Dassault Systèmes employees in Asia Pacific South commemorated International Women’s Day 2021 by embracing the theme, #ChooseToChallenge. But what does it mean to “Choose to Challenge” and how we can apply this theme in our lives?
A challenged world is an alert world. And from challenge comes change. #ChooseToChallenge is about us taking personal responsibility in contributing towards collective change by recognizing and challenging stereotyping and biasness – both in ourselves and others.
We speak to three Dassault Systèmes executives in Asia Pacific South on what International Women’s Day means to them and their experiences in challenging outdated workplace stereotypes.
Challenging stereotypes in a male-dominated industry
Michelle Ash shared her experience in the mining industry when she first started out 30 years ago. At that time, mining was so male-dominated that it was actually a struggle to find female rest rooms in mining operations areas. “I remember astonishing people on-site when they found out that I was a mining blast engineer.”
Michelle also recalled a stint at a mining town where the company’s mining superintendent fretted over the urgency to hire more on-site employees due to the lack of housing capacity. “I highlighted the fact that 50% of the people in the town, that is, the women, are not fully employed. We suggested to check if we could hire some of them to drive trucks for a period of time. And the superintendent was aghast at the idea, saying, ‘We can’t have female truck drivers!’”
Indeed, it was an uphill task for Michelle to advance her career in the mining industry, especially during her early years. Thanks to inspiring women like her, women in mining now have an admirable role model to look up to when developing their career.
Breaking with traditional gender mindsets in Asia
Lisa New grew up in a traditional Asian family with the mindset that males take on the ‘breadwinner’ role and females assume the ‘homemaker’ role. Her mother often praised Lisa’s intelligence to their neighbours, saying, “She’s so smart and bright, and so energetic. If only she’s a boy.”
While there has been significant progress in recent years, women in Asia still face significant barriers to success due to growing up with these traditional mindsets. Lisa observed, “I’m in a profession – accounting – which is fairly female-oriented. However, in a typical audit firm, while my colleagues and peers are all female, the leadership is usually male-dominated. This is because along the way, the females will drop out of their careers to get married and have a family. It always seems to be the case for women in Asia where the choice has to be either family or career, and not both.”
Since young, Lisa always strived to break with traditional gender roles and achieve self-sufficiency, and most of all, to achieve a balance between family and career. “We should see family and work time as equal in importance, have a focus when planning the day ahead and manage both as a whole.” She also emphasized the importance of building a strong network of support within both the family and the work environment.
Reflecting on the women who have inspired us in our lives
As a business leader and people manager, Simon Shanmugham observed that women tend to lack confidence in their ability when it comes to fields where men are stereotypically believed to perform more strongly in, such as technology. “I found that whenever I compliment women for their work, they are often self-deprecating, saying that their success is because of someone else.” He continued, ”Often women do not feel confident enough apply for a role until they’ve checked off each item on the list, whereas men are confident about their ability at 60% of the requirements, or sometimes even less.”
As a father of two young daughters, Simon hopes to inspire them to do their best to achieve their aspirations, and not let gender stereotypes hold them back. “International Women’s Day is a time of genuine reflection, of all the women who have inspired us in our lives. It presents a great opportunity for men to also think about issues of gender equality. As a parent, I feel it is my responsibility motivate my daughters to have self-belief and not to limit themselves to stereotyped notions of what activities ‘belong’ to guys and what ‘belong’ to girls.”
Kudos to wonderful fathers like Simon for encouraging their daughters to always jump higher and aim for the best!