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Fri, Jun 26, 2009
The Star/Asia News Network
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Women at the helm
by Patsy Kam

The fairer sex has come a long way but still finds the need to prove herself.

YOU would think that after coming so far and chalking up so many successes, there are no longer any doubts about what women can do. Yet, some things have not changed. In fields that are traditionally dominated by men, women often still have to prove that they are just as skilful as the men, if not better.

In the construction industry, for example, Santha Naidu Selvaraj finds that gender stereotypes still abound and clients appear to pay more attention to her track record just because she’s a woman. Which is not necessarily a bad thing, as working in such challenging circumstances pushes her to seek creative solutions and expand her network.

The managing director of HSE Management Sdn Bhd firmly believes in not dwelling on the past but looking ahead to power through the bad times.

Rita Sim, executive director of Sin Chew Media Corp, is of the same mind, adding that it is when the chips are down that leaders come forward.

“In good times, people tend to get complacent but in bad times, one is forced to think out of the box. Teams are formed to relook costs and start new projects (to inject new energy into the company). This is when you get exceptional creativity and people come up with plans which otherwise would not have been considered,” she said during a one-day conference for key players from the Asian region.

Notable corporate figures, local and international women business leaders and entrepreneurs attended the 1st Asia Women Business Power Conference org­­anised by the MCA ICT Resource Centre together with Wanita MCA’s Women Entrepre­neur Dev­elopment Centre, Technology Park Malaysia and private organisations.

Endorsed by the Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development, the conference programme included motivational business talks and forums featuring, among others, inspiring women entrepreneurs such as Dr Petmanee Daowleng from Thai­land, who sits on the Board of Consultants of Thai Women SMEs (Small Medium Enterprises) Association and has expertise in business matchmaking promoting SME activities, and Datuk Sharon Low who started Stemlife, Malaysia’s first cord blood and adult stem cell banking and regenerative medicine company.

Sim acknowledged that networking was generally more difficult for women, seeing that many often have to balance multiple roles of career woman, wife and mother.

“However, it has gotten a lot easier, thanks to the Internet which allows women easier business access without having to leave her home environment,” she said, jesting that “just like men, women need wives!”

What she meant was that it was just as crucial for women to have their own support system, and having confident and enlightened men would help the business environment tremendously.

“Networking is more challenging, yes, but it is also more structured for women, who look to role models to lead the way.”

One bit of sound advice from Sim which is applicable to every company regardless of who sits at the helm, is that one should always be prepared financially for tough times even when the going is good, so that one is never caught off-guard.

One of the first women to have emerged as a key leader in the IT industry, Yasmin Mahmood, managing director of Microsoft Malaysia, stressed on the need to unleash the talents of women.

“Surveys have proved that if the percentage of women in the workforce in relation to the percentage of women in the population in the country is closer, the better it is for the country’s economy. People management is paramount, not only during trying periods but all the time.”

What’s clear is that the current recession (unlike the 1997 crisis) is not about to repair itself overnight, and employers should practise inclusive management to weather this challenging period.

“It’s a management paradox as you need to spur your employees on, yet be realistic and know how to invest in the right places,” she said.

Jennifer Low from VTalent Corporation Sdn Bhd said that governments should look into accelerating the achievement of millennium development goals that equally benefit and empower women and girls, and ensure their access to education and health services, full and decent employment, and equal political participation and decision-making in all sectors.

She also called for support for women entrepreneurship, especially in rural areas, improved access to property and economic assets, microfinance, agricultural inputs, training and markets.-The Star/ANN

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