“Being limitless is about limitless strength – in having the strength to pursue our aspirations, and to uplift others.”
Chief Executive, Singapore Space & Technology Ltd, Singapore
Tsinghua-INSEAD Executive MBA 2021
On challenging gender norms
I was fortunate to have spent my formative years in an environment which allowed me access to the best education possible, regardless of gender. I went to an all-girls school during my teenage years and I think that meant I experienced less social conditioning.
This is in sharp contrast, however, to the professional field I have chosen. The deep technology and space sector is traditionally much more male-dominated – and I believe it is a combination of factors all coming together and interacting with one another: firstly, there is a historical reason for this with fewer women getting access to the kind of learning and training needed; secondly, there is an undoubted gender bias against women, especially in specialised technical fields; thirdly, having fewer women in the sector made it less relevant and open to women.
I have certainly been told to do, say or feel something because I am female. There are so many expectations that are set for our gender and these cut across culture, ethnicity, culture and industry.
Systemic gender imbalance is widespread and woven into the fabric of everyday life. It sets up a certain dynamic where I have found myself not only being told to say something or feel a certain way but needing to work much harder and be much more knowledgeable just to be heard, although I can see this is changing rapidly.
In spite of this, I have been very fortunate to have supporters, mentors and positive anchors throughout my life who were ‘gender blind’ and have always encouraged me to pursue my dreams.
So in turn I make a conscious choice as much as possible to be a similar supporter, mentor or champion to someone else.
There are still many gender-based expectations of women, especially in terms of our role as wife and mother: that while we are high-powered CEOs and Founders, we are still very much the main caregiver for our children.
It is never overtly expressed but the expectations are always there – that the mum would be the one to take a break from her career to look after her young children.
This is a privilege, but society has framed it as a responsibility, an expectation. That takes some of the joy out of this privilege and, more importantly, limits the choices that women have.
Some mums choose to focus on motherhood and some may choose to switch their careers or do any number of things. That sense of freedom is something that society needs to work on, to empower women.
In my mind, that is one way of being limitless – that we should be pushing for women to have limitless choice.
On looking past labels
In the deep technology and space sector, the gender barriers can appear even more daunting. Not only is it male-dominated, but it is a relatively small community and at first blush, it can look like everyone knows one another.
I eventually realised that at the end of the day, if we are guided by strong values to do good, to be fair, to respect others, we become open to the inequalities and challenges around us and we would inevitably become change agents.
So I have spent the better part of my professional life trying to be a change agent, getting colleagues to see past the gender label, while bringing more people – women and men – into the industry.
This is one of the main reasons why I launched Space Faculty. It focuses on building the next tech titans who will design our future world – starting from Space. It is critical that our next generation of tech leaders are grounded by good values, sensitive to the challenges we face as humanity, and gender blind so that we can collectively build a better, sustainable future with planetary wide impact.
I want to break down the barrier to entry into the industry as early as possible and the only way to ensure a lasting impact is to start from the very beginning – to start cultivating talent for the industry from five to 75 years old, and bring more people into the sector.
On the meaning of Limitless
Being limitless is about limitless strength. Strength to pursue our aspirations, to uplift others, and to make planetary-wide changes for the benefit of humanity.
I found that many of the women in my Tsinghua-INSEAD Executive MBA (TIEMBA) class had experience in leadership. We have experience in going after our visions and dreams, but felt that our knowledge perhaps was a little patchy and could benefit from a structured way of understanding the business world. That’s why I joined the programme, and many of the women I met during the TIEMBA enrolled for similar reasons.
What I realised along the journey was that the reasons men joined the programme were vastly different. There's a lot of talk about the networking, but we realised that men and women come from different places when they want to pursue some of these executive programmes.
And I want to encourage more women not to doubt their reasons for pursuing higher education, but to really go forth because they feel they need it in their professional career or even in their personal journey.
In the field that I work with, we deal with international partners, and I felt that it was very important to pick a programme that genuinely provided me with an international education, could teach me about cultural diversity, about the latest developments in business management and that also goes into the roots of basic business fundamentals.
INSEAD has opened my eyes to new ways of doing business, because it is so very current with its syllabus. It has opened up new ways for me to accelerate my business, and I can say confidently that because of the TIEMBA, my team, my management, and my business has seen so many positive benefits.