IWD2021 #ChooseToChallenge: Eleana Choy

Author Sean Tong
March 19, 2021

Disclaimer: Please note that all commentary and opinions provided in this interview are those of the individual and not the organisation/company they are employed by. 

How can female leaders ensure they get a seat at the table? 

Don’t wait to be invited. We have a right to bring our experience and expertise to the table. We earn it through our leadership, our skills and our accomplishments, we earn it on merit. Don’t let anybody stop you taking your rightful place, and don’t ever believe you are there as a ‘token’ or as a tick in a checklist. It is important to have confidence and belief in yourself, to drive your ideas and to make your voice heard. My own confidence and self-belief have been key to overcoming bias during my career in a male-dominated industry, boosting my persuasiveness and giving me the resilience to keep driving after setbacks. So stand up for your opinions, your beliefs and yourself. Never accept that you are less or deserve less just because you are a woman. Accept that setbacks and occasional failure will be part of your journey forward, regardless of your gender; learn and grow from them, and never let them defeat you. 

What does “choose to challenge” mean to you? 

It is interesting that the word ‘choose’ was selected; we have a choice as to what and when we want to challenge. We needn’t participate in every fight that we are invited to, rather we should stand up for what we believe in and challenge when we can have the greatest impact. But when the right time to challenge comes, we should never back away from the fight. As a relatively young manager, I worked with a more senior hiring manager who preferred not to hire a female candidate ‘in case she became pregnant’. I could never accept such a situation and despite my youthful status I challenged, pushed and persuaded to ensure we hired the best person for the job. She became a highly valued employee. 

What impact could Kamala Harris’ appointment to Vice President have on the next generation of female leaders? 

Female political leaders can of course be an inspiration to the following generation, but they too frequently lead to a false dawn. Golda Meir led Israel in 1969, and Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister of the UK from 1979. Indira Gandhi led India as far back as 1966. Unfortunately, none of these countries has had a female leader since. Kamala Harris is a highly successful woman, culminating in her appointment as Vice President of the US, but the US is yet to have a female president. There is no good reason why women should not be leading 50% of the world’s countries, and one day this will happen. More important for me on my own leadership journey have been the role models closer to home, the leaders and the strong women I have been privileged to know personally throughout my career. In particular, Wong Lee Lin at Sembawang SembCorp Marine was an inspiration throughout much of my career, showing through personal example, the success and respect a capable woman could command even in a male-oriented industry. Such personal mentors can have a powerful impact on a younger generation of potential leaders. 

Why is it important that we “choose to challenge” and call out gender bias, discrimination and stereotyping? 

Simply put, we all become better. By staying silent, we give our indirect support to bias and discrimination. We cannot accept the unacceptable. 

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