International Women’s Day, which fell on March 8, highlighted the increasing pressure on organisations to take action on gender equality. It’s something esteemed business leader Rosaleen Blair, founder and CEO of Alexander Mann Solutions, has been acutely aware of during her career. It’s a topic she is passionate about, and although she believes female business leaders have come a long way, there is still some way to go.
She’s also acutely aware that women leaders in Asia face more barriers than those in the West.
In Singapore, for example, the biennial Singapore Board of Directors Survey 2015 revealed that over half of the respondents indicated that they currently have no female directors, and about one-third has only one.
“Many companies in Asia Pacific don’t place gender equality in the workplace as a top priority,” Blair told HRD. “This stems from one of the biggest challenges women leaders face in the workplace today – unconscious bias.”
Countless studies have shown the benefits of gender equality in the workplace and of having women in leadership positions. A McKinsey report found that $12trn could be added to global GDP by 2025 just by advancing women’s equality – but achieving gender parity is a long-term challenge and every organisation should strive to achieve that.
“On a higher level, what we can do about this is to urge governments to pay attention to this,” said Blair. “For example, governments in the region can adopt the United Nations Development Programme’s (UNDP) Gender Equality Seal Programme, a programme that will help governments improve legislation and develop national policies on gender at the workplace.”
For Blair, who founded Alexander Mann Solutions 20 years ago with a dream to revolutionise the way that companies acquire and manage their talent on a global basis, the key to greater equality in the senior ranks is having a mentor or sponsor.
“I believe that a good leader supports others, has the ability to have empathy and to be a good listener,” she said. “These are vitally important skills that I’ve learned over the years, and I think we all need to develop them. As a leader and a mentor, I set the stage for a successful partnership by setting goals together and regularly reviewing these goals throughout the year. It’s important that as a leader, you know the goals of those in your team, and work together to achieve those goals.”
Blair added that one of the most beneficial things for women in the workplace is senior sponsorship – someone who will shout about your successes and sponsor your career advancement. “Mentors and coaches have their place but it is absolutely essential that you have clarity and own sense of identity; who you are and what you believe in. It’s essential in any leadership role to stay authentic,” she said.
For those aspiring to senior roles, Blair has one vital piece of advice, and it’s something she believes Alexander Mann Solutions, as an organisation, is true to.
“One should be distinctive,” she said. “In a world where everyone is clamouring to have their voice heard, one needs to be unafraid to be different. Never be afraid to continuously embrace disruption.”
Authenticity should also be top priority. “We all need to know who we are, what we stand for, and remain firm in our vision and beliefs,” Blair explained.
“As a woman, it is important to find your voice and use it. Don’t be nervous or afraid to speak up because you are in a room full people with different ideas. Instead, have courage of your conviction.”