There has never been a more exciting time in the quest for women’s equality than today. Women have been fighting for equal rights for generations – for the right to vote, the right to control our bodies and the right to equality in the workplace. And these battles have been hard fought, but we still have a long way to go.
Even today, some women are still being considered as second to men — getting second best opportunities, lesser recognition, and unequal treatment and compensation. Sadly, despite all the revolutionary accomplishments women have contributed throughout the century, sometimes having your reproductive organs on the outside weigh more than a woman’s brain and talents.
Thankfully, there are those who are on on the front lines and have bravely committed their lives to creating social change. Thus, for this International Women’s Day, we highlight 5 inspiring power women who have risen above all odds and paved the way for progress in their respective fields. Even though each are from different backgrounds and places, they all have one thing in common: nothing will stop them from fulfilling their purpose.
Carrie Fong, the director of Hedgeford Sdn Bhd
“You have to present your idea or opinion with good reason and facts. You can’t just be put off if no one listens to you the first time.”
Though real estate development runs in her family (she spent most of her childhood trailing her father Dato’ Richard Fong to the construction sites), Carrie’s inquisitive nature led her to set out on her own path, where she honed her skills in an advertising agency before joining Glomac Bhd as its group marketing manager in 2005.
Her background and experience in the advertising industry proved useful as she was used to learning about various industries and dealing with different clients so property development became just another industry she had to master. After Glomac, she headed the marketing team at Malaysia Property Inc, a government-linked real estate initiative that was set up by the Economic Planning Unit (EPU) to market Malaysia as a property investment location overseas before establishing Hedgeford Sdn Bhd in 2011, a property development company with multiple industrial, residential and mixed development projects under its repertoire.
That being said, Carrie’s responsibilities extend beyond construction sites and boardrooms, as she has also helmed the position of chairperson at the Real Estate Housing and Developers’ Association (REHDA) Youth for the past two years. Today, she is a key figure in the property development industry. “It’s easy to fall back on things that have been done before,” she says. “As a person, you can’t be stagnant. You grow with time and your mindset has to change as well.”
Hannah Yeoh, the current Speaker and a member of the Selangor State Assembly from the Democratic Action Party (DAP)
“My aim is to be role model. I want to show that you can go into politics, remain clean and excel in the work that you do. I believe that in every election you have nothing to lose. If you don’t win again, that’s ne. I know that I can always go back to law.”
Influenced into politics by her friend, Hannah made the decision to run for public office, contesting for the Subang Jaya state seat during 2008 general elections when she was just 29 years old. Often described as an accidental politician, her interest in politics was stirred over a simple discussion about voting. At the time, she was not even a registered voter and ironically, the first vote she cast was for herself. Her decision, she says, was largely driven by her faith, which prompted her to give herself for a higher purpose.
Though gender wasn’t an issue for her in an urban seat like Subang Jaya, she describes 2008 as being a pioneering time for women in politics, where one has to work especially hard to prove oneself. “You have to have the capacity to learn and function in that role,” she explains. “Then once you establish a reputation, it makes it a lot easier to convey that message.” Now, she informs that the Selangor state assembly has the highest representation of women, boasting 15 women in the house.
“As the first woman Speaker, I knew there would be no room for mistakes or else they will say a woman is not suitable to be Speaker,” she explains. “I was also hoping I would be able to control the House and I knew I could not a ord to be seen to be impartial. If you start o right, then you will have the reputation of being fair.” With the next general elections round the corner, Hannah is now preparing for her third election as an elected representative. “10 years in a long time,” she concedes. “When I went in, I felt that politics was going to rob me of my life but ten years later, I feel that politics has stretched me to the point that it is good for me.”
Soo Shea Pin, Managing Director of Anya Hindmarch Malaysia
“I came from a background where women had very little power and very little independence. It was always the men making money and the women were housewives with no say. I believed that there must be a way to do something to see that you don’t become one of those women.”
Not many are aware that the entrepreneur who introduced the witty accessories brand into Malaysia 10 years ago used to be a lawyer. Since young, Shea Pin knew that she wanted to be someone strong and being a lawyer encapsulated that. However, women lawyers were rare at that time. “There weren’t many people to inspire you and there was no CNN or anything like that,” she states. “You had to quietly create your own ambition and work on it.”
That being said, she was aware that education would be the means through which one could gain standing in society and excel in life. Thus, even as a pre-university student, she struggled with English Literature, raising doubts among her lecturers about her ability to pursue Law, Shea Pin knew that it was something that she had to do. But the world is different now and people don’t have to go through the typical way of achieving things in life.
Her entrepreneurial opportunity came when at 40, Shea Pin received a call from a friend who suggested the possibility to venture into the fashion industry. She was instantly attracted to the idea and started venturing into that, again not knowing how but somehow the confidence grew and the direction became clearer as she became more decisive to leave the legal practice and move bravely into the luxury fashion retail business. “I wasn’t sure I had,” she says. “It was an instinctive move to do something different in life and pursue my passion for business.” Now having successfully introduced the Anya Hindmarch and French Sole brands into Malaysia, Shea Pin celebrates 10 years as an entrepreneur.
“People say that I am persistent but I like to think I am committed and driven. Five years of rejection finally lands you at the spot. It works.”
Prior to founding the Cultural Economy Development Agency (CENDANA), Izan led My Performing Arts Agency (MyPAA), one of Malaysia’s leading cultural and creative industries development partners and also managed the marketing efforts and stakeholders’ engagement for Singapore Tourism Board (STB) as well as headed Enfiniti Vision Media, the award-winning producers of Malaysian hit musicals.
At MyPAA, Izan sought to change the way the arts was perceived. But after a chance meeting with Prime Minister, and a quick elevator pitch, Izan received a formal mandate to spearhead the development of the country’s cultural economy with the formation of CENDANA. Its goal comes in three-fold: to energise by stimulating demand, getting more people in seats and increasing an awareness of the arts. It also aims to empower communities by increasing the quality of work for artistes through increasing the quality of work, funding opportunities and also internships. The third objective is to re-organise through revisiting frameworks and policies.
“CENDANA is tasked to do that,” she says. “Technically if supply and demand interact with each other, there will be an economic buzz and the city will become more vibrant. We are focusing on KL first as an activation playground, to position KL as a cultural and creative city.”
Lee Jim Leng, CEO of Hong Leong Investment Bank
“Most employers and institutions today practise and embrace diversity and equality. Women who did not move towards substantial leadership positions were often forced to leave the industry halfway to care for their children or ageing parents.”
Banking was never on Jim Leng’s cards. After graduating with a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration from Acadia University and a Master’s Degree in Business Administration from Dalhousie University, she discovered she was actually good at accounting and finance.
“Funnily, being a banker was not even something we would ascribe to be when we were in our primary years. When the teacher asked us to list down our top three professions, I filled in nurse, air stewardess and pilot,” says Jim Leng, who has made banking her world since 1993, when she first joined Schroders Malaysia. She quickly fell in love with the fast-paced world of investment banking where the stakes are high and fortunes are made. But success does not come without hardships and Jim Leng has had her fair share of rejection during her initial years in the industry.
However, this formidable woman is not one to quit so easily. While most people give up when times are bad, Jim Leng knew her purpose and passion. To that, she embraced the attitude of giving her best and focusing on improving every day. And after being in a banking career spanning almost 30 years, the CEO of Hong Leong Investment Bank now fuels her thirst for success and life’s indulgent pleasures through her inherent passion for her job. “Success is liking yourself, liking what you do and liking how you do it,” she says.