‘Never Hesitate to Let Your Voice be Heard,’ Says Ipek Akinci on How Women Can #BreaktheBias

March 7, 202212:04 pm843 views

March 8th is celebrated as the International Women’s Day and this year’s theme is #BreaktheBias. Incredible women across Asia and beyond have been working hard to break down discriminations in a fight to create a bias-free environment and inclusive world. Whether deliberate or unconscious, bias makes it difficult for women to move ahead, including professionally. Knowing that bias exists isn’t enough, real action is needed to level the playing field.

To celebrate #IWD2022, HR in Asia is publishing a series of articles discussing women’s achievements and challenges in the workplace. Today, we have a candid Q&A session with Ipek Akıncı, Country Manager, Philips Domestic Appliances, Malaysia, Singapore and Emerging Markets. From gender pay gap to women’s double burden issue, she shares her thoughts on women can find the right balance between personal life and professional career. Read on…


  • Question: Ms Ipek, despite having participated in the workforce for decades, women continue to face challenges in advancing their careers at work. What can be done by business organisations to address these challenges?

Answer: The glass ceiling is increasingly being broken and this is evident with women in powerful leadership roles across the world. However, there is still work to be done as women continue to face challenges within the workplace around gender equity as well as diversity and inclusion.

Some of the ways in which organisations can address these challenges include: cultivating a positive workplace culture by removing biased hiring process through developing neutral job descriptions, sharing official gender ratio metrics with all employees or at least the goals to achieve that, raising awareness on gender equality, or the lack of, internally, not tolerating workplace bullying and nurturing talent through career development and mentorship.

As leaders, we should provide women the support, tools and guidance to help them develop their individual leadership style that help them accentuate their strengths.

  • Question: It’s 2022 and women still make less than men. Do you think that unconscious bias towards women plays a role in perpetuating the gender pay gap?

Answer: I would say that both conscious and unconscious biases exist and lead to gender pay gap. For conscious biases, there are people who still hold negative stereotypes about women and their supposed inability to do certain work. Both genders are guilty of this bias. As for unconscious biases, according to Forbes, most employers do not go to work with the intention of promoting men over women or paying men more than their female counterparts, but they do have an unconscious bias in favor of men.

There are reports indicating the same. 42% of Malaysian respondents believe that salaries are paid differently based on gender. The top selected reason for this is an assumption that a “particular gender” is unable to carry out certain tasks. While the survey did not specify if the “particular gender” refers to male or female employees, official statistics in Malaysia have shown that men generally earn more than women.

Even in Singapore, which boasts a resident female employment rate 57.7% in 2020, women in managerial positions are also expected to uphold a more compliant attitude; which is not expected of men. As a result, they also receive less reward for their efforts, whereby on average they earn 6% less than men for the same job across most industries.

Women often do not negotiate and do not ask as assertively for the same salaries as men do and if they do, they are judged as too aggressive. There are studies done on this too. This has roots in how women are raised to be more compliant and caring, and how the society expects them to act differently. However, by not negotiating, this pushes women to a downward spiral: If you’re not paid your worth, your motivation level goes down, you don’t perform at your best and consecutively you don’t get the promotions that help you advance in your career. The solution? We need to train women how to negotiate to get what they truly deserve.

  • Question: Women often bear ‘the double burden’ as they have to balance between professional employment and domestic responsibilities. As a female leader, do you experience a similar situation? If yes, what do you do about it?

Answer: As a working woman and a mother, I recognize that the balancing between professional and domestic responsibilities is a task in itself. Whether it is juggling between revenues and household expenses, or presentations and daily household chores it requires women to be multitaskers. This should not be the case. We have to move on from the previous division of labor (man work, woman home) to a current one which is based on equal partnership (man work & home, woman work & home).

I understand that it may be hard to have a work-life balance for both genders when we are working from home, but definitive lines between work time and home time must be drawn. In my case, I try to make time for work and as much for the family as possible. Where I work, my bosses encourage that. One advice about multitasking: just don’t. Give your full attention to whatever it is that you are doing at the moment. If it’s time dedicated to your children, don’t be on your phone checking emails or anything else.

In today’s fast paced work and family lives, mental health is of utmost importance. I personally believe that a little time off from daily work routine to reflect back on what we achieved and how we can get better always helps keep my mind at peace. Another way that I clear my mind is by exercising regularly.

  • Question: Celebrating IWD should go beyond holding ceremonial events. So, what are some real actions companies can do to live up the spirit of #breakthebias?

Answer: Actions speak louder than words. As a leader, I think that organisations should definitely put in the effort by raising awareness about gender equality, or the lack of it, internally through internal campaigns or initiatives such as offering training on diversity and inclusion. It should not be a one-off exercise. It must be constantly practised until gender disparity no longer exists.

Organisations should have zero tolerance on workplace bullying and sexual harassment. Employers have to provide a safe channel to report bullying, sexual harassment and other forms of abuse without being penalised in doing so. If there is any proven case, appropriate action must be taken immediately.

Every organisation should value, stimulate and hire diverse teams. A study by the Boston Consulting Group shows that the more diverse the workforce, the better the company’s performance on measures related to innovation. Organisation should nurture talent through career development and mentorship regardless of gender.

Employees on the other hand should be encouraged to take a leading role in their own training too. We launched the Philips DA Success Factors Learning Centre which gives employees the driver’s seat of their own learning. In the new Netflix-like Learning Centre, one will be able to learn anytime, anywhere with unlimited learning at his/her fingertips. There is a large collection of courses, more than 23.000 books, more than 8.500 audio books and much more exciting content.

  • Question: Philips Domestic Appliances envisions having 50% women in leadership positions by 2025. What is the urgency behind this goal?

Answer: This is a Philips Domestic Appliances global vision. I am delighted to say that for Malaysia, Singapore and Emerging Markets, the gender ratio is 60-40 in favor of women. Embracing diversity and inclusion has always been a key focus area for us.

Why is diversity important? Apart from being the right thing to promote, it also makes business sense.  Let me share three top line findings in a research published in the Harvard Business Review on the benefits of diversity at the workplace:

  • A diverse workforce signals an attractive work environment for talent.
  • When you value diversity, you encourage diverse idea exchange.
  • A diverse workforce signals competent management for investors.

It makes us more competitive and more innovative, and these are key drivers for making Philips Domestic Appliances a great place to work for people who share our passion.

  • Question: Last question, can you share some advice for fellow women who are still struggling in overcoming bias and discrimination at work?

Answer: Don’t sell yourself short. You can do whatever you set your mind to. What is holding you back is not what gender you are but your fear of failure and how others may perceive you. Never hesitate to let your voice be heard. Always know your rights.

I feel that good support systems, which may be your family, friends or colleagues, can be very helpful in overcoming any difficulties. Share what you are feeling and never keep it bottled inside, it is a good way to release stress.

Last, but definitely not the least. Know that you are not alone and reach out for help.

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About

Ipek Akinci is the Country Manager for Singapore, Malaysia and Emerging Markets, Philips Domestic Appliances. She is responsible for the overall strategy, direction and management of the Philips Domestic Appliances business for Singapore, Malaysia and Emerging Markets.

Ipek holds a Masters in Science Degree in Engineering Management Systems from the Columbia University, School of Engineering and Applied Science New York and a Bachelor of Science Degree in Chemical Engineering from Bogazici University, Faculty of Engineering Istanbul, Turkey.

Connect with her on LinkedIn.


Content rights: This exclusive interview content is produced by HR in ASIA. Any redistribution or reproduction of part or all of the contents in this interview is prohibited. You may not, except with our express written permission, distribute or commercially exploit the content.

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