By Kylie Kwong and Matt Franklin
Agnes Chan passionately speaks about the inclusion of women in leadership in business and government. In her career so far, she has won many individual awards including Best in Tax Individual Award and she was the first leader outside of Mainland China to be named “China Economic Women of the Year” in 2012, amongst a slew of other awards. Her many accolades has shown that as an individual she has excelled, but it is her belief in teaming and women as a collective that she speaks most strongly about when talking about success in business.
When asked what struggles still lie ahead for women, Chan suggests that the traditional role of women has not changed. She notes that she still has to attend to the needs of her family. So what can be done? “The most important thing is helping women stay in careers, and that company’s look at their corporate policies to allow for flexible work arrangements. As leaders we need to be flexible when certain needs arise – but we also need to be aware of conscious and unconscious bias and work to eliminate it,”.
She emphasises that the workforce needs to look ahead and plan for the future, particularly in light of the ageing population. She argues that the profession is neither about retaining female talent nor creating quotas – it’s about retaining the right skills and talent to ensure a sustainable future.
EY last year released a report, Women. Fast Forward: The time for gender parity is now. Chan points to the report to say that men and women both must make a proactive approach to ensuring women’s careers can progress by working together. The report also highlights the 80 years until gender parity is reached. Chan reacts by saying that “The time for gender parity is now – is important that we continue to support women in the industry, because the report highlights the economic benefits that come with the advancement of women”.
When it comes to spreading the word and getting leaders to lead on equality, Chan suggests that it simply needs to be part of your business strategy. “At EY, Diversity and Inclusiveness is a part of our business strategy – men and women are involved and we also work to recognise leaders who are doing it right,”
When asked about her personal success and admired leadership, Chan says it comes down to three cornerstones, her three P’s. Passion, patience and persistence. “After all these years, when someone asks me if I still enjoy what I do, I can absolutely say that I do”. She also muses that “Change is the only constant. If one day you don’t find any change in anything, you’ve got to start worrying about it. Passion keeps me going and growing. Patience – we live in a complex world, you need to be patient with yourself”. Chan laughs and says that “Especially Hong Kong people – we cannot sit still even for a minute!” And finally persistence, Chan speculates that one should not give up easily because sometimes it may take ages to find the best way to do certain things but “its persistence that will give you the courage to go the extra mile and be successful”.
Karen Loon, PwC Singapore Banking and Capital Markets Leader, wears many hats. In 2013, Karen was appointed the Asia Pacific Diversity Leader and also PwC Singapore’s Diversity Leader. She is also a member of PwC’s Global Diversity and Inclusion Leadership Team and has chaired its Global Financial Services Diversity Steering Committee. With a passion for diversity, she also knows the importance of talent strategies and inclusion.
Diversity and inclusion is a business issue says Loon. “It’s an issue that needs the right level of seniority and accountability to make it work”.
“Clients are now expecting a lot more in terms of different ideas and different thoughts and thinking that is outside the box and if we just come up with the same old solutions the challenge will be the sustainability of the business”
She says that bigger picture we need to look at broader diversity issues. “An environment of inclusion means that everyone feels that they can contribute and are valued – that’s important and it goes beyond a checklist of requirements, it’s the inclusion of skills”.
Strength in numbers
PwC’s Global CEO Survey in 2015 showed that 85% of CEOs surveyed who said they have a formal diversity and inclusiveness strategy said that it has improved their bottom line. This is also reflected in the talent pool – 86% of female millennials and 74% of male millennials say they consider the employers’ policies on diversity, equality and inclusion when deciding which company to work for.
It’s in the pipeline
When we look at parity and equality, Loon says that we often look at the top, such as leadership positions. Obviously we want more women at the top but we need to make sure people are ready, she says. “But I feel a lot more effort needs to go into the pipeline – we need to build the pipeline up.” Pointing to a PwC female millennial survey in 2015, Loon says that industries lose people and a lot of the “reasons” why stem from speculation. She argues that this is why data is important because it shows the reality.
“People tend to speculate that women drop out because they want to have a family – they often automatically think it’s a gender or family issue but the millennial survey shows the first reason why women leave their jobs is because they feel there aren’t career opportunities and development.”
Around the world and up the career ladder
This is why international assignment and talent mobility is important. Loon says that mobility assignments can help increase one’s agility and global assignment can help foster greater diversity and inclusion in organisations. “When managers think about mobility they often think about the return on investment so people may be reluctant to send people until they’ve demonstrated more years of experience and that’s when you start to have challenges when people make assumptions that women don’t want to go because they want to start families,” Loon says.
PwC’s recent survey Modern mobility: Moving women with purpose showed that most women surveyed want to work overseas in their first six years of their careers with 74% the global average and a higher average of 83% for Singaporean women.
The importance of awareness and accountability
With increased awareness of unconscious bias, Loon says that we need to understand how that impacts day-to-day business, even just around conversations about careers and promotions but more importantly Loon stresses the importance of accountability. “The main thing is that we are able to show progress in a good way without making people feel like a target has been met,” she said.