Women, boxing clever: how women can fight to take their rightful place in senior roles

In many industries women still have to be fight to be heard above the cacophony of male voices. That’s not to say there aren’t some very smart male managers but equally there are many great female leaders who often are not being recognised for the skills and balance they provide.

I have always chosen a role based on my relationship with the hiring manager, driven by instinct and chemistry, and insistent that I will be working with a manager that will give me what I need to grow both personally and professionally.

I know all about fighting to be recognised. 20 years ago, I was a boxer, at a time when women’s boxing wasn’t widely known or accepted. I tried to compete and failed, so instead I coached and eventually affiliated the Leeds Met University Boxing Club to BUSA and did my bit to promote the sport nationally. In 1999 I became a coach for the Amateur Boxing Association, one of only four women in the UK to hold the qualification. I’d like to think I helped influence the adoption of women’s boxing at the 2012 London Olympics, the first year that women were allowed to compete. In fact, it was one of the last Olympic sports to recognise women, so the London games marked a significant step forward in gender equality.

Like women’s boxing, bit by bit the bridges that divide gender in the workplace are being pulled down. Sadly, Asia still has a long way to go. The most recent World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap Report shows a gap of 0.67 for South Asia, where a score of 1 means there is total equality between genders. Countries like Korea (0.65), Cambodia, Japan and Malaysia (all 0.66) compare very unfavourably with the likes of Iceland (0.87), Finland (0.84) or Sweden (0.81). We have a lot of catching up to do with the Scandinavians, it seems.

Part of the gap relates to educational opportunity; the WEF report rates Cambodia, in particular, well down the scale of female attainment. But it’s certainly not the case in Japan or Malaysia. Cultural issues may play a factor and educated women are having to fight hard to break through the glass ceiling.

I’m glad to say that AOL as part of its wider people strategy has made a commitment to invest in and promote women’s leadership. AOL is setting a precedent globally, with our CEO Tim Armstrong setting a goal for women to fill half of all leadership roles globally by 2020. In this region alone, women already account for half of the senior team. Our head of data and attribution APAC, Nikki Retallick; our head of demand sales Australia; Stephanie Famolaro, senior director of programmatic TV; Yasmin Sanders and our HR manager, Janet Paul.That’s quite an accolade in such a tech-driven – some might even say, geeky, business.

It’s not just AOL where women in the adtech sector are making their mark. In November last year, three of us took part in a panel session entitled, Creating Your Own Path, chaired by Regan Baillie, MD Xaxis Singapore. I was joined on stage by Miranda Dimopoulos, CEO IAB Singapore; Kerry Chapman Brown, VP onboarding products and partnerships; Eyeota and Cheryl Ng, also from Xaxis and a young entrepreneur. We arrived at four key take-outs for any young women wanting to climb the corporate ladder:

Find a mentor who will be your advocate

It needs to be somebody who can ensure you have the right perspective. In my case this taught me the importance of getting behind the team, rather than following the archaic top-down style of yesteryear.

Assess where you are at

Set yourself a timeline and ask yourself the difficult questions that you must tackle along the way.

Be really really good at one thing

The world has too many generalists. If you want to make your mark do something that will be recognised, that makes you close to indispensable.

Follow your instincts

After all, feminine intuition is supposed to be one of our strengths. It’s something we can add that will quickly change a male oriented workplace.

I believe a large part of the issue relates to confidence. Perhaps that’s why Asia has the second biggest gender gap in the world – after the Middle East and Africa. Everybody, men included, take knock-backs when developing their career. As a boxer, I know first-hand the importance of getting back up again and again. And whilst we don’t want to fight our way to the top, we do need to recognise it’s an ongoing battle and we will need to keep pushing.

The WEF report shows that, at the current rate, it will take 170 years to reach economic parity between the sexes. Clearly, change is moving too slowly. This International Women’s Day we must vow to do our bit to bring positive change, even in the most hardened, male dominated industries.

Caroline Troman is commercial director, APAC, at AOL Platforms.

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