#IWD2020: Women should have equal access to leadership roles

Gladys Chun, Head of Legal, Compliance and Government Affairs, Lazada Group, believes women should have equal access to leadership roles.
By: | March 6, 2020
Topics: DE&I | Features | IWD

As we celebrate International Women’s Day on March 8, let’s appreciate the women in our lives and at work too. Women continue to inspire us in our workplace. In our special IWD 2020 coverage, we speak to women leaders who share their thoughts and advice on how women can thrive and succeed at the workplace.

In this exclusive IWD feature, we speak to Gladys Chun, Head of Legal, Compliance and Government Affairs, Lazada Group, to get her thoughts on the challenges and opportunities for women in the workplace, and her advice for women who aspires to be leaders.

As the General Counsel of Lazada Group, Chun leads the Legal, Compliance and Government Affairs department, and is responsible for all such matters across the countries in which Lazada Group has a local presence.  She provides both the management team and relevant business units with strategic guidance in commercial and risk management.

Tell us a little bit of yourself and your career so far

I lead the Legal, Compliance and Government Affairs department with approximately 50 people with responsibility across all countries where Lazada Group has a local legal presence including Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Thailand, Singapore, Vietnam, Hong Kong, China, Russia, Germany and Luxembourg. Throughout my career, I’ve evolved to a GC 2.0 (General Counsel) where I’m privileged to be in an industry that is at convergence of two themes in our future economy – technology and the increasing complexity of laws in a multi-jurisdictional and fast paced environment.

What are the challenges that women face in the workforce today?

Even as there have been more intended actions by organisations and government to address the situation, the challenges – of work life balance/child care support, discrimination/equal pay, leadership and glass ceiling, harassment and industry specific bias – just to name a few, are not new as they have been there for years. A new perspective to consider is if any new measures that have been developed might be unconsciously creating more barriers. For example, a lack of mentorship has been an issue but as we encourage more men to provide the guidance, the #metoo movement has created an unintended consequence, where male leaders are retreating from this role. Most of us are aware as to the issues, but it’s how you address them, without creating new barriers that matters.

Are we seeing enough women in leadership roles today? If not, why so?
Clearly, no and this is happening across industries. Often it is due to the fact that many highly visible, mission critical tasks, that are career stepping stones, are assigned to men. This tendency could be a reflection of entrenched biases among decision-makers in the organization. According to a study conducted by Singapore’s Ministry of Manpower, women earn 6% less than their male peers.

In addition to lack of access to mission critical tasks, there is a lack of comprehensive support where we are seeing a lot of women forgo leadership opportunity to have a family – so it’s a trade-off. Lack of visibility and no support in family front also add to the attrition rate.

What can be done to groom more women to take up leadership roles?

A first step is to ensure that there is equal access for both men and women to highly visible, mission critical roles and international experiences. We need to be deliberate in our investment towards helping women colleagues and appointing highly qualified women to executive teams, boards and C-suite roles. This model which showcases inclusive leadership behaviours will empower employees to negotiate their roles.

Advocating for more inclusive work policies, such as flexible scheduling, better child-care services, parental leave and more can help groups of women keep their positions and advance in the workforce.

Mentorships benefits both men and women, and is a way to seek out and connect with others in their industry or in their specific professions. This is a way for even more opportunities to open up for them. One of the reasons why the infamous “boys club” culture still rings through today’s workspace is because it offers a valuable asset – solidarity. It offers professional support, opportunities for advancement, mentorship, and so much more. It is highly valuable for women to be around like-minded women who may be going through similar experiences. A similar “club” for women is definitely worthwhile and useful to women in the workplace to help them expand their horizons.

What are the challenges women leaders face especially in male dominated industries?

There is a common stereotype in society that men take charge while women take care. This often places women leaders in various double-bind situations, where they may be judged as being either too hard or too soft but never just right. Similarly, women leaders can either be seen as being competent or liked but never both.

Challenging traditional gender roles doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice your values, reinvent your personality, or dress in masculine suits. Instead, you can choose to make small changes—like asking for a raise. Research by Accenture found that only 45% of women are willing to ask for a raise, compared to 61% of men, which may explain much of the salary differences between males and females.

In that same vein, according to a 2014 study published in Harvard Business Review, women are much less likely than men to speak up in meetings and if they did speak up, they apologized repeatedly and allowed themselves to be interrupted. Speaking directly would help wade off any trails of insecurity, projecting a more authoritative persona.

Lastly, many women struggle to acknowledge a job well done and tend to credit others at their own expense. While it’s important to acknowledge everyone’s accomplishments, refusing to accept responsibility for the positive role you played won’t inspire confidence in your abilities.

There’s still a gender pay gap in this region. What can be done to bridge the gap?

According to the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Index 2018, women in Asia generally make 15% less than men. There are several approaches to this, and best practices include the support of pay transparency and the evaluation of recruitment, promotion, and talent development system for gender bias. In the long run, further steps can be taken to ensure bridge the gap through wage audits and no-negotiation policy implementations can be rolled out.

What is your organization doing to address the issue of gender equality and diversity?

We have policies in place to set both men and women up for success through our gender-neutral panel of interviewers for annual promotion cycles. This is in tandem with our commitment of ensuring ample recruitment channels for reaching out to women to be a part of a traditionally male-dominated technology space. Currently, one in four of our tech work force is female.

I am exceptionally proud to be a female leader at Lazada alongside my fellow leads in the other key departments across our People team, commercial, marketing, customer care and public relations, making up close to a third of our management. This is a reflection of our culture of supporting an inclusive workplace. I am also proud to highlight that Lazada is a signatory of the IFC Digital2Equal programme, where we commit to closing gender gaps by using eCommerce to increase women’s access to jobs and entrepreneurship,

How do you juggle between your career and family?

There is a need to set priorities right and plan the day well ahead. All we need to manage is time and effort then everything falls into place.

I aspire to live my deepest personal values every day, with mental and physical health playing a huge role for me. Hence, I focus on the things that enrich my life which include my career, health and fitness, family and relationships, spirituality, hobbies and passions, intellectual stimulation, rest and recreation.

What advice would you give to women who aspire to be leaders?

Studies consistently show that even as leaders, women experience bias in the workplace. Hence, there is no denying that the struggle for women leaders is real. But instead of lamenting, every minute you spend making excuses is precious time that could have been spent advancing your career. The best thing you can do for yourself is to stay focused on solutions, and keep working hard to reach your greatest potential.

International Women’s Day Features:

Possibilities endless for women in the workplace – Jeanne Achille, Founder and CEO of The Devon Group

Organisations can do more to support women – Joy Koh, Head of Consulting APAC at Alexander Mann Solutions

We need to challenge stereotypes of women – Vivian Chua, Vice-President, Singapore Managing Director, HP

More needs to done to recognise women – Roselin Lee, Vice President of Human Resources, Shiseido Asia Pacific

Mentorship key to grooming women leaders – Giet Koh, Head of Account Management at Deliveroo Singapore