Educate the boys before they become men

Anne Rajasaikaran is the CEO of The Budimas Charitable Foundation and President of HELP College based in Malaysia. She believes that it is important to sensitise men out the challenges that women face at workplace.

What according to you are the successes of gender equality movement which gathered momentum towards the end of the last decade?
To me the gender equality movement has empowered women to truly explore their identity and be who they want to be. It has created an awareness of issues that were previously taboo to discuss. A good example of this is the #metoo movement that gave women an equal footing in which to voice out sexist issues and abusive figures in a male dominated industry. These exact complaints by women went largely ignored prior to the gender equality movement gaining momentum in the last 10 years.

At the start of this decade, what would be your three priorities for gender equal workplaces?
First, allowing an equal platform for growth of men and women based strongly on merit and capability. Second, helping young adults to understand gender equality better. I believe that the younger we can educate them, the more informed they will be about gender discrimination. Last, but not least, having a whistle blower policy or a sexual harassment policy in place that addresses any workplace pressure or intimidation, regardless of the gender of the perpetrator.

How important is the role of men in this movement and what according to you should organisations do to involve them?
Although there has been great strides in gender equality, men still form the largest bulk when it comes to discriminatory issues, as such, it is important to educate boys before they become men so that they can understand their role in ensuring a gender neutral society.

How important is the concept of “Sisterhood” in accelerating change?
Sticking together as a group of tight knit ladies is very important, you serve as a support for each other, you become each other’s confidante and go to person. It is important to have these small groups so you can have an outlet to speak about issues or matters, where you can encourage each other and become the backbone you need.  Change will happen quickly and swiftly when you share these ideas with a group of ladies who share the same views.

Do you think we need a young champion like Greta Thunberg for this cause as well?
We need champions of all ages and kind for this cause, women at any age(s) can make and has made such phenomenal impact in the world. Whilst what Greta did was simply mind blowing, in my opinion we need to encourage more young and older women to stand up for what they think is right. She set the trail on fire and lit up the way for many others to learn and follow suit. Age is just a number but the ability and the drive to make a difference, changes everything.

‘Sisterhood’ is a transforming force

Datin Norliza Razali is the Group CEO at Tresdata Sdn Bhd based in Malaysia. As the leader of a technology company she is among the icons driving a change in mindsets and perception.

What according to you are the successes of gender equality movement which gathered momentum towards the end of the last decade?
In my opinion, the International recognition and acknowledgement from the esteemed bodies such as United Nations on gender equality movement is a major success. It has brought forward various initiatives, movements, establishments towards gender equality. The major one was in 2017 when gender equality was established as the fifth of the seventeen sustainable development goals of United NationsGender inequality now is  measured annually by the United Nations Development Programme‘s Human Development Reports. You can see initiatives such as Lean In being deployed globally as part of the global movements on gender equality. There are many other ground movers that are passionate about this and it is with the acknowledgement by UN that has made a major impact and garner the momentum.

At the start of this decade, what would be your three priorities for gender equal workplaces?
Gender equal workplace begins with the company culture and the mindset of each and every single person in the company. The greatest driving factor is the leadership and if any of us at the leadership team is not embodying the right culture for the gender equal workplace, the rest will not follow. Therefore, the first priority is to get the leadership team to champion the gender equal workplace initiatives. The second would be to ensure equal talent development opportunities that would provide career pathway for both men and women in the company. I am aiming towards having more women working towards the senior roles in projects or the company itself, which brought me to the third priority – to make mentors available for everyone in the company. I truly believe that gender inclusiveness needs to focus on both men and women as well, in order for both parties to be able to work with each other and excel.

How important is the role of men in this movement and what according to you should organisations do to involve them?
Men have always been known as the dominant ones and in general, men vastly outnumber women as managers and senior leaders. As one of the leadership team in the company, I believe it is our role to ensure that initiatives that we develop in the company are created inclusively in order to close the gap. The role of men is crucial, especially those holding the senior positions. We want them to be the agents of change, the mentors, the advocators as part of enabling the gender equality in the company.

How important is the concept of “Sisterhood” in accelerating change?
“The connections between and among women are the most feared, the most problematic, and the most potentially transforming force on the planet” – Adrienne Rich.

This is how powerful sisterhood bond is. In the current jargon, we often refer to this sisterhood as “empowering women”. In a world where women are constantly questioned for their capabilities, knowledge, skills and sometimes misunderstood by the opposite gender, women who stick with their group of girlfriends or sisters form a formidable bond. When women strongly support and motivate each other, this is a force to be reckon with. It is through this sort of bond that change can be communicated and implemented. They might speak up or advocate for other women in difficult situations, and to me this is very important in order to have a good support system at work especially when we are trying to implement new initiatives such as gender equality.

Ultimately, we want sisterhood to create meaningful and supportive relations with other women. Instead of competing, we want them to collaborate and provide better judgement and understanding among each other towards a common goal in accelerating the change that we want.

Do you think we need a young champion like Greta Thunberg for this cause as well?
‘I think the next revolution will be led by a younger person, by a woman, and I feel that Greta Thunberg is that person.’– Satish Kumar, peace activist and founder of The Resurgence Trust.

She brought forth the energy, the passion and the drive to pursue a cause which she knows is probably much bigger than her, but regardless, she persevered.

In the cause of gender equality, Sheryl Sandberg has been pursuing through her Lean In organisations across the world. From speeches, TEDtalks, books and rolling out her Lean In circles around the world, young champions like Greta Thunberg are born from these circles and eventually become the advocates in their own society.

Young champion portrays the hope and vision in a cause, and I do believe that it will provide the continuity of this cause when being pursued by passionate young champions like Greta Thunberg.

Fight the fire within you

Michelle Hah is currently Executive Director at Fire Fighter Industry based in Malaysia. She joined the company founded by her husband in 1994 when the team only had a headcount of 10 employees. Prior to taking up this role, she was in the development industry for over 18 years and was involved in setting up a new residential township for the growing middle class of Malaysians.

She recalls having a great time in the real estate industry as it gave her an opportunity to provide shelter to others as well as match families with places which they could call home. However, in 1994 when her husband invited her to join his growing business in fire safety, she felt honoured. “It is rare for a husband to invite his wife to a business, knowing the challenges that come with it. After some thinking, I gladly accepted the invitation,” she says. Having to relearn everything again, she discovered a new passion in fire safety. The thing about fire safety is that it is a business that touches and saves lives.

Passion to Michelle is found when she truly believes in something, and 25 years later, the passion for fire safety continues to burn within her.

Recognised as one of the Women Icon Malaysia in 2019, Michelle shares her journey of past 25 years in this exclusive interview with AsiaBizToday.

How has it been partnering your husband? What has kept you occupied all these years?

The business was founded by my husband in 1974. The core of the business then was trading and servicing of fire extinguishers. When I joined in 1994, I wanted to grow & expand the business and get into manufacturing our own brand of extinguishers.

Two years later in 1996, we invested and set-up our very own manufacturing plant. Being in the safety industry, I believe that the safety of our own products are of utmost importance. Hence, we focused on attaining certifications that would put our products and services to strict procedures and tests. This forced me to learn the Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) of every department and document it for the purpose of attaining an ISO certification. This exercise surprisingly benefitted me as that taught me the ins and out of the company.  Since then, we’re the only fire fighting company with both ISO 9001 (Quality Management System) and 14001 (Environmental Management System).

What have been your experiences running this business? 

From the very beginning, being in the fire safety industry has been an uphill battle – especially for a woman. The awareness of fire safety among the Malaysian public is very low, even until today, as we move towards becoming a developed country. We have run many initiatives to promote fire safety among the public, some of which include fire safety training to housing residents and even training trainers on fire safety.

Fire safety is a statutory requirement where businesses need to comply. While this ensures that the business will not falter as easily as some fad industries, this also brings a whole set of challenges. The biggest problem is that our customers have no appreciation for it – only wanting the lowest price for our products and services. I believe there is still a lot to be done in the industry and it starts with educating the public in fire safety.

Which are the important factors that keep you going?

Passion keeps me going. For me, passion is something that I have to believe in and I truly believe in fire safety as it touches the lives of others. Everyday, I am faced with challenges, and I believe that there is always a solution to a problem. Weaknesses can become strengths, and empowering people to the right positions will result in extraordinary outcomes.

Have you faced any obstacles in your initiatives? Do you think you have faced specific challenges because of being a woman?

In the early days, it was perceived that women were not fit to be in the fire safety industry as it was seen as a very masculine industry. But now there is a growing change in the mindset. I have been recently appointed as the president of the Malaysian Fire Protection Association. That said, there are still challenges being a woman of position as I feel that we are still seen as inferior to men and have to achieve more to prove ourselves. Luckily, I am a person who loves challenges. Hence, I see this as a challenge and want to prove to others that a woman can do it too.

Where do you usually find inspiration from?

In my free time, I break-away from reality and indulge myself in the world of Hollywood. I realize that more often than not, films and series mimic reality and it has given me a lot of inspiration in my day to day activities. The beauty of film is that the possibilities are endless – giving hope and wonder to what I can achieve. I also find great inspiration from reading books and articles to keep me abreast with the current landscape of the world.

Other than that, being in the committee of several organizations have given me the privilege to meet and listen to very knowledgeable individuals. The learnings from these people have given me a lot of inspiration in my work and craft in the company.

What’s your proudest moment so far?

Being an innate introvert, the biggest achievement for me was when I was asked to speak to a crowd of over a thousand people. When the company won the National Mark of Malaysia, which was presented by Sultan Nazrin of Perak, I gave a speech titled ‘Don’t fight the fire within you’. This might seem like a simple task to many, but I am never comfortable speaking on a stage. Hence, conquering this fear of mine has got to be my proudest moment so far.

How would you define success ?              

Success can mean many things to different people. For some it is marrying the “right” person, having beautiful kids, acquiring wealth, or being popular. For others it means being recognized and appreciated for one’s talents, whether they be in music, arts, sports, or another field.

For me, success is to be able to bring out the best in everything you do. Fire safety industry does not allow ‘trials and errors’ because any default in quality can result in ‘death’. Even price cannot be at the expense of quality. Our philosophy in Fire Fighter is to make ‘ISO our way of life.’ We empower our staff to carry out their responsibilities and we value the importance of proactive and prioritizing our customers’ needs.

What Advice do you have for other aspiring Entrepreneurs, especially women?

To be an entrepreneur, it requires a lot of hard work, determination, discipline as well as the will to succeed. The fight ends when you end it, hence fight on until you make it. To all women entrepreneurs, do not hide behind the gender issue and always give your very best & show them all you’ve got!

Pay it forward and the world will be a better place

As the CEO of a Charitable Foundation, which runs two arms; the Medicare Heart Charity Fund, which runs the first charitable cardiac diagnostic and treatment centre in Malaysia and Medicare Kidney Charity Fund, which houses 12 dialysis centres throughout the country, Dato’ Aliyah Karen raises millions of ringgit each year to sustain their highly subsidized programs.

Over the last twenty years she has started many new initiatives to benefit poor Malaysians, who are in dire need of financial and medical assistance.

A strong believer “we are here not just to live, but to give”, Dato’ Aliyah Karen was recognised as a Women Icon Malaysia in 2019.

In this conversation with AsiaBizToday, she shares insights into her professional life and what keeps her going.

Your Career, Journey & Passion

I was a Public servant for three years prior to moving into a non-profit, which I was quite sure then, that it was temporary. 21 years later, am still here at MAA Medicare Charitable Foundation, where I serve mainly the underprivileged kidney and cardiac patients and get to organize and plan events while ensuring our patients get the support and medical treatment they rightfully deserve. Obviously, the passion to make a difference has led me to explore and assist others beyond the doors of the foundation.

How did it all start and what are some of the activities that you undertake?

The Foundation was established in 1995 and I joined them in 1998. The sole purpose of establishing the Foundation was to assist patients who couldn’t afford dialysis treatment, especially at private centres by providing highly subsidised dialysis treatments. The last 24 years, Medicare has assisted and provided medical treatment and care to thousands of needy kidney sufferers. 12 dialysis centres in 9 states with over 800 patients currently are receiving treatments 3x a week on 4 hour sessions each treatment. As we are not government funded nor receive any public grants, we constantly organize events and programs to raise funds. We have established the patients welfare fund to help kidney patients who can barely afford the daily necessities let alone their treatment cost. We have the Kids@Medicare program to assist the school going children of our patients with back to school supplies each year end. We have the CARE (care and respect the environment)program our staff and patients commit to recycling medical waste, boxes and wood platelets into some interesting craft items etc.

Your motivation to get into this

The sense of satisfaction from being able to help the needy and make an impactful difference; day in day out.

Your experiences running this venture

I’ve learnt that transparency and honesty in handling public funds is crucial; using them wisely for the benefit of the patients have created opportunities for many people to know and trust the Foundation and continuously support it. That we need to be prudent in our spending without compromising the quality medical care we offer our patients.

The important factors that keep you going

That the Foundation is the second home for kidney patients and a new alternative home for heart patients who simply cannot afford the exorbitant cost of private treatments.

Challenges you have faced

The obstacles are usually due to manpower and financial resources, both of which we could use more of. My line of work is not gender related. The good news is people recognize the good work I have done, much of the credit should go to my team which helps me consistently. The unpleasant news is that people assume I may not fit into a male dominant role as working in an NGO means I am not a corporate head.

Your source of inspiration

I am constantly listening and learning from many great speakers and motivators who inspire me to do more. Family and Friends are constantly encouraging and giving me the boost and endorsement to carry on making a difference in the lives of the needy patients and other needy causes I have got myself into.

Your proudest moment so far

I was able to personally buy and donate a dialysis machine and have my late mum come visit one of our dialysis centres and tag it. Seeing that proud look on her face on how important she felt was a historic moment for me.

Definition of success

I believe we are placed in this world for a reason. We first strive to do and make something of our lives, which we eventually call ‘achievements’. We then should assist others with our achievements and make a difference no matter how small it is. When we can share, care and love without thinking twice nor expecting anything in return we have achieved success.

Regardless of what you set out to do, pay it forward first. Help before you’re helped and give before you’re given. Pay up front so all you need to do later is collect and cash in!