Cindy Aw is the Associate HR Director of Durapower. She heads the Group Human Resources function covering APAC and Europe. Experienced across multiple industries including Oil & Gas, logistics, retail/distribution and high technology, she is a seasoned HR Business Partner and has been leading regional teams in HR operations, strategy and change management.
What one factor has helped you the most throughout your career?
Having clarity about what matters most to me at the different stages of life has helped me make the most appropriate career decisions. A good mentor or a strong support system may help in our career pursuits, but if we are not conscious about what we want to pursue, even the most career-propelling opportunity will not necessarily bring us happiness or career fulfilment.
As a mentor, what advice would you give to your mentees?
Be clear about what matters to you, what brings you happiness and fulfilment, and leverage your strengths to achieve your goals. Also, remember that no matter what you do, it is difficult to please everyone because everyone is shaped by different experiences, cultures and backgrounds. Therefore, do not let one’s judgement define your identity or your worth.
For example, someone that I currently mentor has been struggling to get past the shadows of her ex-boss’ poor assessment of her. While her work has been praised by others in the same organisation, she chose to focus on her perceived failures rather than her strengths and success, in turn hindering her performance and progression. As her mentor, it is my role to help her discover and acknowledge her strengths.
How do you balance long hours with your personal life successfully?
As a working mom, I do not believe in sacrificing family for career or vice versa. Finding work-life balance might be tough in some careers, which is why working towards a work-life integration is important. With many of us working from home in the face of the pandemic, I would even go so far as to say that we are “homing from work”! To manage my work and personal life, I keep my personal priorities in clear view, maintaining clarity on what is important to me and the extent of their importance. Sometimes, we do not have enough time to meet our multiple priorities and we will have to maximise our limited time to achieve the most. For example, if I promised my daughter to watch a TV show with her but was running on a tight timeline to work on a proposal, I would strike a deal with her. I would watch the show, enjoy our snacks, and make silly comments on the programme, but during commercial breaks, I would brainstorm on my proposal without disturbance although I would still be sitting next to her. Apart from looking after my family, I make it a point to give myself some me-time. We need to take good care of ourselves in order to take care of others.
Do you have any advice for working moms on how to progress and succeed?
The definition of “success” varies for different people, so organise your life according to your priorities and what success means to you. Understand that you are a human being and there is only so much you can do. If you ever get to the stage where you are questioning your actions, you will need to step back and reflect, whether that is what you want, at that point in time. What you wanted five years ago might not be what you want now, so be prepared to relook, reflect, and make changes to your life according to what is important to you right now.
It can get quite tough when you are holding a senior role in the organisation while being a mother to young children, and daughter to ageing parents. Many feel an obligation to be the perfect mom, wife, daughter, boss, and employee, but the more we try to be perfect in all our roles, the more imperfect we become. Superwoman is fictional and trying to become one would be a lost cause. Therefore, we should be kind to ourselves. It does not mean we have to stop doing our best, but much rather about being realistic around our limitations. That is why it is important to know our strengths and leverage them to achieve our goals. Also, get comfortable tapping into the support system around you, there is no need to feel bad about outsourcing some responsibilities by hiring helpers, part-time clears, tutors, etc.
Do you believe there is a glass ceiling for women in the workplace?
The glass ceiling is still there for women in many workplaces, with the height of the ceiling differing from organisation to organisation. Many women feel that they need to adopt a “masculine” leadership style or work approach to accelerate their career. It is sad when you have to become someone else to reach your career goals, so I am very grateful that there is no glass ceiling for women in Durapower!
The good news here is that we are seeing the world slowly evolving and progressing towards equal opportunities for women. This is made possible as more females are being educated and more people, men and women alike, are becoming more vocal in advocating for women’s rights.
What do you think are some common traits amongst today’s female leaders?
I would say bravery – a sense of bravery to make a difference. If you are one of three females in a room of 40 leaders, you may feel overwhelmed and want to take a backseat. I do not blame women for feeling like that because we are not culturally caught up in Asia where women are viewed side by side with men. Having bravery does not mean not feeling fearful to speak up, it means putting aside your fear and sharing your thoughts, even if someone is going to disagree with you.
Looking back at your career, can you pinpoint when you first noticed an emphasis on diversity and inclusion around you?
Perhaps not so much an emphasis on D&I, but rather the lack of it. In one of my earlier experiences where I sat in an interview with a hiring manager, the interview was going well until the interviewee shared that she would be getting married soon. The friendliness in the hiring manager fizzled out, followed by his question, ‘how soon do you plan to start a family?’ As a young graduate who just entered the workforce, bursting with hopes and enthusiasm, such encounters with gender discrimination in the workplace was a punch to my gut.
In your experience, what are the benefits of diverse teams and diverse organisations?
One benefit of having diverse teams is the ability to harness innovation. Diversity is a powerful incubator of ideas and creativity. When people with different experiences, skills, perspectives and strengths come together to contribute to a common goal, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
Organisations that embrace D&I generally have stronger employee engagement, which translates to stronger teams and better business performances. Employees would be happier to be associated with such an organisation, in turn helping with retention.
What advice would you give to leaders who want to create a more diverse and inclusive culture?
Start by being curious about what a diverse and inclusive culture can bring to the organisation as curiosity helps maintain an open mind. Cultures are shaped by mindsets; if you don’t have an open mind, how can you reshape your culture towards embracing differences? It is also important to remember that D&I is not just about gender, age, race or nationalities, but also perspectives. If leaders are not ready to agree to disagree, or not willing to listen to ideas and perspectives that are different from theirs, then no D&I programmes or initiatives will yield any powerful outcome.
Lastly, make sure you are doing it for the right purposes, not simply to create the illusion that you are championing D&I. If the top management believes in it and is sincere, then a top-down/inside-out approach would be the way to go.
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