How can we break the glass ceiling and lead diversity & inclusion?
Oct 02, 2018
Keynote address by Goh Swee Chen, Chairman, Shell Companies in Singapore, at the Hitachi Global Women’s Summit 2018
Ladies and Gentlemen
I am honoured and humbled to be given this opportunity to speak to all of you. It is remarkable that Hitachi has provided this platform to all of its women employees, and this time round, to all of you in Asia.
Shell in Singapore
I come from a company that is also on a journey of Diversity & Inclusion.
Shell has been in Singapore for 127 years since 1891. I am proud of what we have achieved over the years. We are a diverse business, with diverse talents in our three thousand-strong workforce here.
Our Shell Scenarios, which we have been producing for over four decades, challenge us to think about plausible outcomes in the future. To have good quality scenarios, we need to bring in a diversity of views both internally and externally. This is part of our DNA. We want to continue to do this and to be able to challenge our thinking about the future. That diversity has served us well through the last century and we want to see this continue.
For us in Shell, we believe that a diverse workforce and an inclusive environment is a source of strength for improving employee engagement and our business performance. We believe that when we have an equal participation of women and men in all areas of work, at all levels and in all locations, it makes good business.
However, our industry lags behind the market. In Shell, women make up about one-third of our senior leadership across the businesses.
More than half of the roles in Shell are engineering and technology based. We need to close the gender gap in Engineering and Technology. The World Economic Forum points out that women make up 20% of engineering graduates but only 11% of the engineering workforce. In Shell, we recognise that we still have work to do. We must play a part, in encouraging more women to choose engineering & technology as their careers. This is one of the steps that we are taking.
Click here to view Shell’s Closing the Gender Gap in Engineering and Technology video.
This game was released in 2016. And I see a parallel here between career and gaming. When this game was first introduced, my kids and I got into a friendly competition to see who got to the highest level first.
We make choices as we go through the levels of the game – it’s the same in our career. Our pathway changes, it gets more difficult, we may get new powers, new capabilities. As circumstances change, we decide whether we stay in the game or leave. Breaking the glass ceiling is a choice. You break it, you move on to the next level or you stay. That’s my philosophy.
Lessons in resilience and leadership
I was based in Japan between 1994 and 1996. In those years, if you were a working woman, it was often assumed that you were the secretary, never the leader. I recall my negotiations on a contract. When it was time to sign the agreement, the counter-party automatically gave the contract to the male member on my team, he was actually my staff - even though throughout the negotiations, it was clear that I was leading the discussion.
You can’t get overly sensitive in such situations. I’d use this as a teaching moment to say, don’t assume, it always pays to clarify.
My Japan years also gifted me with another precious lesson. On 17 January 1995, I was woken up early in the morning. It was around 5:45am. My bed was shaking. I thought it was a bad dream. I remember pulling the blanket up over my head and thinking, I am going to die. Quick successive thoughts ran through my head: What are the regrets in my life? The people I should apologise to. How would the family go on without me? That experience taught me to seize the day, to not leave to tomorrow what I can do today.
I was five months pregnant in Kobe when the Great Hanshin earthquake struck. The damage was extensive, and I was stuck on Rokko Island, where colleagues and I were living, for five days before we could leave. My husband was then living in Malaysia. I had my one-and-a-half-year-old daughter with me. It was an exceedingly difficult time, especially for me as a working mother. The silver lining in this was that I was able to get an au pair for my little daughter as a teacher was essentially free until her school was repaired. That tied us over the immediate crisis.
I look at all these challenges as a way for me to build resilience and see the silver lining in every situation. It really helped grow my confidence that I could ride through however tough a situation.
The earthquake also showed me what true leadership was. I’ll never forget the second most senior leader in my organisation in Japan then. He was already in the office that morning when the earthquake happened. This was 5:45am. Top of his priority was to get all of us to safety. He got us organised at the Canadian School, one of the relief centres. He made sure we got our meals before he ate. He made sure we were able to reach our families to tell them that we were safe. Our top boss was then away on a business trip. The moment he learnt of the disaster, his first instinct was to return to be with all of us. These two men demonstrated true leadership. For me, true leadership means taking care of your people because when you take care of them, they will take care of their work.
Staying in the game
When I was covering our China business, including Asia Pacific, the Middle East and Pakistan, I had the chance to meet the badminton legend Lin Dan. I was intrigued by how he kept himself in top form. And I asked him what his was edge against top Malaysian shuttler Lee Chong Wei. Both are top seed players, always competing between them for the top position. Lin said, “There’s only one Lee Chong Wei in Malaysia. He carries the full weight of the country on his shoulders.” For Lin Dan in China, he shared that If he loses, there were thousands waiting to step in. So he needs to build that inner strength to be the champion in this game. Whatever you fight for, be it for the company, or for the world, if you have that inner strength, know that you will win.
This same spirit helped me to return to the slopes after my skiing injury in my China days that left me with a herniated disc. I was bedridden for three weeks and for anyone who knows me, I can’t keep still, so this was quite a torture for me. When I got back, I had to start from scratch all over again. And I realised the key to skiing again was not to focus on what’s immediately in front of me, but to look ahead. Yes, note the obstacles I need to watch out for, but to constantly aim for the finishing line.
Sometimes our ride towards that finishing line also means we stick to our values, our principles no matter what. There cannot be shortcuts because it can come back to haunt us.
My View of the World
This is an interesting world map developed by students at the University of Sheffield. I like this view of the world. It’s a view of the world based on population.
When we try to see the world in a new way, we begin to see new opportunities. That’s when the ideas start to flow. Look at it – there are a few obvious ones – China, India. But some may surprise us – Japan, Mexico, Indonesia. It’s always important for us to look at a problem from different angles, think broadly and be more inclusive. I think Diversity & Inclusion opportunities are rich in Asia. There’s a lot more that we can do if we start to look at things differently.
If you have the platform, use it
In closing, I would like to encourage all of you that if you have the platform, use it. When women are in a position of influence, use your influence. I want to share a quote from Mae Jemison, the first woman of colour who made it to space.
“Being first gives you a responsibility – you have a public platform, and you must choose how to use it. I use mine to help folks become more comfortable with the idea that science is integral to our world. I vowed that I would talk about my work and ask other women about theirs – the nitty gritty details. These conversations are critical.”
I think a lot of times women don’t fully leverage the platforms available. Like in the video, we may be deterred by the thoughts in our head or what’s been said to us as we were growing up that hold us back from taking that step.
I’m in the minority as a female leader, but I don’t believe the glass ceiling is difficult to break. We can do it if we are prepared to boldly go where some truly remarkable women have gone before.