This International Women’s Day, we celebrate the women who are breaking boundaries and making a difference in their respective industries and fields of expertise
It’s 2022 and the gender disparity between men and women—if you look at the numbers—are quite frankly, alarming. In the latest edition of the Global Gender Gap Report released by the World Economic Forum, the gender gap worldwide will take approximately 135.6 years to close on its current trajectory. On the political front, gender equality has not only stagnated but further regressed—not surprisingly, given that 81 countries have never seen a woman head of state. Things aren’t looking better in terms of the gulf in economic participation and opportunity, which is estimated to take another 267.7 years to close.
But while it’s true that there’s much progress to be made, it’s also easy to overlook the growing possibilities for women today; fixating on the obstacles and difficulties that lie in their way, instead of what they can and are accomplishing. I’m gently—but firmly—reminded of this during my chat with the lovely Janice Wong, who rightly steers the end of our conversation towards the potential for evoking change that women in positions of influence and power wield. “You asked me a lot about the odds and difficulties of being a woman, but what about our successes and achievements?”, she reflects.
Here, we celebrate seven women who are breaking boundaries and making a difference in their respective industries and fields of expertise, in the hope that more will follow suit.
Christine Fellowes, co-founder of NINEby9
One of the main obstacles to gender parity is unconscious bias—stereotypes of women’s abilities and roles that impact hiring, promotions, the awarding of high profile assignments etc. This often unintentional discrimination unfairly discounts women, resulting in less access to opportunities and resources.
NINEby9 is a not-for-profit that strives towards gender equality in the workplace in Asia. Uncovering insights about the experiences and expectations of women, our ground-breaking research is underpinned by an actionable framework that businesses can adopt to achieve gender equality in Asia by 2030.
At the organisational level, businesses must establish processes and practices to address systemic discrimination. Companies need leaders who champion diversity, equity and inclusion, effectively communicating a shift in culture. Importantly, managers are the key change makers and will have the most significant influence in driving equality. It is also critical to mobilise and engage men as advocates and allies.
Use your voice. Know that it is within your rights to speak up for issues related to maintaining a work-life balance, promotions, health needs and sexism. Being treated kindly is not the same as being treated equal in the workplace. Demand transparency from your leadership and performance-based criteria for talent decisions. Seek out mentors—both within and beyond your organisation—to help navigate the corporate structure and provide guidance.
Trina Liang-Lin, philanthropist and president of WISE
Over the last 20 years, women have broken glass ceilings across many sectors in Singapore. However, inequalities still exist at the very top; such as the number of women in the boardrooms of financial institutions. Few women are also recognized as philanthropists—although there are many women leading philanthropic organisations and foundations in Singapore.
When there is no struggle, there is no strength (Oprah Winfrey said this). I am someone who enjoys being uncomfortable—challenged by new ideas, paths and people—in order to find out who I am and what I am made of. In this day and age, one atrophies in too much stillness.
Through the many opportunities I have had—recently as president of WISE—I have brought women into organisations whenever there is a good fit; either as board members and volunteers, or as recommended employees. As a mentor at the Young Women’s Leadership Connection (YWLC), I have enjoyed seeing the organisation grow from a handful of inspired young women into a 200-strong women’s group seeking to help communities.
I started my journey of active philanthropy after I went to Aceh with the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM). I witnessed the devastation of the tsunami—but also the strength of the women who were endeavouring to rebuild themselves, their families and their communities.
You will never regret giving back to society. Have a well-thought-out plan and bring some friends along for the ride. When the going gets tough, they will be there to remind you why you are doing it.
Jane Poynter, co-founder and co-CEO of Space Perspective
I used to be the only woman in the room during my early days in the space industry. There are many more now, though we still have a long way to go since women make up about 25 per cent of the space industry. The space travel industry alone is projected to be a US$8 billion market by the end of the decade, with a total addressable market on the order of US$0.5 trillion.
Space Perspective is the first space travel company offering a safe and gentle way to go to space. Our zero-emissions Spaceship Neptune takes explorers on a transformational journey to experience our planet from space. Last year, we had our first successful un-crewed Neptune test flight, and are planning to have our first human flight in 2023. Commercial flights are anticipated to commence in 2024—imagine seeing the Northern lights from space! We envision a day when thousands—even millions—of people can see our planet in space, and come to understand viscerally that we are a singular human family inhabiting this Earth together.
I admire Claire Francis, the first woman to sail across the Atlantic single-handedly and then circumnavigate the globe. She lived near where I grew up and showed me that it was natural for women to do the things that men do. Sail around the world? Well of course!
I look forward to a day when we are not defined by our gender, but by who we are as individuals.
Christina Chua, co-founder of Metis Art
Female artists are definitely trending upwards. Galleries are becoming more attuned to levelling the representation amongst their artist stables, and riding the zeitgeist by marketing female and POC (person of colour) artists. I like to think that the gradual empowerment and enrichment of female buyers, especially at the topmost end of the market, will eventually tip the scales.
Metis Art was founded as an art advisory offering introductory to advanced courses on developing collections, art history and curatorial practices. Education is the first step to true patronage, which means collecting art for no other reason than the love of it, and the support of the art ecosystem. We dedicate 50 per cent of course fees to partnering art institutions and introduce our clients to these non-profits, encouraging a deeper support of the arts—and in the process, have facilitated donations to STPI, Deck in Singapore, IKON Gallery and Yorkshire Sculpture Park, among many others.
Femininity has phases and seasons. There are times when I feel more girly, more vulnerable, or passive; and other times when I feel gutsy, empowered, and fully capable to take on the world. I try to embrace the seasonality of my feminine side, and lean into these swings rather than dissociate or be ashamed of them.
I met Yayoi Kusama once when I was working for her mother’s gallery. As much as she is known for her psychosis, she has a very integrated and entirely unique paradigm of the world—it is her universe where she has managed her madness and allowed it to proliferate in an enormously successful way.
Janice Wong, award-winning dessert chef
One of my latest initiatives is the cocoa-planting project in Singapore—for us to grow our first tree-to-bar chocolate—which is a big community project. The position that I am in allows me to connect with bartenders, pastry chefs, schools and government bodies, to unite them and gain their support in working towards a common vision. Singapore might have limited land, but that will not stop us from defying the odds.
Success is not about monetary gain. It is about having the vision to evoke change and more importantly, the ability to inspire. I count myself very fortunate and successful to be able to inspire another person, rather than using power for personal benefit.
I have always been fearless—it does not matter what anyone says, I will still do it. I have grown used to being surrounded by men, while maintaining my own opinions. When you are truthful about your intentions, people will learn to respect and listen to you.
Being a woman in 2022 is to be nurturing. As you keep pushing yourself and achieving greater things, it is easy to forget about mentoring others. For me, being a woman is very much about giving back and I hope to be able to continue doing that, even in small ways. I teach a class of special needs students about chocolate-making regularly, and I think they appreciate that they are learning from someone who has already made a mark in the industry.
Joy Hopwood, award-winning filmmaker
Women today are taken more seriously compared to several years ago, when they hardly had a voice in the film industry. Since the #Oscarssowhite and the #Metoo movements, women have been more empowered to speak up. But there is still a great need for more women in positions of power; whether it be as gatekeepers—deciding which films and TV shows are developed for platforms like Netflix—or even as judges for film festivals.
I started the annual Joy House Film Festival in 2013, featuring short films that celebrate joy and diversity. I have always believed in being the change you wish to see in the world, and what I wish is for more actresses and people of colour to be both in front of and behind the camera.
All my films are made independently, with one percent of the budget normally used for blockbusters. I want audiences to escape from the real world when watching them, and I love giving creative women opportunities that will pay off in their careers. For instance, Lara Cross, my sound recordist and designer, thanked me at the end of last year for providing her with the stepping stones she needed to work on a blockbuster film, The Interceptor.
You are only as good as your team—choose people who are humble, hardworking and grateful. And never give up, because as Walt Disney once said, “If you can dream it, you can do it”; and if I can do it, anyone can.
Jazz Chong, founder and owner of Ode to Art gallery
As women are increasingly empowered, the possibilities are endless. As Pablo Picasso once said, “everything you can imagine is real”.
We represent both female and male artists in the gallery and do not focus on gender-differences. What we focus on instead are the artist’s talents, unique style, and personality. For example, Eva Armisen and Ran Hwang are two female artists that we work closely with. Armisen’s child-like paintings are deceptively simple but hold a universal theme, that of love and family. In 2016, she illustrated the book Mom is a Haenyeo, featuring the diving women of Jeju Island to raise awareness on the incredible history of these women. On the contrary, Hwang’s quiet, meditative works are powerful as she illustrates phoenix, plum blossoms, and also architecture that are timeless and elegant.
I am inspired by Saint Thecla, who is considered to be a feminist icon by early Christians and exegetes. I admire her strength to stand by her beliefs without faltering, despite facing severe hardships. Another important woman in my life is my mum, who put her family and children before herself, and showed me where the true strength of a woman lies.
Be patient—persevere and focus on the process, not the results.