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Women with Ambition: Up Close with Andrea Ross

Andrea Ross, Managing Director of The Career Establishment, has amassed extensive experience working in global companies in the corporate executive search industry across UK, Singapore, Malaysia and Vietnam. Through her company, The Career Establishment, Andrea works with a variety of organisations such as SMEs, startups, Fortune 500 companies and blue-chip organisations in Southeast Asia.

In this Women with Ambition feature, Andrea shares her perspectives as an experienced female leader with an innate understanding of managing at a senior level and across regions, as well as managing large workforces in SEA. Through this interview, we hear more about her personal journey and her position on what organisations can do to develop a more gender-equal workforce.


1. JP Morgan Chase, Citibank Inc. and Mastercard are just some of the companies who have adjusted the gender pay gap to close to one percent. Can you share examples of equality practices that you've seen your clients or companies implement?

On one of my recent podcasts at Talent Talk Asia, I recently interviewed the Managing Director for Australia and New Zealand at BASF, David Hawkins, on the topic of gender equality. Specifically, how men can step up beside women in building a gender-equal world.

David is an active member of “Male Champions of Change”, an organisation that uses their individual and collective leadership to elevate gender equality as an issue of national and international socio-economic importance. He shared on the podcast an initiative called “everyday sexism”, to encourage the right behaviours in an organisation to eradicate statements such as “she’ll make the tea” or “she’ll take notes” and to be mindful of how you address people. It’s the small changes in behaviour that really make a difference. 


2. If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self, what would that be?

Take some time to discover who you really are” – sounds a little hipster, I know. What I mean by that, is that I had very little idea of what my strengths or leadership capabilities were until I engaged with an executive coach when I was Managing Director at Robert Walters. She wasn’t from the industry but was still able to provide me with great support over the years. I just wish I had engaged someone like her a little earlier. It can be pretty lonely at the top; you can’t always confide in your peers and you also don’t want to be seen as not having all the answers to your boss. Having someone as a sounding board was a great help and kept me sane. 


3. Who inspires you and why?

I’m lucky enough to have quite a few inspirational people in my life that I’ve been connected with for over 20 years. Some are within the industry and some are good friends that have impacted my life in so many ways, both personally and professionally. Not forgetting my husband who has always encouraged me to go for it. Without him in my life, I’m not sure I would have achieved everything I wanted. He’s still motivating me to reach my goals and supports me at every step of the way. 


4. What are some strategies that can help women achieve a more prominent role in their organisations?

  1. Be heard. Don’t sit back and wait for someone else to raise their hand. Establishing your voice is one of the most important things to do - without that you’re invisible. 

  2. Build a solid and reputable brand which is consistent both internally and externally. Let people see who you are and that they will receive consistent behaviour from you.

  3. Support other women. Sometimes women can be their own worst enemies. Don’t judge them, support them to be successful; there aren’t enough of them in senior level roles and we need more to create real change. So, take the time to encourage the young ones coming up so they can pay that forward too. 


5. As a female leader, what has been the most significant barrier in your career?

The only thing I would mention that is a significant barrier for women (and men for that matter) is “ageism”. It’s prevalent in Asia and it drives me crazy! I spend a great deal of time with seasoned talent across Asia and the discrimination they’ve faced during the recruitment process has been shocking.

There seems to be more emphasis from organisations to be diverse and specifically gender diverse. This leaves little focus on groups such as the “mature” workforce.

More companies should be investing in their experienced talent and creating a more diverse workforce that lets multiple generations work together productively. Companies are missing out on huge opportunities here. 


6. What are some challenges you have seen companies face when supporting women during these tough times?

I would say one of the most pressing challenges is how companies support their employees who are parents. If they’re home-schooling their children and doing a full-time job, it’s going to be difficult to sustain. Scheduling meetings need to be flexible and not assuming the parent is contactable 24/7 is important.

The second pressing challenge will be the well-being of staff. The mental health cost of this crisis will pay out in the months to come, so organisations need to stay connected and stay in touch. All the human interactions we took for granted on a daily basis are temporarily halted, so there is a need to create regular check-ins and to provide support. This will not only help look after the well-being of staff, but it also encourages innovation and effective decision-making, which can be a challenge to carry out virtually.


7. With most teams working virtually, how have you adjusted to this change and ensure there is transparent and effective communication with your team?

One major concern is keeping staff motivated and engaged whilst working from home. With limited space and a lack of privacy for some employees, it can be a huge challenge for them. I’ve seen a number of companies increasing their interactions with their teams via video conference and constant messaging.

There has also been an increase in coaching work for us at The Career Establishment. Companies are continuing to invest in their top talent, especially in times when everything is up in the air. 


8. How do you see businesses evolving after the pandemic subsides?

Organisations in Singapore responded swiftly when COVID-19 hit, which was mainly due to its prior experience in handling SARS. However, I think the major change we will see is with the employees. They will come out of this differently – they’ll certainly know how to use Zoom now! It has forced people to be more human and it’s got them connecting to people over video conference. So, they’ve had to learn how to still build rapport virtually as compared to their usual face-to-face interaction. People have also started to be more caring towards one another and their community. It’s kind of a global reset in a world that was becoming pretty disconnected.  


9. What role should female leaders play during this period of transition?

The biggest role a female leader can do is to support other women.

Don’t underestimate the power of a woman connecting and supporting another at work. My experiences, from being a junior consultant to a managing director of a major recruitment firm, have taught me that conversations between women have huge benefits for the individual and the organisation. 

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