When she first started working, Ashley Wong remembers being such a timid and introverted person that she would not answer the phone if she was alone in the office. Today, she manages a big team as the head of production at online fashion and lifestyle store Zalora.
She credits this transformation to the many wonderful women leaders she worked alongside over the years. They helped pick up many skills and a lot of confidence along the way. This journey, she admits, has been fast-paced and challenging as it constantly requires her to constantly adapt to the ever-evolving world of fashion.
Ashley joined Zalora when it was just a start-up, and has seen it grow into one of the biggest fashion e-tailers in Asia. In this chat with Women Icons Network, Ashley talks about gender biases in the workplace, what companies and the women themselves do to overcome them.
The biggest learning she took from the way her career progressed is that women should not be afraid to voice their thoughts, especially if it is an area that they are knowledgeable about. Even if their ideas are met with disagreements, they should not get discouraged and should recognise that disagreements do not mean a disapproval of their opinions, she stresses.
As a way to back up their argument in a debate or even when proposing a new idea, Ashley thinks women should learn to take the help of data. Data, she adds, will help them provide an unbiased and factual take on the subject at hand, which is hard to argue against.
She firmly believes that women should not be afraid to show their emotions at work, for fear of being perceived as unprofessional. “Rather than eliminate them entirely, women should learn to manage their emotions. They should not cloud their thoughts, decisions or affect their work,” she advises.
Workplace Gender Equality
Ashley feels that companies should lead by example in terms of having gender equality in the workplace by having a diverse board of members, and ensuring that different genders have an equal opportunity to assume leadership roles.
“I also believe that companies should not only focus on the needs of female employees, but also on men’s – especially for those that have to juggle familial responsibilities while maintaining their professional careers,” she adds.
Supportive policies such as flexible working arrangements, and longer paternity or maternity leaves should be set in place in every organisation in order to help the employees manage a better work-life balance. This is very important to her personally. As fulfilling as the journey towards a high-paced career has been, Ashley also has learnt to maintain a healthy work-life balance.
Women are usually less bold or assertive to negotiate a higher salary for themselves, she shares. “It would be great to see companies review their hiring practices frequently, and be transparent with their salary range data for parity between genders,” she says, when asked about a solution.
Another solution, she said, would be to inculcate education and awareness on issues and behaviours related to gender equality among the workforce. This should be made mandatory for all levels of managers and employers so as to help foster a more diverse, inclusive and welcoming work environment for all, suggests Ashley.
For a more short-term fix, she talks about the one thing she learnt while working from home during the pandemic – that not everyone has access to the right opportunities at the right time. “To those of us who are able to better manage and navigate the challenges that the pandemic has brought about, gratitude can be easily expressed by understanding and helping others. While there may not always be a perfect solution, offering options helps others feel less trapped or constrained in these tough situations,” she said.