, such as requiring support from their families and communities or taking a career break to raise their children.
Jean says, "Women should be free to make these choices without undue pressure and should ideally receive support from their colleagues, employers, and loved ones, regardless of their decision." She herself found it possible to have a successful career and a happy family life, but "It requires a lot of planning, organization, and support." But, without a doubt, she acknowledges that as a Christian, her faith in God has given her the ability and wisdom to navigate the ups and downs of her career.
To lay the right foundation to foster young people at work, Jean feels that it is important to understand their challenges. "Both male and female mentees encounter different challenges in the workplace, such as feeling undervalued by their counterparts or doubting the capabilities of a colleague. Before making assumptions, it is crucial to understand the issue and their situation by learning what incidents have occurred that led to them feeling undervalued, and thus identifying specific areas to improve upon."
Being introduced to or seeking out other colleagues who have experienced similar challenges means the person affected can feel supported and get the encouragement they need.
"Mentees should be encouraged to maintain their confidence and not let others make them feel inferior," Jean says. "By taking these steps, they can overcome workplace obstacles and achieve success."
Jean thinks a good mentor should prioritize kindness and fairness in all their relationships, including those with mentees. "It is important to empathize with their struggles while also holding them accountable for their actions. Finding a balance between being caring and firm is essential."
"As a leader, promoting a welcoming and diverse workplace is beneficial for employees and it contributes to the company's success."
Increasingly, diversity and inclusion (D&I) in the workplace are becoming a priority. Current drivers include socio-political movements, regulatory oversight, shareholder activism, procurement priorities, and the increasing importance of D&I as part of the environmental, social, and governance (ESG) agenda.
"Shareholders are becoming more sophisticated. We still have work to do with addressing issues like unconscious bias, and there is increasing demand for transparency and accountability around D&I metrics, including the gender and ethnicity pay gaps," says Jean.
"It is critically important that we understand that creating a culture in the workplace to support gender parity requires ongoing effort and cannot be taken for granted."