Vero Meets #4: Equality in Leadership – How to bring out the leader in you

Our 4th Vero Meets session is adapted from a panel we held for our regional team with female leaders who are experts in their field to talk about equality in leadership, and how women can thrive away from gender norms to be the best of themselves.

Read in Vietnamese

We proudly welcomed to Vero Meets #4: a female leader from Vero ASEAN, a gender specialist and an activist.

About our guests: 

 

What experiences have you been through in order to become the leader you are today? 

Sasha Alwani: When I started my first job at an agency in Hong Kong, it was a male-dominated office. There was no female senior leadership, except for this one woman who was our Regional Creative Director. As she was the only woman among 5-7 men in the leadership positions, she obviously met some difficulties, and she worked very hard to earn the title. In every meeting, she was unapologetic, she would speak her mind in confidence about her beliefs and her ideas, and she made sure that in every situation, she was heard. She took me under her wing as an intern, and I just tried my best to ‘absorb’ and learn everything from her. It was fascinating to see that with just enough confidence, you can make a big difference. So, because of her, I started to practice being more confident when delivering my ideas. I began to speak up more and raise my hand more. As a result, I found that people started to hear me and recognize me because I was not scared to share my ideas. I quickly climbed the ladder.   

When I moved to Singapore to work for a different agency, the environment was completely opposite, with around 97% women and 3% men. That was also when I realized that gender did not really play a role, and the quality of my work and who I was were what mattered. So, I really focused on myself and set a clear picture of the leader I wanted to be. I joined the agency as a Junior Manager and aimed to be a Senior Manager within a year. In order to achieve that, I needed to earn respect from my team by encouraging them and being more collaborative rather than just doing the work for them or telling them what to do. I made sure that we came up with a solution together. I believe that a good leader would listen to their team and find a way to empower everyone to work towards the same goal. I’ve spent my years working and trying to build that between my colleagues and my teammates. What I learned from all of this was that gender didn’t matter because I was able to showcase that with confidence, with the ability to work collaboratively, and with the internal motivation, I would be able to become the leader I wanted to be. 

Angélique Masse Nguyen: I’ll start with what I’m doing with NOI and my journey. NOI is a digital media platform that speaks into what it is to be a woman today. The reason behind NOI was that I realized that there was not a platform dedicated to (being a) woman, while there were many for men. Since then, we have been featuring lots of women’s journeys and why they are taking specific career paths. We hope that our female audience would find that inspiring and think that they can do it too. 

Another thing I’ve learned through my journey is that you need to embrace who you are. There is no one way of being a woman. It was challenging for me before I came to realize that I needed to stop trying to be the leader people projected on me. I learned that I needed to embrace who I am. I almost lost my baby when I was under so much stress trying to be a strong boss and taking all the pressure. That was a wake-up call for me. I then took some sessions with my coach, and she made me realize that there is no one way of being a leader; you just need to figure out who you are, embrace your strengths and your weakness, and then develop your set of skills. At NOI, we really want to empower and say, “don’t try to change yourself. Understand who you are and embrace that.” 

We also provide lots of tips on NOI because people often say, “oh, you need to be confident” or “you need to be able to make money” and all of that, but no one really tells you how. Some can’t figure it out on their own, and we don’t want you to walk the path alone. There are many people who have had the experiences and they can share some tips, say, how to negotiate salary, how to speak up, how to increase confidence, or how to be an introverted leader, etc. All of these are the things I wish someone had shared with me long ago so that I wouldn’t have had to fight alone or missed opportunities.  

Nhung TranSince I was a kid, my father always made sure that I was ‘well-behaved’ as a woman, which means I should be patient, I must not do what the boys were doing or playing, I should not whistle, things like that. On the other hand, my mother encouraged me to do what I like and be whoever I wanted to be, as long as I was kind and loving to everyone around me. She taught me to always think before I act and to be confident in myself.  

When I was in school or in my first job as a public servant, when I heard the word ‘leadership,’ I used to imagine that person has a high position in management. I was confused between the definition of ‘leader’ and ‘manager’ at that time. In 2004, I left the Ministry of Education & Training, where I worked as a government officer. I moved to work for a project in poverty reduction funded by the Swedish government. That was when I attended a training course on women and leadership with experts from Sweden and started to have my first knowledge about such a topic. Since then, I have understood more about the differences between a leader and a manager. A leader with leadership skills can influence others and can make others listen to him or her respectfully. Together, the leader will lead his/ her people to achieve a common goal. My mother had a significant impact on me in the way that I am more confident and have good patience when working with others. I am constantly reminded to be kind and loving.  

What traits and skills should our future leaders have? 

Angélique Masse Nguyen: I don’t think there is a trait or skill to become a leader. Instead, the first thing you need is to understand yourself and your personality and embrace it. You need to see what your strengths and weaknesses are. There is no one way to be a leader. You just need to be true to yourself. The second thing is we need to be able to communicate with others about who we are. Don’t try to change yourself; we can’t change who we are. We must embrace who we are and then learn how to express that. When you are going to your next interview for a job or a promotion to a leadership role, share what you have and how you envision leading the team. The boss or the company will decide whether you are the right fit or not. If they say no to you, they’re saving you time from an inappropriate environment. So, embrace who you are and learn how to communicate. 

Sasha Alwani: I agree with Angelique. I don’t think there is a perfect formula for a perfect leader. I do think every leader has their own ways of doing things based on their strengths and weaknesses. I can share my thoughts on leadership, though. Over the years, I have worked with a lot of leaders, from managers, directors, to CEOs; and I have spent a lot of time observing them in how they lead and how they do well, as well as what they do not do so well. From that, I am able to gather what I do value and what I don’t value in a leader. Using that, I have been able to craft what I think are the crucial qualities, or at least those are the qualities I would like to see in my leaders. I try to embody that as much as I can with my team. For me, it comes down to 3 things that I always do to make sure that I am a good leader. First, I listen. I think listening to the people around us and acknowledging their thoughts and ideas, their feedback is critical. Second, I think what is also essential is leading by example. I’m not a fan of a hypocritical leader who tells you to do something and then doesn’t do it themselves. I think if we want to empower people and work towards the same goals, we need to practice what we preach. That applies at every level. You can be a leader at the most junior title, and you can be a leader at the top of the food chain; everyone has the potential to lead in the work that they do. The final thing is to never stop learning. I don’t think that there is such thing as a ‘know-it-all’ leader. There is always a  potential to continue growing and becoming better. A leader acknowledges and recognizes that and always makes room for improvement. Those are the things that I always keep in mind as a leader, and I hope people will do the same to me. I think that as long as you have an open mind to what other people are sharing, what people have to offer, and to what makes you a better leader, you’re on the right track. 

We all have different personalities when we are around our friends, family and when we are at work. I think it comes to our own versions of a leader, it’s vital to look around and see what the great leaders have been doing and pick up from those skills. Replicate those that make you feel empowered and try to share that with people around you as well.  

Nhung Tran: I don’t think I am in the position to advise anyone on how to become a good leader. I can share with you my experiences working with different spectators in Vietnam. I think that the most important thing is to make people respect us, put their trust in us, and feel comfortable sharing with us. In addition, I think it is crucial that we are aware of gender equality. By having such knowledge, I think we will save ourselves from being gender-biased, which will somehow affect how people look at us. I believe we should be free from gender bias, and we should also have good knowledge of human rights and social inclusion in general. We should have respect for diversity and embrace the differences. I think we should also equip ourselves with networking skills and build partnerships with mutual sincerity and understanding. 

How to bring out the leader in you? Can you share some keywords or tips for our folks on their journey to finding themselves? 

Sasha Alwani: A general tip I would advise in being a better leader is that being a leader does not mean bossing people around. Just because you are a leader does not mean you can tell people what to do. It’s about empowering the people around you to be the best version of themselves. Everybody has potential, and we just need to be able to work together to unlock that potential. Like I mentioned earlier, a leader can be at any level. It could be down to a person doing media monitoring on a day-to-day basis, and that person is undoubtedly a leader in their field because, for me, I would not have their skills over time. That person would have all the skills and insights to lead their team and thrive. Everyone has their own capabilities and potential to be a leader. We get to where we are by people empowering us and putting trust in us.  

Angélique Masse Nguyen: There are two things I think we should consider keeping in mind. The first thing is your partner. Your partner can play a crucial role in your journey, so I would advise choosing them wisely. They will be the ones who go along the way with you, share a life with you, have opinions about your work and everything. When you decide to have kids, you need to understand how it could affect your career, your work life, how you will manage that, and what you and your partner expect from each other. I met my husband at a very young age, and we shared the same vision of equality in partnership, which saved me a lot of time. Nobody said such a thing to me when I was younger, but I have found it a piece of helpful advice I would like to share.  

The second piece of advice from me is that you should create your own ‘personal board.’ At work, we usually have boards of directors in charge of developing strategies and governance; I think we should replicate that and have our version personally. We should have a group of people we can seek to have some advice and discuss the critical decisions of our lives. You should also be mindful of diversity in your board. Have women in your board alongside men to gather as many diverse insights as possible and avoid bias. They will be the ones to push you to reach the opportunities you often overlook because you don’t think you are good enough.  

Nhung Tran: My keywords would be kindness, tolerance, and skillfulness. 

Thank you, Sasha AlwaniAngélique Masse Nguyen, and Nhung Tran for your valuable sharing.