Glass Ceiling is not just at the top

Rina Neoh is an Entrepreneur, Angel Investor and Venture Capitalist active in Singapore, Malaysia & Hong Kong. She believes that biases exist across levels in an organisation and steps should be taken to educate the younger generation.

At the start of this decade, what would be your THREE PRIORITIES for GENDER EQUAL WORKPLACES?
As a woman serial entrepreneur and active global investor, the three priorities in my advocacy for gender equality in entrepreneurship development and startup ecosystems are as follows:

First Priority is Entrepreneurship Education. This year, I plan to scale up our learning platform to educate women to become more confident and competent social entrepreneurs through our FinTech Lab Entrepreneurship Program. Through this platform, we train, coach and mentor hundreds of women founders and guide them through the ideation stage, to startup incubation, growth and acceleration, scaleup and exits.

Second Priority is Inclusive Financial Technology. I would like to see more women involved in technology careers and FinTech startups. With the advent of artificial intelligence where machine learning, algorithms, data analysis, data science and predictive systems are the in-demand skills, women can now achieve career parity with men.

Third Priority is Access to Startup Funding. I plan to accelerate the growth of socially relevant micro-enterprises that impact women in depressed communities through our Social Light Community Ventures. Working with the Rotary Club, we will continued to provide last-mile WIFI connectivity to blighted communities to fund and encourage more women-managed microenterprises to flourish and offering them inclusive financial services (banking the unbankable) to manage their finances and grow their business.

How important is the ROLE of MEN in this movement and what according to you should ORGANISATIONS do to involve them?
I think men are important but not primordial to our journey of self-discovery and self-expression. What we need from men, as well other women, is respect for our unique identity and diversity – whether in terms of gender, relationship preference, religious denomination or political affiliation.

We should get rid of the limiting belief that we need the permission or validation of men to be accepted for who we are, as persons and unique individuals, with our own strengths and talents to contribute in the workplace and in society. For women to succeed in gaining the respect of others, we need to do the heavy lifting ourselves.

We must also avoid the temptation to put down successful women who make it to the top. As one panelist said in a public forum I moderated, “sometimes the biggest enemy of women is another woman”. Hard to accept but there’s some truth to that statement.

How important is the concept of SISTERHOOD in ACCELERATING CHANGE?
Any successful advocacy requires a critical mass to effect meaningful change. In this age of collaboration, connection and social influence, having a group of people who share common values, beliefs and ideals is essential to influence the decision makers and to get a share of the public mind. The age of social media requires a more influence-driven approach to social advocacy and consensus-building.

“Sisterhood” or the concept of supportive network is critical to create a strong voice for women to be heard, listened to and be respected. Sisterhood, however, should be inclusive instead of divisive, collaborative instead of combative. The antagonistic feminist movements of the past need to adapt to the more inclusive and collaborative nature of the digital economy.

Do you think we need a YOUNG CHAMPION like Greta Thunberg for this cause as well?
I think every voice is important in this advocacy to promote gender equality around the world. While Greta is the new face of climate change and the Generation Z, young people (both millennials and zoomers) must be made aware of the gender parity issues that may exist in the workplace and to be able to espouse it in any way they can.

It’s a misconception that the ‘glass ceiling’ only exists at the top of the organisation. It’s something young people can also experience in their mid-level career, such as in technology career opportunities and women founders’ access to startup financing.

As Board Member of the Global Woman Leaders Committee of the World Business Angel Investments Forum (WBAF) we advocate the importance of educating young women to become social entrepreneurs by mentoring aspiring women founders and providing them access to global funding and finance.