By Camille Levy, CEO, Asia Pacific and China - Steam Power at GE Power
As we come together to celebrate International Women’s Day (IWD), I’m excited to join a growing pool of women leaders in Asia who are elevating the conversation of this year’s UN Women’s theme: I am Generation Equality: Realizing Women’s Rights.
2020 will be a pivotal year for many sectors—energy, technology, healthcare—but underlying the growth of these will be women’s advancement, a quiet but powerful issue which is a driving force in unlocking APAC’s key economic opportunities.
WHAT IS AT STAKE?
To understand the opportunity, it is perhaps useful to first understand the human capital demands that our region’s growth will put on our businesses in the upcoming years. Leaders in private sector and government have acknowledged that there will be big gaps in talent and workforce, which technology and increased worker productivity alone will not be able to overcome.
The financial impact to a market like Singapore alone for human capital deficits which are unmet are in the neighbourhood of $106 billion in unrealized GDP, according to reports.
Improving the number of women participating in the labour force will help to meet these gaps. Further, addressing issues like the number of paid hours, working conditions, and including more women to higher productivity sectors has the potential to boost annual GDP by a whopping 12 percent in Asia Pacific.
Being a leader in the energy sector, I see this increased demand for talent ramping up as qualified engineers, project managers, plant operators are increasingly difficult to find and retain. In sourcing the right people for this journey, we in the energy sector must be particularly focused on fostering diversity and inclusion to ensure our sustainable future with smart and innovative solutions.
GIRLS AND WOMEN IN STEM
While some strong headway has been made in terms of pushing towards gender equality in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) disciplines, I still personally feel that our numbers remain low.
To develop the next generation, we must continue the push to integrate women and cultivate their interest in key scientific and economic issues which are impacting the region from a young age.
I remember as a young girl being fascinated by diplomacy. I dreamt of becoming a diplomat, primarily because I wanted to solve big puzzles that would affect countries and communities. However, later I discovered that the energy industry is not so different from international affairs. However, as an economist by training energy was not the obvious choice, as it is a very engineering driven sector. Until today, we see very few female non-engineer leaders who make it to the top levels of their organization.
Yet, I was fortunate enough throughout my education and my career to find mentors and sponsors who recognized my talent and passion for STEM. Their support has enabled me over the years to be confident enough to take on the challenge to drive teams with strong technical backgrounds, such as product management or application engineering! I am grateful to these mentors, who helped pave the way for me and other women. Their leadership inspired me to become a mentor myself for women in STEM; and to co-lead the inclusion & diversity council of GE Steam Power.
At GE, I am also with a company that has been embracing diversity & inclusion as part of its culture for decades, with strong women’s network groups, regular roundtables for female leaders, dedicated leadership programs for women, and much more.
On this International Women’s Day, I hope that we all as senior female leaders will commit to setting measurable goals to positively impact the future of women in Asia and the world. And that we will join forces and continue to work to attract the younger generation of girls and women to STEM.
Of course, diversity and inclusion are not only limited to females. When we speak of celebrating our differences, we open the door to different perspectives which broaden our world view beyond culture, age, gender, and race.
The outcome is a safe space where all opinions are valued; and leaders who embrace this attitude will build high-performing teams and attract the best talent. As a relatively new leader in Asia, it is a top priority to enable teams to find solutions that bring harmony – and that is what I like most about being a female leader in Asia Pacific!
LOCAL PLAYERS TO WATCH
Here are some of the actors and organisations that I am watching in this space.
- Gender Lens Incubation and Acceleration Toolkit: This toolkit developed by the Sasakawa Peace foundation in partnership with Frontier Incubators program - provides concrete strategies and frameworks to improve gender inclusivity in their organisations and programs. This initiative echoes similar initiatives to ensure access to capital for women entrepreneurs globally such as the collective #SISTA by my French American Foundation fellow young leaders Frederic Mazzella. For inspiring interviews of successful women entrepreneurs, I also recently enjoyed watchingthe #womenintech series from the Frenchtech in Singapore.
- Building a STEM pipeline through community: United Women Singapore engages influencers in Singapore and the region to reach out to girls (those from disadvantaged and marginalised backgrounds) to encourage them to take up STEM subjects in their higher education and careers, paving the way for a more gender equal society.
- Women’s clubs and affinity networks. There is no shortage of women and affinity networks in Singapore and in APAC, including some focused specifically on the energy sector. Late 2019, I joined a group of 9 CEO at a women in energy event in Malaysia for a speed mentoring session. This is an amazing group of women and men who strive to advance women at all levels in the energy sector. As a long-standing member of the Hawthorn club founded by Meade Harris, I am convinced of the value of sharing experiences, and actively building your network beyond your natural professional groups. The Australian branch, is particularly active in driving though provocative positions in the energy sector.
- UN women #heforshe, man allies and generation equality. I am fully energized by the strong commitment to support women advancement of a number of great men leaders with UN women driven campaings. To quote the UN ambassador for the #heforshecampaign Emma Watson, “If you stand up for equality, then you are a feminist, sorry to say.” Rallying men allies is essential to progress women rights. Hong-Kong based Jean-Pascal Tricoire, CEO of Schneider-Electric has been a long supporter of #heforshe UN initiative. Look here for more information.
 Increasing Innovation and Productivity in Singapore: the Role of Diversity and Inclusion. AmCham Singapore, 2019.
 The Power of Parity: Advancing Women’s Equality in Asia Pacific. McKinsey & Company. April 2018.