Female media executive: I'm lucky to follow women who fought for gender equality

March 20, 2020
SCMP Insights
Men, be more like women. Especially like the ones I've worked with.

I often get asked about my experiences as a female leader in the media industry. The honest answer: I’ve been lucky.

Why? Let’s start with numbers. A McKinsey & Company study from 2019 surveyed more than 64,000 employees and 279 companies, yet found that only one in five senior leaders was a woman, and just one in 25 was a woman of colour. I’m both.

I’m lucky that women who came before me fought the fight.

My career has unfolded alongside powerful, outspoken women trying to make sense of – and level – the workplace disparity.

“We stand on the shoulders of women who came before us, women who had to fight for the rights that we now take for granted,” Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer for Facebook – and founder of LeanIn.Org, a global community dedicated to helping women achieve their ambitions – wrote as she encouraged the next generation of women to unapologetically Lean In and step up to their professional roles.

On the flip side, Anne-Marie Slaughter, an American international lawyer and political scientist, who became the first female director of policy planning at the US State Department, provided a hard truth that the world frankly needed to hear. In her opinion, women can’t have it all – an illustrious career track and be a fully present mother.

Slaughter’s epiphany came after years of telling young women at her lectures that they could, in fact, have it all and do it all. “I’d been part, albeit unwittingly, of making millions of women feel that they are to blame if they cannot manage to rise up the ladder as fast as men and also have a family and an active home life,” she said.

“[The] women who have managed to be both mothers and top professionals are superhuman, rich, or self-employed.”

Simply put, some of us are privileged enough to have choices, but to choose also implies that sacrifices have to be made. And the women before me have consciously made the choice to blaze trails and break glass ceilings.

While progress has been made, the numbers – and the dialogue – still reflect a terrifying reality of what most women encounter in their daily professional lives. Women are routinely passed over for promotions and paid less compared with men in jobs of similar tenure.

I’m lucky that I’ve worked for – and alongside – so many women.

I’ve only worked for women bosses. Without a doubt, the experience has shaped who I am today.

Too often, the advice for young women entering the workplace is to be less emotional, tougher, louder – and more like a man. A 2019 study analysed thousands of 360-degree reviews and found that women rated higher on 17 out of 19 capabilities that mark a good leader – from solving problems, inspiring and motivating, to collaboration and teamwork.

I’ve witnessed that first-hand. As a young journalist entering the television broadcast industry, I walked into CNN International aged 21, surrounded by a newsroom filled with women, and led by women. These female leaders, influencing Asia news coverage, both in front of – and behind – the camera, propelled me forward.

Today, I lead a (gender-equal) team at South China Morning Post’s, Morning Studio. We’re a dedicated creative house within the global media company, working with brands to convey their marketing campaigns through content.

I’m lucky to have the opportunity to pay it forward.

Telling stories is at the heart of what we do at Morning Studio, and since we started just over a year ago, we’ve told some compelling ones.

When we can, I am proud that we have used our slice of the internet to celebrate the stories of many diverse women – from profiling a new generation of Chinese women still facing the societal gender-defined pressures leading up to Chinese New Year in a campaign supported by SK-II, to documenting what it takes to train for – and run in – a 100km Hong Kong endurance race through the eyes of ultra-marathon runner Sayaka Matsumoto, or crashing waves alongside Monica Guo, one of the first Chinese women to break into the international surfing scene.
These phenomenal women are breaking boundaries, and being able to bring their voice and experiences to the fore, through our branding campaigns, is a great privilege.

So yes – I’ve been lucky. Lucky to have entered the industry when I did, lucky to have been supported by phenomenal women throughout my career, and lucky to be in a position to champion the many more women that deserve the spotlight.

This year’s International Women’s Day inspired me to look back at my experiences. When women do, in fact, beat the odds, when they are able to lean in, or when they acknowledge that they can’t have it all, but thrive in the path that they have chosen anyway, we all thrive.