[Featured Image: (L-R) Panel moderator Terence Quek, panellists Anna Haotanto, Sandra Lam, Wong Dan Chi and SMU Provost Prof Timothy Clark]
By the SMU Digital Marketing Team
Take charge of your own life – six simple words that captured the essence of the advices given out by three Singapore Management University (SMU) alumnae and business leaders, shared during a half-hour panel dialogue moderated by SMU Master of Science in Communication Management alumnus Terence Quek.
Terence, a founding member and director of Project Happy Feet, a Singapore-based non-profit supporting education and training for underprivileged youth and children across Asia, led the panel dialogue titled “In Conversation with SMU Women Alumni Leaders” as SMU celebrates International Women’s Day 2022. The panellists include Anna Haotanto, President of the SMU Women Alumni Group and 2008 SMU Bachelor in Business Management graduate; Sandra Lam, a 2019 SMU Master of IT in Business graduate; and Wong Dan Chi, who graduated from SMU with a Bachelor of Accountancy in 2009.
The power is ours
Anna’s overarching tip – for women and men alike – was to educate oneself financially. “After a hard day’s work, most of us just want to watch Netflix and not read about bonds or structured products,” she said. “But don’t leave your financial future in the hands of other people. Understand how you can make your money work and empower yourself to achieve financial happiness.”
As COO of ABZD Capital and Managing Director and CMO of Gourmet Food Holdings, an investment firm focusing on opportunities in the global Food and Beverage (F&B) industry, Anna keeps this adage close to her heart. Further, as the advisor (former CEO) of The New Savvy, an online finance-information platform, she often reminds its audience of the importance of sound financial education.
“I’m very, very passionate about financial education – I feel that in Singapore, in Asia and worldwide, we are not taught how to manage money and how to maintain a healthy relationship with money,” she said. “And that’s something that I’ve been working on with The New Savvy for the past seven-and-a-half years.”
“If you are a woman looking to make an impact, this might actually be the best time.”
Sandra, who is Senior Vice-President, Innovation Catalyst and Fintech Partnership Lead at Citi, pushes the concept of financial literacy to also include innovation – something that she thinks everyone is capable of.
The author of The Intrapreneurship Formula, to be published later this year, said that women have made much impact in the corporate world. “I see progress. When I was in the Women in FinTech Committee of the FinTech Association, women were vastly under-represented. Today, we have a women’s chapter in the Association. So if you are a woman looking to make an impact, this might actually be the best time.”
To push the impact even further, Sandra suggested that organisations can look into their employee touchpoints and consider how women’s representation can be increased. This can start from ensuring a fairer representation of interview candidates, to looking into where and why women drop out of the workforce, narrowing the gender pay gap, and even working out alternative working arrangements to help women accommodate changes in their lives.
And with more women rising up the ranks, she urged female honchos to take the lead in championing inclusive leadership. “Women are not the only minority these days. Let’s not forget to lift others up too! There are [other minorities] out there who need support and sponsorships too – we should be able to [give them the support] because we are leaders today.”
Showing what we can do
“In any area of life, it’s about whether you’re willing to do the work,” said Dan Chi, who is Head of Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) Integration, APAC, at Schroders, a chartered accountant, Vice-Chair for the Asian Investor Group on Climate Change and adjunct faculty member at SMU, as well as a mother of two.
“There are certain advantages that can be grasped by women in Singapore. If you face discrimination, take it as an opportunity to show what you can do.”
Being a minority is something she deals with at an organisational level, constantly, working within the ESG circles.
“If you face discrimination, take it as an opportunity to show what you can do.”
As Asians, she said, it’s important to not just be part of the conversations, but to help shape them. When she started working in the field of sustainability, she recalled, “It started in Europe, and even now the narrative is very Euro-dominated. But it’s important to have an Asian narrative on the topic so Asians feel it’s something that affects them, that they can buy into.”
Singapore is uniquely poised to take the lead in such cases. But she warns that there is a caveat: “Singapore is still at a stage where we are fighting against previous generations’ perceptions – a lot of them are subconscious. Even my husband – a great advocate for women who saw me through my two Master degrees while taking care of the kids – would sometimes say things that I have to call him out on,” explained Dan Chi.
The three powerhouse alumnae also had some sagacious words of advice for fellow women.
Making personal attitude adjustments can be productive, noted Dan Chi, such as shifting the focus from the time spent on projects to recognising the emotions evoked by doing something you are passionate about.
“I tell myself, ‘taking time to teach at SMU energises me’, instead of looking at it as ‘a block of time’ in my schedule,” she says.
On the other hand, the road to productivity lies in being comfortable with change for Sandra: “For both women and men. Without change, you’ll be stuck in your comfort zone – it’s not the best for your personal development or career development.”
“To be a leader, you need to have agility, flexibility and humility.”
Anna, who offers an entrepreneurial slant, stated how it is important to remember that, as employers, “we are responsible for our employees and their families’ futures. When I first started my journey, I didn’t really know how to hire, didn’t know what I was looking for, we couldn’t really pay to hire top talents.
“I was complaining to a fellow founder – and he told me to shut up. ‘Your role as a leader is to make sure that even if you have a C team, you need to make it into an A team. And if they don’t succeed, it is your fault’,” she recalled.
“To be a leader, you need to have agility, flexibility and humility – that’s most important — to really bring the people in your team up to speed.”