You Can’t Be What You Can’t See – Improving Gender Diversity in Asian Businesses

Inspire, challenge and change was the theme of the second Deutsche Bank Women in Asian Business Conference held in Singapore on September 12, 2012. The conference was attended by DB staff (over half the audience), DB clients and invited guests. There was representation from 9 other Asian countries and 20% of participants were men.

The conference speakers were a diverse and very interesting mix -filmmaker Jennifer Siebel Newman, the highly engaging Indian social activist Kiran Bedi and Financial Times columnist Mrs. Moneypenny. The panel session include participants Oranuch Apisaksirikul, Group Chief Executive, TISCO Group; Claire Chiang, Senior Vice President and Co-Founder of Banyan Tree Hotels & Resorts; Georges Desvaux, Managing Partner, McKinsey & Company, Japan; and Euleen Goh, Non-executive Chairman of the Singapore International Foundation. Bloomberg Television news correspondent and anchor Haslinda Amin moderated the event.

For me, the conference was summed up in the words of Jennifer Siebel Newman: “You can’t be, what you can’t see.” The issue in Asia is that women are under represented at the board and senior executive levels. Despite research from McKinsey, Mercer and other leading organisations suggesting that organisations with a higher level of women in top management have the best performance, improving diversity is not yet viewed as a business imperative by the majority of organisations in this region.

Each speaker shared their own perspective and experience on gender diversity in business. There were a number of common threads on how we can challenge these barriers and bring change in our own lives, in that of others and in the workplace:

  • Diversity is a business imperative. Organisations in Asia need to wake up and make diversity a priority. These companies are missing out on tapping into significant talent pool and the benefits of having women in leadership positions.
  • Kiran Bedi spoke of how every empowered woman needs to empower those who are not. This point was emphasised by a number of speakers who talked about how empowered women have to help not only the next generation but also women who are less fortunate, who don’t have access to opportunities, or who are consider to old. We also need to put more thought into how we support women at the different stages of her life. This will require a redesign of workplace practices and greater emphasis on workplace flexibility.
  • Sponsorship and mentorship are highly beneficial. Euleen Goh quoted Sir Issac Newton to stress the importance of mentorship programs: “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants.” Given the general lack of women in senior roles, it will be men who will need to step up to mentor and sponsor female talent. Mrs. Moneypenny talked of how women also need to improve their social capital by investing in building networks and relationships.
  • The role of the CEO is pivotal. Leaders set the tone for diversity. If your top leaders visible and walking the talk, you have a much better chance of making the transformation not only happen but stick. These leaders also need to be help accountable for results and actions.

Was I inspired? Definitely. What I realised was that we all have a significant role to play in challenging the barriers inhibiting diversity in all its forms. If we change our own behaviour, we can break down stereotypes, remove biases in talent management systems and move closer to achieving parity in the workplace.

For information regarding this conference, please go to