By June Ramli
Dear Readers: An Audio version of this article is available below.
Singapore, July 18: Despite the progress that has been made in promoting diversity and inclusion in the workplace, women remain largely underrepresented in leadership positions in Asia – and the matter has worsened by the recent COVID-19 outbreak.
According to UN Women, only 20 percent of managers in Asia-Pacific today are women, and this figure is even lower for women in middle and senior management positions, at 17 per cent.
Striving to combat this, renowned hospitality management university Ecole hôtelière de Lausanne (EHL) recently launched its Women in Leadership Initiative, to raise awareness, disseminating knowledge, exchanging experiences, and sharing best practices in initiating women-related projects. Since its launch in 2018, it has promoted social changes in EHL as well as in the broader hospitality sector by addressing topics such as leadership, inclusion and belonging; entrepreneurship for women; networking and mentoring opportunities, as well as family and work management.
The team at DailyStraits.com is fortunate to have EHL Singapore campus managing director Jenny Ang (pictured above) to expand on the Women in Leadership Initiative and how it empowers women in the hospitality industry, as well as share insights into her own experience in becoming a leader.
Why having female leaders is important and how does it improve creativity, innovation and organisational performance?
Women bring a different set of skills and experiences to the table. There are many successful male and female business leaders, but with even more females at the decision-making level, we have seen them encourage a greater diversity of viewpoints and perspectives, and a wide-ranging set of influences that encourage innovation and creativity. According to a study by the Boston Consulting Group, companies with more diverse management teams have 19 per cent higher revenues due to an increase in innovation, showing that diversity is an integral part of businesses’ profitability. Women leaders help organisations improve performance as they generally tend to be more nurturing, better listeners, multi-taskers and value work-family balance.
EHL welcomed its first mixed class of men and women in 1924 and today, 58 percent of our students are female across our three campuses. As an institution, we have several integral female leaders within the Senior Management and Faculty teams, and we continue to promote leadership, culture, and policies that foster diverse, balanced, and people-focused environments throughout our institution and within EHL’s curriculum. We’re proud to have inspiring women in senior positions including Dr Carole Ackermann, President of the Board of Directors and President of the EHL Board of Governors, as well as Dr Inès Blal, Executive Dean and Managing Director of EHL. She is the youngest Dean to occupy this position since the creation of EHL in 1893.
What does gender inclusivity in the workplace look like and how can we cultivate such a culture at work?
Increasing the presence of women in leadership positions helps to influence and create more empathetic workplaces in ways that homogeneous environments seldom do, ensuring there is more transparency and openness, allowing companies to build an inclusive foundation that is better able to hire and retain the most qualified people.
As with any business imperative, creating a gender-inclusive environment takes a whole-of-business approach that involves everyone in the company, from the most senior person in management to the newest person through the door. While it is important for CEOs to own the agenda and lead it, it is also important for every employee in the company to be aligned with the same values and goals. Management needs to sincerely interrogate end-to-end employee experience to uncover sore or blind spots and find solutions to them as well as new ways to promote inclusion daily. We need to be deliberate about our actions to enable inclusivity.
How is COVID-19 threatening to slow female leadership in the workplace and what can we do to prevent this from happening?
The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted all individuals and industries across the board. Throughout a variety of industries, we’ve seen many people furloughed or let go completely, stalling careers, affecting financial standings and morale. Women are shouldering much of the burden at home, given school and childcare facility closures. Mckinsey recently featured a study that found more than one in four women are contemplating re-thinking their careers or leaving the workforce completely to focus on the needs of the family. However, the pandemic has allowed businesses to embed policies that take into account women’s unique needs, responsibilities and perspectives to retain employees who have been most affected by the COVID crisis and nurture a culture in which women have equal opportunity to achieve their potential over the long-term.
To enable female leadership progression, organisations can look to continue flexible working arrangements to enable individuals to balance their work and home commitments. For instance, offering flexible hours allow working parents to optimise their work schedule according to their home needs. Cultivating an environment that is understanding and empathetic to support employees without fear of career penalty must be embedded in a business amidst a post pandemic. We’ve seen an increase in focus on diversity, respect and inclusion and this must continue in all establishments as a priority.
As our lives continue to be disrupted by the ongoing pandemic, it’s important for employees to feel empathy, trust and support both personally and professionally from the management. Promoting networking and mentorship is also a great way to create an open working environment as well as assist women to rise through the ranks to ensure opportunities – these can be done in ways and times to accommodate both parties involved.
At EHL we run a Women in Leadership Initiative with the aim of raising awareness, disseminating knowledge, exchanging experiences, sharing best practices and initiating innovative women-related projects. Since its launch in 2018, it has promoted social changes in EHL as well as in the broader hospitality sector by addressing topics such as leadership, inclusion and belonging; entrepreneurship for women; networking and mentoring opportunities, as well as family and work management. Furthermore, according to Amnesty International, 1 in 5 women have experienced sexual harassment at some point in their lives and whilst this issue exists in every sector, concerns males and females, research has shown that hospitality is plagued by it. With the aim to combat this, in 2019 we launched our Sexual Harassment Prevention campaign alongside the Women in Leadership program. Our Academic Advisory and HR teams work together to educate, protect and empower students and staff on the topic of sexual harassment and as well as raising awareness, we work closely with stakeholders and partners, striving to promote empowerment and wellbeing both internally and externally. We have collaborated with the Non-Violence Project Foundation, which was founded in 1993 by an EHL alumnus and so far, we’ve trained over 2,000 staff and students on this sensitive topic.
How do diversity and inclusion align with businesses’ sustainability goals?
Responsible business practices must encompass economic, social and environmental needs to be sustainable. Embracing diversity will drive a business’ sustainability goals. A collection of individuals from different backgrounds and experiences will cultivate better company strategies, working together as a team to address different issues. Diverse teams have been proven to be more productive, according to a McKinsey report, ethnic and gender diverse companies are 20 per cent more innovative and 35 per cent more likely to outperform homogenous teams, taking bold actions and solving challenges.
Adopting an inclusive culture ensures that employees, or in EHL’s case, also students, have access to the same opportunities and are treated in the same respectful way. Preventing discrimination in the workplace, fostering inclusion creates an important open and happy working environment.
What is your experience as a female leader and how do you aspire to empower future women leaders to strive and do their best?
This year at EHL, the theme of Benevolence is at our core, with a people-first approach that aligns with my leadership style. I’m incredibly proud to be contributing to EHL’s Women in Leadership programme, supporting and mentoring our female staff and students in Singapore and Switzerland to exchange knowledge and experiences. We wish to empower one another to achieve our life goals and reach our full potential. As a mother of two teenage daughters, being a strong role model to them is important to me. We can have very open discussions and I am very happy to see that they too are very passionate about these topics, and I look forward to watching them grow to be confident and kind young women.