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We need each other’s support in order to build an inclusive society

Written by Wong Jia Yun Published on 

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Jia Yun shares on how Young Women’s Leadership Connection is empowering women in Singapore.

Wong Jia Yun is a product manager at Visa, partnering fintechs and banks to deliver digital-focused payment solutions across APAC. Beyond her day job, she is Chairperson of the 700-member nonprofit Young Women’s Leadership Connection (YWLC), where she leads an 11-person team to drive its women’s empowerment agenda. Personally, she is particularly keen in the areas of mentorship, as well as financial inclusion for, and the impact of technology on women.

Oasis (O): What are some “women themes” that still need greater awareness?

Wong Jia Yun (WJY): Four “women themes” have been on the top of my mind: succeeding at tough but critical conversations at the workplace, mentorship, supporting women in minority communities, and helping women talk about and navigate ambitions within couples.

Most of these are barely new topics. But they have just taken on more importance for women given how the workplace and the macro environment are evolving.

Related to the above, some of the questions that I’d love to help provide a platform for discussion, or be a part of the conversation, include: How do young women negotiate promotions and salaries in an increasingly competitive environment where unconscious and conscious bias still exist? How do we introduce and avail mentorship to the women who need it most? Are women from minority ethnic or racial groups actually generally able to access the growth of support networks and resources for their development? As women thrive and achieve more in their careers, how would these square off with their relationships with equally or more ambitious partners? What does motherhood mean and how is it lived out in the current day?

O: How does Young Women’s Leadership Connection (YWLC) help in this area? 

WJY: YWLC focuses our support on younger women aged 21 to 35 – where we believe there still remains a lot of work to be done to raise awareness of the prevalence and complexity of these themes from a younger stage of life. Specifically, the organization provides help through initiatives under our key pillars of mentorship, community engagement and leadership development.

YWLC Singapore team
The current Exco team of YWLC. Image courtesy of author.

Personally, I’ve been a very fortunate participant in our YWLC Mentorship Programme. First with Julie Yeo, who now heads Corporate Communications at UBS Southeast Asia & Wealth Management Asia Pacific, and most recently with Stacey N Lacy, who heads Citibank’s Operations & Technology organisation for Asia Pacific. They’re amazing leaders and thinkers in their fields, and have taught me to be a lot more risk-taking, open-minded and critical in how I define success and empower myself and others.

Through our community engagement and diversity initiatives, we’ve also provided forums to openly discuss the challenges women in minority communities face; and “junior” mentorship for younger girls from underprivileged backgrounds at the Institute of Technical Education and International Women’s Forum, just to name a few.

Last but not least, my team and I work regularly with partners like Google, McKinsey, Visa, UBS and others to provide access to leadership development workshops and panels for young women. Some of my personal favourites have been around topics like negotiation, building our personal board of directors, and designing our careers.

O: In your career or personal life, is there an important ally whom you’d like to thank personally?

WJY: I’ve been very fortunate to have met and developed strong friendships with some of the most inspiring mentors and allies.

Brian Byrne – my first manager and mentor out of school – is someone I’ll be eternally grateful for. He was (and still is) selfless in his coaching, knowledge and networks. Brian’s now Managing Director of Siemens Energy Asia Pacific after a recent relocation from the UK, where I was also working for a period of time. I’ve since left the industry and now in payments, but those years working with him were probably the most formative years of my career.

Brian took me under his wing at a time where our team at Rolls-Royce Energy was just about to be acquired by Siemens, and we had big people and business challenges to tackle across our 100+ strong Asia Pacific organization. I can attest that the engineering services/ oil & gas industries present some of the most complex challenges due to their ties with wider geopolitics, policies and deeply-rooted industry practices that make change management a particularly uphill battle.

On a personal level, the industry and organisation were heavily male-dominated, with significant biases toward tenure and engineering knowledge. As a 23-year-old Asian non-engineer, I dealt with a range of difficult situations especially during my time in the UK and Germany, as well as interactions with some of our clients in Asia. From Brian, however, I learned not just how to manage these, but also true leadership, grit, humility and vision in the process.

O: In your opinion, what can we do to help level the playing field for women in Singapore? 

WJY: It’s very timely you ask this. In Singapore, Home Affairs & Law Minister K. Shanmugam launched a series of Women’s Development Conversations to ultimately bring about a cultural/ mindset change on values such as gender equality and respect for women. YWLC’s been both an active participant and driver of some of these dialogues.

I’m thrilled that there are such grounds-up channels, and think we should continue to work together in the community to transparently discuss the hard topics around the gender pay gap, raising young women and men who value/ champion respect for women, supporting women in leadership, tackling domestic abuse, motherhood and more. As a society we’ve achieved so much, but I think this will be a constant work in progress.

O: What would you like to say to younger generations of women?

WJY: Firstly, we need to know that our self-worth, confidence and competence do not need to be tied to others’ often subjective evaluations of us.

Women also need to support each other as we grow in our journeys – we’ll all need each other to succeed and build a more inclusive society. Let’s never forget the privileges we have, because there are many other women out there who need our help, regardless of what form it may take.

WRITTEN BY

Wong Jia Yun

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