31 Mar 2021
To share perspectives of inspiring women leaders in the real estate industry, Frasers Property organised an International Women’s Day (IWD) fireside chat in March, to encourage discussions on overcoming gendered norms and challenging unconscious bias to create a more inclusive and equitable workplace.
Made available as a broadcast to Frasers Property’s employees in all locations, the lunchtime talk featured two distinguished women leaders in real estate: Ms Ong Choon Fah, Chief Executive Officer, Edmund Tie & Company (Southeast Asia) and a board director of Frasers Centrepoint Trust, and Ms Lee GekLang, Managing Director, Chief Operating Officer, Asia-Pacific, PGIM Real Estate. The fireside chat was moderated by Ms Zheng Wanshi, Frasers Property’s Group Chief Strategy & Planning Officer.
All three are active members of the (ULI) in Singapore – Choon Fah is the Executive Committee Chair for ULI Singapore, while Wanshi is both a member of the Executive Committee and the Steering Committee Co-Chair of the Women’s Leadership Initiative (WLI) which GekLang is also a member of. The WLI is a global programme aimed at increasing the visibility and professional development opportunities for women in the real estate development industry.
Ms Zheng Wanshi, Frasers Property’s Group Chief Strategy & Planning Officer, (middle) joined by Ms Ong Choon Fah, Chief Executive Officer, Edmund Tie & Company (Southeast Asia) (right) and Ms Lee GekLang, Managing Director, Chief Operating Officer, Asia-Pacific, PGIM Real Estate (left) at Frasers Property’s “Inspiring Women Leaders in Real Estate” fireside chat. Together, they raised their hand high to show their commitment towards gender equality, in response to this year’s International Women’s Day theme of “Choose to Challenge”.
In line with this year’s of #ChooseToChallenge, respect, empathy and partnership were themes explored extensively as the speakers shared anecdotes and insights stressing the importance of self-empowerment, the courage to define and strive for our own version of the meaningful life as well as the need to exercise self-care.
Start with accepting equality
As a preamble to the session, Wanshi shared Frasers Property’s Equity, Diversity & Inclusion framework, and the efforts the company is making. She also highlighted how the #WomenofFrasers series on sought to champion the diversity of next generation women leaders in the organisation and urged all employees to do their part to build a more equitable world, including championing gender equity. Recalling a recent statement by Singapore’s Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam: “We must instead start with accepting equality, and any differential treatment then has to be justified,” – Wanshi felt that this starting position is a good way of framing how we all can approach inclusion.
Overcoming gender bias, and setting up for success
Citing results from the as a basis for the conversation, it was noted that a third of women in Asia Pacific still felt that gender remains a barrier to opportunity. The same study noted the ‘lack of time’ and ‘guidance from networks’ are key barriers, with more than two-thirds of working mothers indicating they experienced workplace discrimination because of household responsibilities.
To these findings, both speakers stressed the need for organisations to encourage an inclusive and nurturing company culture as well as putting in place talent development opportunities recognising differences in gender traits. The importance of women speaking up, putting themselves forward for opportunities, and organisations championing female talent were also raised.
In response to Wanshi’s question on the type of skills, mindsets and traits needed to progress from the perspective of their personal journeys, Choon Fah highlighted that growing up in a family with sisters and a brother, she was never made to feel anything less by both her parents which resulted in her “can-do” attitude. Similarly, in reminiscing on her childhood, GekLang was reminded that her music teacher taught her the importance of showing up on her first day of practice, rain or shine. This was a lesson she carried through with her in life. Furthering this thought, she recognised skills can be developed and learnt, while perseverance and mindset determine what one can achieve in life.
Networking offers insights and potential opportunities
GekLang shared that networking is just as important as time dedicated in the office. Networking has allowed her to gain knowledge and insights, which would not have taken place if she had just been sitting at her desk crunching numbers or reading the news. Recognising that women often suffer from a lack of time juggling between their equal responsibilities as wife/daughter/mother, GekLang shared that networking could happen over lunches without affecting their evenings.
Referencing Nassim Taleb, the former trader, now academic and author of The Black Swan, Wanshi encouraged the audience to think of networking as setting oneself up for black swan opportunities – it allows serendipitous, rare and impactful chances to emerge when you least expect it, which includes the random acquaintance that can forge one’s career.
Juggling multiple roles and prioritising
On juggling the many responsibilities everyone has, including women, Wanshi shared a popular analogy from author Nora Roberts: life is much like having to juggle an infinite number of balls, some made of glass and others of plastic, representing a multitude of tasks across the personal and professional fronts. Once a glass ball drops, it shatters or chips and may not be recovered. However, when a plastic ball drops, it bounces with no harm done. We must understand that some tasks are plastic and some are glass, but sometimes in order to catch a glass ball in one area, we have to drop a plastic ball in another. It can be demoralising to drop any ball, yet it will inevitably happen, so we should not beat ourselves up over it.
Ms Zheng Wanshi (right), shared how she resonated with the book “The Moment of Lift”, as Ms Lee GekLang (left) and Ms Ong Choon Fah (middle) in the panel looked on. In the book, the author Melinda Gates advocates for both women and men to move from a constant struggle for dominance to one of partnerships. It is one of the books curated for employees of Frasers Property on women empowerment.
Be the change: Partnerships to empower everyone
During the conversation, views were shared on gendered norms and how we can overcome gender bias together, men and women, as change agents for a more inclusive and equitable world. There was all around agreement that society must do more to encourage men to take a bigger role in family responsibilities, including parenting.
Citing a study by the World Health Organisation in Europe, Wanshi pointed out that communities with greater gender equality was associated with lower mortality, suicide, and depression rates amongst men, which suggested that greater gender equality was positive for both men and women.
Wanshi also shared Melinda Gates’ message from her book “The Moment of Lift” which advocates for women and men to move from a constant struggle of dominance towards partnerships that distributes opportunities based on talent, skill, effort and accomplishments. The book forms part of a on women’s self-empowerment by Frasers Property.
Both Choon Fah and GekLang agreed that a win-win paradigm where we promote men and women as partners both at the workplace and at home can bring wider opportunities and greater satisfaction.
Creating a more inclusive world
Summing up the event, Wanshi shared Frasers Property’s core values of being collaborative, real, respectful, and progressive exemplify what diversity and inclusion is about.
Participants keenly listening to Ms Zheng Wanshi (standing) speaking at one of Frasers Property’s key initiatives to celebrate International Women’s Day 2021. The fireside chat was held at Alexandra Point in Singapore and broadcast to all employees across geographies.
Referencing her passion for finance and economics, Wanshi shared: “I am reminded that life is like portfolio management – it is about optimising resource allocation and managing such that the marginal benefit of work and home activities and the marginal cost associated are balanced in maximising one’s success. It starts with reflecting upon how you choose to define your success, and then how you choose to channel and invest your time and energy.”
Happy International Women’s Day! It is not only a celebration of women advancing in the world, but an important reflection on our support to take up the challenge to create a more inclusive and equitable world for everyone.