Why do we need to talk about gender diversity?
A simple reason: diversity inspires higher levels of creativity, period. It poses variety in how we think and respond. Therefore the subject is about diversity, not gender.
Observations of my successful female-exec friends
The character of my successful female-executive friends may not be the sole reason they are successful, but I do think their strong character helps them go through difficulties.
They are resilient when facing negativity. I have rarely met someone who has not come across gender bias in her career. But most of them choose to tone down the impact on themselves, and instead use that as a basis to work even harder to prove their 'quality'.
They tend to deal with change with a more constructive attitude. Perhaps they are used to the working environment in the advertising and marketing industry, where change is regular, but they deal with change with a more 'task-oriented' manner. This makes it easier for them to cope with changing dynamics much faster. It aids them in better performance at work.
Is family a reason for not proceeding further with your career?
I do know of some female friends who decide not to take on bigger roles or more demanding jobs because of family. There is nothing wrong with that. Work-life balance is a very individual and sacred subject. A woman and her partner both need to support her if she decides to as, after all, it is a family decision. The same holds true for men in their careers.
Can we do both (full-time mom and full-time career)? Hard. Can we have a creative solution? Yes, but it involves compromise.
In my case, before I took on the China CEO role in 2013, I had a long family meeting with my husband Eric and my daughter Jana (who at that time was only 7 years old). We ran through pros and cons as well as short-term and long-term family objectives and solutions. We come to the conclusion that we would all take my [CEO] job as a "family job”. It involves sacrifices.
In AdAge's Women To Watch award ceremony last year [Editor's note: The event is similar to Campaign's Women To Watch], I took Jana on stage with me to receive the award. I told her that without her 'decision' in 2013, I wouldn't be able to receive the award. She is my "partner in crime", so the recognition is for her too.
How I look at myself
In my personal experience, I have confronted gender bias (perhaps a better way of saying is 'social stereotype') in my earlier career life. I opted to not let it take away my chances. I can’t control how other people look at me, but I can make a choice how I will react—wisely and respectfully, so it honours myself and them.
In my current job, I am very fortunate to have both female and male bosses who fully supported me and saw my potential. Sometimes, I think the biggest gravity a woman is pulled down into may not come from a man, but from herself. If I believe in myself and live out my full potential, I will not let others pull me down. If I settle within constraints placed by how others think I should be, I will be living in all kinds of bias (one way or the other).
Systematic bias in corporations
What we should prevent is systematic bias in corporations and disallow any perception, implication, hint or suggestion that certain jobs will never be open to women. This can be done through education and a balanced performance review or promotion system.
In a corporate world where there is clear, disproportionally low female representation in the management team, should we deliberately appoint women directors? My view is yes, if we are serious about breaking the status quo. This is the same with legal systems and governments; if we want to seek "opinion diversity", we need to encourage both capable women and men "to take a seat at the table".
We do need to speak out, not to undermine any gender or create momentum for feminism, but to make things less mysterious and create fewer taboos. Successful women work damn hard; it is not by luck.
Jane Lin-Baden is Isobar's APAC CEO. She shared the family photo above in the spirit of sharing and motivating.