APAC leaders at Meta, Twitch, Zoom and more on breaking the bias on IWD 2022

On International Women’s Day 2022, The Drum hears from female industry leaders in Asia Pacific about the solutions they are putting in place to help other women in their organizations.

Preet Grewal, head of inclusion and diversity for Japan and Asia Pacific, Twitter: Women have historically faced barriers in the workplace, from being underrepresented in traditionally male-dominated fields to tackling the gender pay gap. The last two years of the pandemic have been especially tough, with women feeling burnout increasingly more than men. Despite this, there have been significant strides forward in the gender equality journey, with businesses pledging to act and implementing policies to promote diversity.

Creating an inclusive environment that continuously supports and empowers women employees is important. I believe that by encouraging women employees to share their unique experiences and perspectives, we not only create an opportunity to inspire and motivate other women but also reward and recognize women’s contributions. At Twitter, our goal is to become the world’s most inclusive, diverse, equitable, and accessible tech company – whereby in 2025, women represent at least half of our global workforce. We are currently at 44.7% global women representation.

To hire and retain top women talent and provide them with a support system that helps boost their competitiveness, companies need to apply an equity lens across every stage of the work life cycle: recruitment and hiring, onboarding, compensation and pay transparency, provide adequate mentorship and learning opportunities and development and creating a diverse and inclusive culture for all. For example, at Twitter, we are tackling representation with a global hiring policy that ensures there is at least one-woman candidate who is part of the final slate of candidates before a hiring decision is made, and work is underway to increase pay transparency.

Jane-Cruz Walker, chief marketing officer, Seek Asia: As far as women's empowerment is concerned in the workplace, it is an undeniable fact that we still face certain challenges. Especially for heavily patriarchal societies, there remains a gender stereotype that women should be the primary caregiver of the family, while men go to work. Many women may find it difficult to balance work and family, as a result.

However, in the past two years, there has been a silver lining to the pandemic. We have observed that ever since working-from-home became the norm, more companies have implemented flexible work arrangements for their employees. Just in Singapore, more than six in 10 firms have offered more than one formal flexible working arrangement to employees in 2020. This has been extremely beneficial for women in the workplace as they juggle between work and family. We believe that with the allowance for flexible work arrangements, more women will be encouraged to join the workforce and embark on their fulfilling career aspirations while taking care of their family’s needs.

As companies progress and mindsets shift to welcome more women to the workplace, now is the time to connect women to jobs that are meaningful to them. In line with Seek Asia’s Let’s Get To Work campaign which focuses on empowering and inspiring workers to reenter the workforce, our upcoming Asia’s Biggest Virtual Career Fair will also feature a panel of speakers for Women in Tech to further our women empowerment efforts and enable women to excel even in traditionally male-dominated fields.

Angie Mistretta, head of global B2B marketing, Logitech: One of the biggest challenges I have faced throughout my career is balance. The balance between being a great partner, mother, and leader (just to name a few). Becoming a leader of a global organization only amplified this because as a leader, you feel the need to be ’on’ and connected to all of your team members across the world. In my experience, I have felt that when I excel in one area, I am failing in another. From conversations with my peers and female colleagues, I have observed that this is not a unique problem, but something that many women struggle with.

What I have done, especially during the pandemic, is to give myself more grace and set more realistic goals for what I am physically and mentally capable of handling. In addition, I set strong boundaries for work (eg physically putting blocks on my work calendar) and rely on my local leaders to provide the coverage and support that my organization needs.

Emily Ng, head of major accounts for ASEAN, Hong Kong and Taiwan, Zoom: The truth is that the technology industry has long been dominated by men. That said, significant progress has been made in recent years to establish a more inclusive and diverse workforce. For a fact, I know that in Singapore, women currently make up 41% of the tech workforce, surpassing the global average of 28%. But more can always be done.

I work with a relatively young team and have taken on the unofficial role of being a ’coach’ to the women, using my past experiences to coach and guide them through the different phases of their careers.

I also actively mentor NUS and INSEAD Women in Business students (IWIB) in my free time. I am grateful to have been able to work with strong women throughout my professional life, and I hope to inspire and empower my team and mentees to thrive in their careers.

Women@Zoom, one of our many Employee Resource Groups, also provides women access to the tools needed to advance both personally and professionally such as events and relationship-building activities with other women from across the organization.

In all these initiatives, it is important not to isolate the importance of having male allyship as well. In my teams, I maintain open communication and encourage everyone to speak up when they see their female colleagues being ignored in meetings or being talked down to. Having a diverse and inclusive workplace requires empathetic leadership and internal motivation by all employees to move the needle.

Sunita Kaur, senior vice-president for APAC, Twitch: I’m pleased to say that we have come a long way since I joined the workforce – largely thanks to the senior women in the workplace that went before us listening to their peers and advocating for the needs of bright and talented women. Now that it’s my turn, I’m proud to do my part. At Twitch, we’re constantly pushing to create a stronger, more diverse workplace, and have several Guilds – our take on employee resource groups – to foster communities and allyship. I’m a member of the Women+ and the Asian Guilds, inclusive spaces where Twitch employees of all genders can discuss, learn about and advocate for issues and initiatives in tech.

There is no one silver bullet or solution to the various issues women face throughout their careers. The pandemic meant that some of the issues and concerns that have traditionally been the experience for women, were not only visible for all to see but experienced by a broader demographic – juggling employment with caregiving, parenting, mental health, running a household, and beyond. And as we start to step out of restrictions and towards normalcy, the expectations around what a working day looks like are changing. This great reimagination will mean companies need to address these concerns holistically if they’re to retain their top talent. This includes providing a platform where women feel safe to voice their opinions and concerns, and also encouraging a two-way dialogue with employees to better understand what measures they should be implemented to support success.

I believe that when companies offer flexible work arrangements to women employees, it helps create a trusting, mutually beneficial working relationship. They can balance their commitments both at work and at home, and this also improves business efficiency. This is because employees are trusted to work at their own pace, and gives working mothers the work-life balance they need to produce quality work.

I know many women can be uncomfortable with self-promotion but this can be an opportunity for them in the workplace. The good news is that there are lots of ways to promote yourself and your knowledge, some of which can be easier for women who aren’t comfortable talking about themselves. For instance, writing articles that develop your thought leadership, publicly sharing your opinions on important industry issues, or taking a stand on a current event can all be great ways to show what you know, what you can offer and help cement your brand.

Pia Broadley, head of APAC, Dropbox: Women are expected to account for nearly 33% of the global tech industry workforce this year, up by slightly more than 2% from 2019. While this progress is positive, there is still more to be done in not only lifting this percentage closer to parity but more importantly, in addressing gender imbalances once women are in the workforce.

At Dropbox, we’re addressing several specific challenges faced by women. Dropbox believes that all parents welcoming a new child should be able to take 24 paid weeks of leave at full pay. The decision to start a family is a complex decision for many women, and by giving our employees an industry-leading parental leave policy, we hope that gives them a level of assurance when navigating this important decision.

First launched in 2020, Project Maia is an initiative focused on retention efforts for Women and Under-Represented Minorities (URMs) at Dropbox. This program encourages managers to have direct conversations with employees focused on what changes, support, or resources they need to continue to grow their careers here at Dropbox. In 2021, retention among Project Maia was 88% – 22 percentage points higher than those from the same demographic outside of the program.

In 2022 we are establishing the APAC DEI Council, designed to amplify our global DEI efforts in APAC as well as curate programs that address nuances and specific DEI challenges faced here in the region. As part of the newly formed Council, there is a workstream and team dedicated to advancing initiatives for gender diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Rajni Daswani, director of digital marketing, SoCheers: I think fear is at the heart of all issues that women face. The fear of not living up to the expectations; the fear of failing or making the wrong choices; fear of not being liked; fear of overreaching or being judged. The fear of taking up space and time and attention. If women were to do things fearlessly, take risks and not feel sorry – they’d be able to overcome 80% of the challenges that they face.

Other than self-limiting fears, women do lack support and guidance, especially in larger MNC setups. What helps is finding a mentor, in the organization or outside, and help in upskilling for the next role they are eyeing. The other set of support comes from closer to home, where – if they have someone who can share their responsibilities of being a wife, a mother, a daughter, and various other roles that they play in their personal lives – they will be able to give the same fair effort in their professional lives that their counterparts do and eventually rise the ladder.

Finding a supportive partner, friends who are willing to help, and a family that understands and recognizes that a career is as important as being a mother, is always extremely helpful to overcome these challenges.

An additional issue is preconceived notions about how women will be in a particular role or on a certain project. Set yourself up as a brand, don’t shy away from letting people know your skills, and take the opportunity to own the room whenever you can. The more you build yourself as a brand, the lesser notions about you.

Karen Teo, vice-president of the global business group for Asia Pacific, Meta: Women experience a range of challenges today – from glass ceilings and unconscious bias to bearing the disproportionate burden of unpaid labor and care. We are also in the third year of a global pandemic, which has affected women negatively on both social and economic fronts. With family members confined to the home, the amount of daily domestic work associated with caring for children has also intensified, and the burden is falling disproportionately on the shoulders of women – who were already performing up to three times more unpaid care work than men pre-pandemic.

The Survey on Gender Equality at Home, conducted in 2020 and 2021 through Meta’s Data For Good program, covers topics about gender norms, unpaid and household care, access, and agency, and Covid-19's impact on these areas. It has been fielded in over 200 countries and territories. It received over 96,000 responses from Facebook users in 200 countries, islands, and territories in August 2021. Designed in partnership with Care, Ladysmith, the World Bank, and Unicef, the survey helps to fill gender data gaps that can help organizations develop responsive policies and programs. I’ll share some of the key findings here:

Across all regions, women were more likely than men to report feeling lonely or stressed as a result of the pandemic.

  • Women were more likely than men to report spending more hours of their day on domestic tasks or family care. Women were also more likely to report that childcare has interfered with their work

  • Men were more likely than women to report having full access to household money.

  • Women across regions were less likely than men to report being recently engaged in any income-generating activity.

  • In four of the regions, men were considerably more likely than women to report owning both computers and smartphones. This suggests that women are more likely than men to depend on someone else to access the internet, and less likely to be able to perform more complex digital tasks that computers can enable

But, on a positive note, the survey also found that despite the regional variation, globally, attitudes and norms are largely favorable to gender equality, with the majority of respondents agreeing that boys and girls should share household tasks equally and that it is acceptable for women to use a mobile phone without supervision

Being connected, having access to a community that can support them is vital in helping women be resilient. On a societal level, studies like the above have shown the need to recognize, reduce and redistribute unpaid care work done by women. This will include investing in gender-responsive public services, shifting social norms around childcare and eldercare, and increasing employer adoption of family-friendly workplace arrangements and policies.

Antoinette Patterson, chief executive and co-founder of Safe Space: Women often do have unfair and unequal expectations (both imposed upon them and self-inflicted) to thrive in life regardless of their work and home settings. Women who do not stick to societal norms are judged and labeled as being indifferent. Balancing career, family, and kids for some, along with other commitments can be extremely challenging in an unsupportive environment. For female founders versus male founders, their stress varies as well.

Females were more likely to report company cash flow issues and physical health as stressors, while males were more likely to cite relationships with co-founders and team dynamics. In terms of the solutions offered, we have observed that women are significantly more likely to rely on peer support and family support as opposed to men. They are also more open to going for counseling/coaching services as seen by our demographic numbers.

Elisa Mallis, managing director and vice president of Asia Pacific, Center for Creative Leadership: Women face two types of challenges or limiting factors to advancing their careers: the push and the pull factors. The pull factors are internal struggles that women place on themselves such as self-limiting thoughts that pull them away from leadership roles. Meanwhile, push factors are externally driven, limitations placed on women by others in their network, society, or culture. Push factors make it more difficult for women to be promoted and create an uneven playing field. Over time, the cumulative effect of the push and pull factors hinders women’s career advancement.

Our 2020 research study Overcoming Barriers to Women’s Leadership conducted in Asia found that the top 3 challenges women faced were salary negotiation, overcoming perfectionism, and dealing with self-criticism.

However, the responsibility to overcome these challenges cannot rest on the shoulders of women alone. Not only do organizations have to take tangible actions like implementing policies, but both men and women in the workplace can also elevate female professionals. These include:

  • Participating in conversations on female leadership – these conversations help both men and women become aware of the biases they may unintentionally hold and learn the benefits that diversity can bring to their teams.

  • Taking conscious actions to promote an inclusive work environment – small actions such as avoiding gendered language contribute greatly towards fostering an inclusive environment that is conducive for equal work and developmental opportunities for women.

Challenging stereotypes and assumptions about women – when decision-makers question whether a woman would want a new role, they can challenge the assumption by asking for her opinion directly. Challenging assumptions also means considering the possibility for different working styles and skillsets.

Shiran Bloch, director of product design for Asia Pacific at Foodpanda: “Great products come from teams who put people first – before visuality and functionality” – this is the philosophy that has followed me in my career as a product designer over the past decade. I enjoy sitting at the intersection of data and creative design – using data to listen to what customers want and design a seamless experience that adds convenience to their lives or a smile to their faces. Some of my proudest projects at Foodpanda include pioneering the creation of the ‘bento box’ design system to help make our app look more consistent, and introducing new features such as Pandapro, dine-in, and the pickup function.

After 10 years in the industry, I wanted to make a bigger impact in people’s lives and I found myself wanting to take on a leadership role, to become a manager that I have always wanted to learn from. When I was given the opportunity to build a team at Foodpanda, I took on the challenge immediately and made it my priority to create a culture where values such as respect and accountability are celebrated.

The philosophy of being an active listener, not just in UX design, also applies to how I lead my team at Foodpanda. I have noticed – from my personal and professional experiences – that as women, we tend to undervalue our achievements while constantly working hard to prove ourselves. Now that I am leading a team of 30 talented UX practitioners, a majority of whom are women, I empower my team by encouraging them to take ownership of their professional growth and the projects they would like to lead, regardless of how small they may be. This means allowing team members to focus on specific skills they would like to develop in each project, enabling them to sharpen these skills to meet their career goals. They can always count on me to be their mentor, to provide counsel and constructive feedback when they seek advice.

I am a huge advocate of normalizing conversations on mental health at the workplace as it is important for employees to feel comfortable being who they are. This enables individuals to build on each other’s strengths and vulnerabilities and to thrive at the workplace together.