When the entire sky is held up

A book by journalists Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn’s, Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, has spun off a global movement, Half the Sky. Through a variety of platforms and content, this movement aims to raise awareness of women’s issues and provide concrete steps to fight these issues.

As I read about the inspiring work brought to fruition by this global movement, I cannot help but reflect about how my beliefs and attitudes were shaped.

I was born to a pair of open-minded parents and was the beneficiary of a family environment and education system for the next twenty-plus years where I was surrounded by my Mum and aunts who regularly demonstrated strength and grace under pressure and who held leadership positions in aviation and shipping. Growing up not only was I encouraged to play with dolls (though not quite successfully as I preferred to use the dolls as patients or as ideas for new haircuts), I was also taught to drive toy police cars and “shoot” bad people. It was my Uncle who helped me with sewing classes, but I ended up choosing technical extra-curricular classes to learn to saw, drill and use a bastard file, where I could flit between being an engineer or a designer. And when I started work, I saw women in politics and as CEOs at the helm of banks, property conglomerates, advertising agencies and technology companies in Singapore. These experiences and the visual handle of women at the helm, served to enforce my perspective that gender-ness was not a consideration in the quest for success.

Fast forward to 2017 and International Women’s Day is round the corner again. The theme for this year’s IWD is #BeBoldForChange and I’d like to make a continued commitment in these three areas:

Be Excellent

Oprah Winfrey said it best when she said, “Excellence is the best deterrent to racism or sexism”. Excellence is gender blind and when we focus on it, we hold people, not men, not women, but people to high standards.

In Dentsu Aegis Network, the focus on excellence is encapsulated in the “Different and Better” mantra. It helms the way we recruit. It is embedded in our performance management framework. It sets the direction for how we retain talent. It is therefore imperative that this is upheld as it is our first line of defence against gender inequality.

Be Knowledgeable

Change cannot take place in the absence of knowledge. A global initiative, the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data was established in September 2015, to ensure that the “we did not know” excuse becomes a catchphrase of the past as we strive for sustainable development on all fronts. However, it was recently highlighted that as much as 80% of data needed to track progress of gender parity is still unavailable or missing.

It is therefore important that with Dentsu Aegis Network’s commitment to capturing these meaningful and relevant data, then can we enable the generation of insights and ensure that gender parity initiatives remain the foundation of our talent programmes.

Have Choices

On hindsight, it was the choices that I could make while growing up that moulded my way of thought, behaviour and belief. Without ever being told that I could or should be this or that, I believed that I could be anything… well apart from being on Top of the Pops (a British music chart television programme), though this was not from lack of trying.

In the same vein of “could be anything”, choices need to be made available to the amazing talent in Dentsu Aegis Network for career development and progression based on life stage, one’s personal life philosophy and ambitions and aptitude. Importantly, we must celebrate the choices made by either gender.

“A gender-equal society would be one where the word ‘gender’ does not exist: where everyone can be themselves”, says Gloria Steinem

As the above saying goes, I too believe that the gender parity discussion ends when we, regardless of gender, can freely choose to be ourselves. It is only when this state comes to being, that the entire sky is held up and not just half. And when movements such as, Half the Sky, can be laid to rest.