Low Ngai Yuen started WOMEN:girls, a non-profit organisation that champions girls. She is constantly reminding women to be role models to inspire girls to achieve their dreams.

At EcoWorld Women’s Summit on Wednesday, she reminded the audience of mostly women to step up and become not only role models but also to pave the way for future generations of girls to enjoy the equality they deserve.

“All the freedoms that we enjoy today … that’s because of the women before us who fought and marched for a cause. What are you doing? You can’t complain about things being unfair or unjust if you are not willing to do something about it,” she said, bluntly, to the attentive (if not slightly taken aback) group.

Low was among the panellists at EcoWorld Women’s Summit held at the Bukit Bintang City Centre sales gallery in Kuala Lumpur in conjunction with International Women’s Day on March 8.

Themed “Women 360°”, the summit aimed to recognise a woman’s ability to manage various roles. A wide range of speakers, which included British High Commissioner to Malaysia Victoria Treadell, TalentCorp chief executive officer Shareen Shariza Abdul Ghani, IBM Malaysia managing director Chong Chye Neo, WOMEN:girls founder and president Low Ngai Yuen, Hong Leong Investment Bank managing director and chief executive officer Lee Jim Leng, model/actress Bernie Chan, EcoWorld Divisional General Manager Ho Kwee Hong, Star Media Group Editor in Chief Datuk Leanne Goh and dimsum chief marketing officer Lam Swee Kim, shared their stories of how they overcame challenges and persevered to break the proverbial glass ceiling and achieve success in their respective fields.

The Summit was opened by EcoWorld director Datuk Noor Farida Ariffin whose message to women was to believe in themselves.

She noted even though the country’s 31.7 million-strong population was made up of 16.4 million males and 15.3 million females, there has been a big shift in gender balance when it comes to education with more women than men in tertiary institutions. However, the large number of women in universities has not translated into the labour market.

“Believe in yourself. Believe that you can be whatever you want to be, provided you stay focused and put in the hard work,” said Farida.

Shareen declared that she believed the glass ceiling was a myth and urged women not to restrict their ambitions.

“Forget about that glass ceiling. Just focus on what you want and have the courage to go for it. And, you must always have humility. Though it seems contradictory, I think all three are important,” she said.

During the afternoon sessions, the audience heard stories of grit and perseverance from speakers like Low of WOMEN:Girls, Chong Chye Neo of IBM, EcoWorld’s Datuk Chang Khim Wah, actress/model Chan and Liew Tian Xiong of EcoWorld. — AZHAR MAHFOF/The Star

During the afternoon sessions, the audience heard stories of grit and perseverance from speakers like Low of WOMEN:Girls, Chong Chye Neo of IBM, EcoWorld’s Datuk Chang Khim Wah, actress/model Chan and Liew Tian Xiong of EcoWorld.

This is the second year EcoWorld has organised a Women’s Summit as part of a series of engagement workshops for its Professional Women’s Network (PWN).

“We are honoured to have these power women with us today and are grateful for their time spent with us sharing their life’s journey. Such opportunities do not arise often and we are delighted to be able to share this experience not only with our staff but with our partners, business associates and members of the public,” said EcoWorld Development Group Berhad chairman Tan Sri Liew Kee Sin.

British High Commissioner Treadell captivated the audience with her story of how she moved up the British Foreign Service – from junior clerk when she joined at age 18 to becoming a diplomat, and not just travelling but living in various foreign countries as a representative of Britain.

“My journey will demonstrate what is possible in life. I didn’t go to university. In fact I joined the foreign service as a junior clerk with the hope that I could save enough money to take a gap year before university and travel the world. When I joined, the service was a white, Anglo Saxon, male-dominated organisation and it didn’t look like there would be much prospects for a young, Eurasian girl,” says Treadell who was born in Ipoh, Malaysia and is of Chinese-British parentage.

Treadell quickly grew to love working at the service and her goals changed – why travel the world for just a year when she could live in different countries and represent her nation as a diplomat. She obtained her first posting three years later – working in the visa office of the High Commission in Pakistan.

Her message to women – which was reiterated throughout the day – was to aim high but never try to be a man.

“What makes you special is your gender and how you see the world. You have to be confident, have a vision and also a plan about how you are going to achieve your vision,” she said.

Several speakers also addressed the “mum guilt” which a lot of working mothers experience.

“A good mother isn’t necessarily one who spends 24 hours a day with her children,” said Lee, to which many in the audience nodded in agreement.

“It takes a lot of will power to stay in your career. I often felt guilty but I made adjustments so that I could make it work. I gave up facials and such until my youngest son was in Standard Four or Five. Every weekend was spent doing homework or grocery shopping with my children and just spending time with them. That’s what it’s about … balance. And now, they’re all studying abroad and I have all the time I want for my facials,” she said.

The Summit was attended by about 400 EcoWorld staff and guests who left the summit inspired to aim high and perhaps even take on the clarion call to become role models!