More women mak­ing their mark

Fe­male en­trepreneurs: It’s all about tak­ing charge and seiz­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties

The Star Malaysia - - Nation - Re­ports by THO XIN YI thoxinyi@thes­tar.com.my

HONG KONG: When Datuk Seri Ooi Chean See was train­ing to be a mu­sic con­duc­tor in Ger­many some 30 years ago, her pro­fes­sor told her to consider di­rect­ing the opera orchestra.

“The rea­son for that was be­cause I would be con­duct­ing in the orchestra pit, where no one would be able to see if I were a man or woman,” re­called the 55-year-old Pe­nan­gite.

Un­per­turbed by the ad­vice, Ooi went on to be­come one of the first fe­male con­duc­tors to lead international or­ches­tras.

Her re­sume in­cludes be­ing the first con­duc­tor of the Clas­sic Phil­har­monic Orchestra in Bonn, Ger­many, and the found­ing res­i­dent con­duc­tor of the Malaysian Phil­har­monic Orchestra.

Ooi was one of 10 pan­el­lists on a women en­trepreneurs’ round­table at the two-day World Chi­nese Eco­nomic Fo­rum (WCES) here yes­ter­day.

She told the au­di­ence that un­til the 1960s, there were hardly any women play­ing in the orchestra and blind auditions were in­tro­duced to ad­dress gen­der dis­crim­i­na­tion.

“In fact, the Vienna Phil­har­monic Orchestra only ap­pointed its first fe­male mu­si­cian in 2003, some 160 years af­ter its for­ma­tion,” Ooi added.

Co-founder and chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer of 28mall.com Fione Tan said she re­ceived a let­ter from a gov­ern­ment agency ad­dress­ing her as “En­cik (mis­ter)” when she started her on­line shop­ping com­pany in 1999.

“They au­to­mat­i­cally as­sumed the CEO of a com­pany had to be a mis­ter,” said the Malaysian.

Cen­tre for Re­search, Ad­vi­sory and Tech­nol­ogy CEO Ng Yeen Seen voiced her con­cerns over a re­cent an­nounce­ment that all pub­lic-listed com­pa­nies in Malaysia should have 30% women at the board level or risked be­ing named and shamed.

De­spite agree­ing that af­fir­ma­tive ac­tion was nec­es­sary, she said she was wor­ried that the move would turn into pos­i­tive dis­crim­i­na­tion against women.

In re­sponse, mod­er­a­tor Deb­o­rah Biber said she used to also hate af­fir­ma­tive ac­tion as women should rise through the ranks on the ba­sis of merit.

“But I have learned to ig­nore that. Any­thing that gets us mov­ing for­ward is worth it.

“If there are quo­tas, then it’s a good thing. Some­one once said, ‘I don’t like quo­tas, but I like what they do.’ That’s ba­si­cally my po­si­tion on this too,” she said.

The di­rec­tor-gen­eral of Pa­cific Basin Eco­nomic Coun­cil said she dis­agreed with women need­ing to be “given” op­por­tu­ni­ties, as it should be women “tak­ing” op­por­tu­ni­ties.

“As a woman, you shouldn’t be sit­ting around and say­ing ‘I am en­ti­tled to this or that’. It should be about what we grab or take.

“It is typ­i­cal of many men to say yes to new op­por­tu­ni­ties, even if they have no ex­pe­ri­ence at all, be­cause they can learn.

“But women, when fac­ing those same op­por­tu­ni­ties, will say they are not wor­thy or can­not do it.

“That’s wrong. You should grab the op­por­tu­ni­ties and learn from the peo­ple around, be­low and above you,” Biber said.

Now in its ninth edi­tion, the WCES is or­gan­ised by the Asian Strat­egy and Lead­er­ship In­sti­tute to en­hance con­nec­tiv­ity and business link­ages be­tween China and South­East Asia, and China and Europe, in line with China’s Belt and Road ini­tia­tive.

Vi­sion­ar­ies: (From left) Ooi, Ng and Tan have achieved suc­cess in their re­spec­tive fields.

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