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Poised for Leadership: How Women can Thrive at the Workplace


It’s no small feat for any woman to hold a position in a competitive, corporate environment. Even as workplaces continue to incorporate more gender diversity in their hiring – women still face down glaring odds when it comes to securing leadership or management roles. The Fortune 500 list of companies see only 8% of women as CEOs.

But with the help of a heightened emotional capacity and perceptiveness – Gillian Ng, Senior Director of Corporate Governance at the ASB Iclif Executive Education Center (Iclif) believes that any woman can rise to top positions. Gillian sat down with South China Morning Post (SCMP) for the Women of Our Time conference to discuss how women can continue to leverage their existing skill sets in order to be more recognized in the workplace.

Leading with preparation and emotional intelligence

“I was once invited to sit on an international panel once in Bangladesh, and I did all my research,” Gillian starts. “I was sitting on a panel with 4 other men. And when I was asked questions, I would provide a lot of supporting facts and figures. At the end of the panel, the chairman, who was a man, made a remark – he said, ‘You can trust a woman to come prepared with all this information.’”

This illustrates just one of the many situations where she had an upper hand because of her willingness to come prepared with hard statistics and proper reasoning before a meeting. In her experience, Gillian understands that women are wired very differently than men. This doesn’t put them at a disadvantage – rather, it provides a unique opportunity to provide a fresh perspective to challenges.

In a very different way, women can make their mark. As an example, Gillian shares a story from firsthand experience of a construction company facing a recurring challenge for many years. “They had senior project managers leaving every two years, and changing project managers so often is actually quite detrimental to the projects.” “When they had only men on the board, they could not find out what the key issue was with the project managers.

This changed when a woman joined the board.” According to Gillian, it was this woman who had the idea of taking a different perspective. She explains: “She started to probe into the ‘softer’ issues,” or what at Asia School of Business is called SMART skills.

Learn about the Smart and Sharp skills of the future

“Why was it that these project managers want to leave? Were they spending enough time at home? Did they have enough time with their children?” It was through this woman’s fresh outlook on things that she realized these project managers were giving up their jobs as they felt they lacked time with their family. Through working directly with the project managers on addressing these issues, the firm was able to improve retention rates, which had repercussions throughout the business.

Stories like these aren’t isolated incidents. Research by Korn Ferry – a leading human resources and organizational advisory firm – shows that women score higher compared to men on nearly all emotional intelligence competencies. These social competencies are directly correlated with leadership skills; paving the way for women to be leaders in their own right.

Women’s strengths in corporate governance

As the Senior Director of Corporate Governance at Iclif Executive Education Center, Gillian is no stranger to the intense demands of the business world. Underpinning the successful management of companies is good governance. It sets the guideline for how businesses, boards, and their respective chairpersons should be managed – according to moral values and principles of the company and its stakeholders.

In the midst of a turbulent economy, good governance also helps with mitigating new risks and obstacles. “We’ve had climate change, racial tensions, sustainability issues, issues with welfare standards for foreign workers and more,” explains Gillian. “At Iclif, we go back to the basics to build and inculcate ethical standards, which include good moral standards and integrity.”

Learn more about Iclif’s Corporate Governance programs: Discover courses tailored specifically for directors or individuals looking to effectively fulfil their fiduciary roles in a company. Find out about Iclif’s programs for equipping your top leaders today. Gillian explains that women, specifically, can play to their strengths in a Corporate Governance role.

“Women are very meticulous,” she says, drawing from her personal experience. According to Gillian, women have a tendency to go above and beyond reports and numbers – curious to know the real reason behind why certain things happen and why obstacles arise. Never taking anything at face value and asking the right questions to get to the bottom of issues are why women prosper in roles that rely on curiosity and emotional depth.

To normalize more women spearheading more projects or taking stronger stances in the boardroom, Gillian emphasizes the support needed by other women too. These include pushing other women to greatness albeit their insecurities, or even speaking up on behalf of a woman when she’s belittled or discriminated against.

“I’ve had deputy governors, assistant governors who were women. All of them were really good role models who told us that we’re not just filling up a ‘quota’ but because we can do the job well,” Gillian says, drawing from her own experiences.

Building a better future for all

At its very core, Gillian says that Corporate Governance is really about empowering the next generation of forward-thinking leaders; be those men or women. I tell my children: It’s hard to say what’s going to be important in the future. What we can do, however, is to inculcate good values in them so that they can navigate it,” Gillian says. “In that same way, our programs are focused on helping companies cultivate good ethical cultures and moral standards – which is the essence of good governance.”