In the spirit of International Women’s Day this month, Annabel Tan speaks to three empowering women who are advocating for change in causes they are passionate about.
Born and raised in Hong Kong by entrepreneur parents, Sabrina Ho was taught from a young age to speak her mind and that her opinions were valued. Her parents ran an acrylic factory in China and often involved their children in business conversations. “My brother and I were very young and didn’t know anything about business but they still treated us like adults,” recalls Sabrina. “The way they see the world from an entrepreneur’s perspective is very different and I think they have always injected this same entrepreneurial spirit in us just from leading by example.”
After more than a decade working in the recruitment industry across the Asia Pacific, Sabrina bit the bullet in 2019 and founded Half The Sky (HTS), a career and headhunting platform that connects female professionals with equal opportunity employers. With a name inspired by Mao Zedong’s gender-equality proclamation that “women hold up half the sky”, HTS aims to level the playing field for women at work and empower them in the workplace. It has jobs across various industries in more than 11 countries including Singapore, Vietnam, the Philippines, Japan and Korea, and works with companies like J.P. Morgan, DuPont, Cisco and DBS.
For Sabrina, who is now based in Singapore, starting HTS was not just an entrepreneurial decision but also her ikigai. Referring to the Japanese concept of finding joy in life through a purpose, she declares advocating for women’s issues as her passion. Over the last five years, she has also been active in organisations that empower women, such as BoardAgender, Singapore Committee for UN Women and Lean In Singapore.
She started HTS after experiencing – both first-hand and through the women she worked with as a recruiter – the challenges and discrimination women often face in the workplace. In her capacity as Director of KS Global Group, an executive search business, Sabrina once attended a meeting with a male Japanese client who assumed that she was a translator and instead mistook her male colleague for the boss.
She also recounts an infuriating incident where a female candidate was about to be offered her dream job by a client, but was turned down after the company discovered she was expecting. The candidate was disappointed but helpless, and had to accept the fact.
“Witnessing all these experiences over the years really drove me to do something about it,” Sabrina explains. “I decided that I don’t want to just talk about it any more. We’ve been talking about gender diversity in the workforce for years. I want to actually do something about it and I want change. I want to be the voice to help women find work at a company that that they deserve.”
She for she
Rather than just allow any employer access to their database of women talent, HTS ensures that the companies it works with are able to offer candidates the 12 policies and initiatives required, including flexible working arrangements, paid parental leave, Return to Work policies, mentorship and sponsorship programmes as well as equal pay initiatives. “We don’t just take on any company,” says Sabrina. But for those that do not quite meet the mark, the platform also offers inclusion and diversity consulting services.
While the recruitment aspect of HTS is her forte, running a technology platform has been a whole new ball game for her and a rather challenging one. She recalls a tough period when she was burnt out from working 12 to 15 hours every day of the week. “I was just physically, mentally and spiritually exhausted but I started thinking about the women who have shared their stories with me and it really made me emotional.”
“I remember I had tears in my eyes and thought to myself, ‘Sabrina if you give up, then what about these women?’ You can call me arrogant, but I think I have the right skill set to do this and I have the right reason to do it. So I have to keep going.”
She adds: “As women, we need to help each other. And my parents always said to me, ‘If you want to run a business, make sure you have a business that can help people.’ I think that’s Half The Sky.”
(Main and featured image credits: Photography: Joel Low | Art Direction: Audrey Chan | Hair: Benedict Choo | Make-up: Sophia Chia/Makeup Works | Photography Assistance: Alfie Pan)
This story first appeared in the March issue of Prestige Singapore.