It was a slightly overcast Saturday morning. But the chance of rain did not stop hundreds of people from making their way to the Big Screen at MBO Cinemas in Starling Mall, Petaling Jaya, many of them talking excitedly among themselves.
They were there to listen to some of the most prominent and influential women in Malaysia share their experiences as part of the “Empowering Women to Empower the World” talks, held as part of The Star’s Women’s Fiesta.
The talks, emceed by editor-in-chief of Prestige and August Man Rubin Khoo, saw many successful Malaysian women, all leaders in their own field, impart important imformation to the crowd on empowerment, financial success, and of course, making it in a man’s world.
“If you have a daughter who comes to you, saying ‘I want to be an aircraft engineer’?, what are you going to say? ‘That’s a job for boys’? Or are you going to say, ‘Good for you girl?’ Our attitudes have to change,” said AirAsia Foundation executive director Yap Mun Ching.
“One good thing I know women have, and I see this in my mum all the time, is attention to detail. And I think we can harness this very innate strength we have. We can use our keen eye and intuition to make good plans,” said Jenn Low, founder of local jewellery label Wanderlust and Co.
Each of the speakers elaborated on how they struggled to overcome the obstacles they faced in their personal journeys: film director Tunku Mona Riza, for example, spoke of the challenges of making Redha, a film about autism, despite people saying it had no “commercial appeal”.
“I started with one single office, one table, one fax machine, one telephone line. That’s all I had, nothing else. But I believe it is not impossible to start something single-handedly. All you need is self-belief and to work hard. And you make sure that your client believes in you. That is my single strategy, which I believe in till today,” Tunku Mona said.
Similarly, Dahlia Nadirah Juhari, founder of local cosmetics brand So.Lek, shared the challenges of building her brand, which she prided as being Malaysian. In the competitive world of the make-up industry, she said, it was easy to feel overwhelmed, but it was important to keep persevering.
“My hope and dream, is that one day, when people think of Malaysian made products, they will think of So.Lek. Not just for affordability but also for quality,” Dahlia said.
“In the industry, every day a new brand comes out. Today, there are about 242 brands doing the same thing I do. It can get competitive, and sometimes you want to give up. But I believe in Islam, there is ‘rezeki masing-masing’. What is meant for you will not pass by you.”
The later parts of the session focused on financial advice, and what people could do to keep themselves financially secure in their twilight years, particularly during a volatile economy. Success Concepts CEO Joyce Chuah, for example, stressed the importance of financial IQ (“FQ”) and constantly being informed.
Women, she said, tended to be less retirement ready than men. Despite living longer than most men, women tended to have less working years due to pregnancy, and also usually invested less.
“What is saving and investment? It is the deferment of current consumption for future investment. Why do we need to invest? Because there is this monster called inflation which eats up our savings. The rate of inflation in Malaysia is about 5-6%. We need to look at growing money, instead of just saving it. If you’re putting a lot of money in FD, your real return is -3%, because your interest is 3% and inflation is 6%,” Chuah said.
The need to be financially savvy was also emphasised in a panel discussion on Women and Wealth, which saw an engrossing discussion between four prominent female Malaysian business leaders: Hong Leong Investment Bank Group managing director and CEO Lee Jim Leng, Mah Sing Group Berhad director of Group Strategy and Operations Jane Leong, ChristyNg.com CEO Christy Ng, and Propedia Consultancy principal Vicky How.
The discussion saw many salient points raised: among them the need to think in the long-term, diversify one assets, and invest wisely.
“Investing should be started as soon as possible. Talking about the real income value of money, it’s always better to invest now, rather than later. Property prices will always increase,” Leong said.
The four women, however, agreed that there was no real financial “one-plan-fits-all plan” for everyone, and encouraged women to plan their wealth in the best way that fit their situation.
Another thing they also all believed was that there was nothing stopping women from succeeding if they put their minds and hearts to it.
“Banking is very male-dominated. Once, I went to in a road show in Korea, and I had to make a speech. And I wanted to say, ‘good morning ladies and gentlemen’, but as I looked around the room, there were no ladies there at all!” Lee said to laughter from the audience.
“A lot of people think males make better bankers. But I think that’s not true. It’s all about empowerment. It starts from your parents, how they encourage you that you’re no different from anyone else.”
“Don’t feel like you’re a woman, so people won’t take you seriously. If you do that, then they won’t take you seriously. If you want to be treated as an equal, or superior, carry yourself well, speak up, and show them you are capable,” Ng said.