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Madam Chair
Volume II 2007


The young woman, a rookie in the business world, strode confidently towards the meeting room. She was well prepared for her presentation. But as soon as she walked into the room her heart sank.

Seated around the table were the decision-makers: 10 of them; all males from different parts of Asia who were likely to be conservative. And sure enough: While the other presenter- a man= received a warm reception, the 10 were distant towards her.

Gender can still be an issue after you've reached an executive position, or even the very top, which is something Fione Tan, president and CEO of, discovered for herself.

"I remember that presentation in Korea. I could actually sense the audience giving the male presenter more flexibility."

When Tan began her presentation, she found her audience inattentive. Unperturbed, she went on to show why Google had voted Asia's number one Internet marketing company, making such an impression that the men could not help but sit up.

"You might not be able to change the audience's perspective of you, but by performing your best, many will still be able to accept you as a person worthy of their attention," she says.

Similarly, Zuraidah Atan, the first woman director of HSBC Bank Malaysia Berhad, found the journey to the top sometimes fraught with trying attitudes.

Zuraidah became the first Malay woman to helm a bank in Malaysia when she was named CEO of Affin Merchant in 1999. Despite bringing the organisation out of the doldrums and posting a profit of RM24 million iwthin a year, she was often reminded of the fact that she was the only woman in all-male boardroom.

"Men don't know how to say 'well done' to women. I used to tell my board, the way they treated me was akin to a child who got 4As. Instead of congratulating her, they ask why she did not get five!"

She to prove herself constantly and it all became very stressful. "I used to tell myself that I never want to do that to my staff. Instead, I am very generous with praise, and with writing notes (to them)," say Zuraidah.

Anecdotes like these sound familiar but are they execption rather than the norm?

Suridah Jalaluddin, Big Tree chief executive officer and founding shareholder, has not encountered any gender bias in person. Prior to Big Tree, she worked in an advertising agency where there were ample opportunities for both men and women.

"I believe that if you are good, creative, intuitive and willing to put in the hours, a woman can succeed," says Suridah.

"The choice is hers- but most women I know don't want just a careen. We want a home, children and a great lifestyle, so many choose- voluntarily- not to climb that ladder. And there's nothing wrong with that. Women must have the freedom to choose."

As such, women sometimes willingly create glass ceilings for themselves.

Says Suridah, "An individual may indicate to her employer that she is unable to accept more responsibility or inreased travel commitments due to family obligations."

"Then there are those who concentrate only on the narrow and strict focus of the job function, overlooking the need to extrablish rapport and camaraderie with other senior management staff- which is essential to forging trust at that level.

"At times, women take professional criticism personally or too emotionally rather than see it as opportunity to grow and adapt. But generally, when a woman wants to break the glass celing badly enough, she will. You cant't accidentally break the glass ceiling wihout meaning to."

Tan agrees. All the companies she has been attached to have been bigger firms with opportunities aplenty for both genders.

"It is up to the individual to grab the chance and perform beyond expectations," says Tan.

And what if your company tries to suppress you just because you are a woman?

"There are always other companies in the market which will recognize your value and achievements, no matter what your gender is," says Tan. To succeed, Tan believes women must know what they want in life and certainly, what they are worth.

"Many people tend to limit their capabilities. Dare to dream and work at it. If you don't try, you'll never know the result of your action, but without action, there will be no result," she says.

Besides sheer grit and determination, Zuraidah believes good interpersonal skills and a commitment to relationships played an essential role in her success.

With her sunny disposition and easy demeanour, Zuraidah debunks the myth that women who make it to the top must be ruthless dictactors who eat men for breakfast.

"Life is short, why spend it being mean to others?" she asks with a laugh. "Quite a number of my former bosses were women, and though they were exacting, they generally had more heart. They worked hard. They did well on merit, and I believed if they could do it, so could I. I don't believe that you need to be ruthless to rise. I don't have killer instinct. I believe in mediation rather than confrontation. It is important to have that line between wanting to show your substance, and maintaining your femininity. You don't have to lose your femininity to get to the top."

It has also been said that many women who have made it, resent or even prevent other women from following suit.

"I experienced this once," says Tan. "I was at a business luncheon. While I was passing out (calling) cards to the guests at my table, a middle-aged lady who was the managing director of her own PR firm said out loud: 'Nowadays, it doesn't take much to be a CEO. Just register a RM2 company, and you can give whatever title you wish to yourself'.

"Naturally I was taken aback by the comment, especially as it came from a woman, and someone earning her living doing PR at that.

"But I think what she said did more damage to her than it did me. None of the guests on my table bothered to talk to her afterwards. She had created such a negative impression of herself.

"There will be women, and men, out there who might fear that you could be as successful as them. However, most people are willing to help and groom you. You can choose your allies wisely and work only with people who are positive-minded."

About, ranked No.1 Internet marketing company Asia in top search engines, and headquartered in Malaysia and with regional offices in Singapore and Hong Kong, is the leading Internet marketing company in Asia to offer Internet marketing seminars, training, and solutions to businesses worldwide who wish to expand to Asia.

More information can be found at, and

Contact: Mr. Harrace Lau, Chief Consultant
Tel: +(603) 7710 5618 (Malaysia), (65) 6339 9219 (Singapore), (852) 2591 9168 (Hong Kong)
Mobile : (6012) 232 8878 (Malaysia), (852) 6309 3618 (Hong Kong) Sdn Bhd
3-21 The Place, Damansara Perdana,
Petaling Jaya, 47820,
Selangor, Malaysia
Tel: +603 7710 5618
Mobile : (6012) 232 8878
Fax: +603 7729 5618

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