Do enough women speak up and ask for what they deserve at the workplace? From my experience, the answer is no. But as I learned fairly early in my career, it pays to stand up for yourself.
As general manager of Yahoo Taiwan in the mid 2000s, I had built a successful business in the country. One day I got a call from Jerry (co-founder of Yahoo), who wanted my assessment on another colleague, who he was considering for a larger role. A role I was both qualified and experienced to take on myself. It took every bit of courage to ask him, “Jerry, have you thought about me for the role?” He replied, “Let me think about it.” It was a nerve-wracking period, but two weeks later, I got the job.
As women, we are plagued with self-doubt and this often holds us back, especially as we progress up the ladder. Women are underrepresented as leaders, and this is true across regions and sectors. According to The World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2020, only 18.2% of top managers are women. This problem seems to be more acute in our corner of the world. A news article pointed out that Asia in particular lags when it comes to women’s leadership (12.8%), compared to regions such as Northern Europe (35.6%) and United States and Canada (20.9%).
Working in media and technology for most of my career, I’ve seen the discussion on inclusivity and diversity grow louder and more nuanced over the years. There are many arguments that can be made for a diverse, inclusive organisation. But the most pressing one is that it is great for business, with studies showing gender-diverse organisations report above-average profitability. Technology teams have more to gain when they are inclusive, outperforming across areas like ‘implementing new ideas’ and ‘making timely decisions,’ Gartner research revealed.
There are proven linkages between diversity and innovation. A global survey by Boston Consulting Group found that companies with more diverse management teams clocked 19% higher innovation revenue.
As companies navigate the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, there’s a strategic case to be made for nurturing a more inclusive, diverse organisation. Characteristics of such organisations, like the ability to innovate, stay responsive, adapt, think creatively and make decisions with agility, will be crucial for enterprises through the recovery period ahead, as brands pivot or reevaluate their business models to meet fast-evolving needs of consumers.
So what does it take to foster a more gender-diverse workplace, with women represented throughout, all the way to the top? Here is my understanding of what needs to be done, as a leader in an organisation that values diversity, and as a working woman.
Nurture an environment for women to feel safe, trusted
Over the years, I experienced life circumstances that act as roadblocks in most women’s careers such as childcare or aging parents. Such concerns have been magnified by our new reality of remote working, with many more added responsibilities and the lines blurring between work and home.
As a leader, I believe organisations can and must enable a culture which offers women employees support that is meaningful to them when they need it. Especially now, leaders have to nurture a work environment where women can bring their ‘whole self’ to work, not just their ‘work self,’ which maximises their potential and contribution to the organisation. This, in turn, creates a powerful environment where all employees, irrespective of their gender, are set up for success.
McKinsey argues that it isn’t the ‘glass ceiling’ that prevents women from reaching senior leadership positions. The biggest obstacle for women comes much earlier, at the first step up to manager. “Fixing this ‘broken rung’ is the key to achieving parity,” according to McKinsey-LeanIn’s Women in the Workplace Survey 2019 report.
Right now, working from home has vastly limited visibility and internal networking opportunities for women. Organisations will have to proactively step up to create programmes that can open up career progression paths and opportunities to encourage inclusion. We have seen success with our ‘Forward 20’ program, which has become a platform for growth, learning and advancement. High-potential women employees are chosen to interact with leaders and learn how to push their careers ahead as a network. Think of it as mentorship that can eventually lead to improved career outcomes.
To fix the broken rung, I believe it is important to create a culture where women are supported when it matters for them. They must feel safe, trusted and empowered to take on greater responsibility. On a more personal level, mentoring women in my organisation, steering them to dream bigger and achieve more while finding the balance has been one of the most rewarding experiences personally and professionally for me.
Walk the path to success
'Believe it’s possible' is a mantra I live my life by. My advice to every woman reading this is: believe your dreams are possible. Don’t settle for any less than the best you see for yourself. Be brave enough to ask for that raise or promotion you think you deserve, especially when you have delivered in your job. As women, we have to fight for what we work so hard for because we deserve it.
As women we have to break the glass ceiling because no one else is going to do it for us. Don’t feel embarrassed to chart your career, set goals and work towards them. Don’t hold yourself back before you actually need to. In an interview with MAKERS, a Verizon Media brand advancing equality for women at the workplace, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg pertinently said, "We hold ourselves back unintentionally. I have seen so many women lean back years before they actually have children, in anticipation of that responsibility. Once you have a child, you have hard decisions to make. But the best way to put yourself in a great position until then, is to lean forward. Keep your options open." Something most young working women will identify with.
One thing I would tell every woman entering the workforce is: Put the self-doubt aside and seize every opportunity that comes your way. Speak up for yourself. Voice your opinion. Believe that you can succeed, and then, believe you can make it happen.
Rose Tsou is head of international and ecommerce at Verizon Media.