It is 2017 and yet, women still earn only 80 cents for every dollar men earn. It is the 21st century and yet, women have a shelf life but men age like fine wine. We’re well on our way to terraforming Mars and yet, women are bossy and demanding but men are decisive and, well, manly. Throughout human history, females have been battered, subjugated and viewed as the lesser gender by men. Even the words used to describe women drip with disdain and negativity, as though it’s a curse to be blessed with emotional intelligence and compassion.
And yet, despite these social odds, the six women featured here have risen to the top of their fields. In the process, they have smashed glass ceilings, overturned misconceptions and proven once and for all that, yes, women have as much, if not more, to contribute to society. There’s still a lot more to be done in gender equality, especially now that populism and misogyny have become commonplace in the global arena but we are making heartening progress. A rising tide lifts all boats after all, and we owe it to our future sons and daughters to leave them a world we can all be proud of.
Pocket Sun, 25
At the start of the year, Luo Mingxiong of early-stage VC firm Jingbei Investment said that his firm would never invest in female-led companies. “Besides giving birth to children, what can women do better than men? Nothing,” Luo stated on the record.
Well, on the record, Pocket Sun would like “to make him eat his words”. The bubbly 25-year-old is the co-founder of SoGal Ventures, the first female-led millenial venture capital fund. It doesn’t just invest in female entrepreneurs but creates a powerful ecosystem of influential women to help and support one another.
“I am a huge advocate of female empowerment. I want women to enter male-dominated industries, to challenge the norms, to take over. SoGal is all about changing the power dynamics in business and entrepreneurship. This power dynamic is not going to change unless women are sitting on the other side of the table and signing cheques.”
Pocket is certainly doing something right. She’s been featured in Forbes 30 Under 30 and invited to talk at TEDxShanghaiWomen. She’s never let rejection stop her. When Pocket first proposed the idea of a venture capital firm, people said she was too young. She knuckled down and invested in 27 companies within 14 months just to prove them wrong. “If a door doesn’t open, that just means I haven’t kicked it hard enough,” Pocket says, laughing. And while she is supremely confident that SoGal Ventures will be making money in its numerous investments, that’s not what drives her.
“I want to make women believe in themselves. Anything is possible as long as you believe, and the earlier you believe, the earlier you can turn it into reality.”
Wanda Hu, 28
Founder of Armaggeddon
It’s not easy being a young woman in a male-dominated industry like gaming. Few will take you seriously and no matter what your brand has achieved, there will be doubt. But the world can’t be changed in an instant, according to Wanda Hu.
She founded Armaggeddon five years ago after being frustrated by how hard it was to buy gaming mouses and other peripherals. They were costly as hell too. So she proposed to her dad, “Why don’t we do gaming?” Leapfrog Global is her family’s business, housing brands like Sonic Gear. Affordability is its top priority. It is what she envisioned Armaggeddon to be.
“Fancy branded things never appealed to me,” she says. “So we focus on basic functions.” Armaggeddon has been doing pretty well for itself. The company is doing well in Southeast Asia and has recently stepped into the South Korean market.
As head of division, she manages her team impressively. “You need to learn how to trust people with their jobs,” she stresses. “I didn’t use to do this, but I’m learning. In the first few years, we saw very high turnover among our staff, and I labelled them as millennials with a certain disdain. But in doing that, I also stopped myself from teaching. So I told myself it didn’t matter if they leave, that I should be glad that they leave better than when they first came in. In the end it’s better to give them a sense of ownership in what they do.”
Cheryl Gan, 40
Founder of Mt. Sapola
I’m in a meeting with Cheryl and three of her staff, and they’re discussing processes and inventory. One decade, 12 countries and tens of hundreds of products later and Cheryl is still neck-deep in every single aspect of Mt. Sapola. “I like to be hands-on, and if I want something to be done, I will do it myself if I need to,” says Cheryl.
What drives a civil servant to give up her cushy job and start a business? Many are content to wallow in mediocrity but Cheryl wanted to make an impact on the world. After all, one of her heroes is the late Anita Roddick, founder of The Body Shop, who actively campaigned for environmental and social issues. “It has never been about money. I started Mt. Sapola because I wanted to share my products with the world. Once you have the product and the passion, then the money will come, and honestly, it’s easy to start a business in Singapore. The question is: can you persevere when you’ve had to face difficulty after difficulty?”
Where others might walk away, she tackled challenges head-on. She ventured into the UK, a mature aromatherapy market because if she “can make it there, she can make it anywhere”. She’s creating natural cosmetics and products for men. “I have big dreams and I want to achieve them.”
D&B DJ and RBMAA
That’s drum & bass and Red Bull Music Academy Alumni for the uninformed. Before the Jade Rasifs and Tenashars of the club scene, there was Aresha, who has been spinning for the better part of a decade and clocked numerous gigs at acclaimed music festivals – London’s Fabric and Barcelona’s Sonar, to name a few – all around the world. She’s funny, thoughtful and caustic, the best combination you would want from an interviewee. So, when we talked about the aforementioned model-DJs (“burlesque DJs, I call them”), she didn’t hold back.
“I have nothing against the Tenashars of the world who have their boobs out, and jumping up and down. But their set is more of a performance and less about the music. If you choose to go down this path of being a model-DJ, by all means, but when the hype dies, will you still enjoy the music?”
Close to two decades later, Aresha is still in love with what she does. Sure, she has a day job but her name is still revered in the scene by those in the know. After all, she started out when DJs had to beat match without software and trawl through record stores and grungy back alleys just to find the vinyls they wanted for their sets. Back then DJs actually needed talent. “The reality is that now, anyone can play EDM and Top 40 music on the decks. You can’t mess it up because the technology will help you do everything. It’s nothing special any more,” Aresha says, reminiscing about the past.
Even so, Aresha wants to encourage female youths to do whatever they want. “Don’t call yourself a female DJ, female doctor, etc. Don’t be defined by your gender. If you want to be a model-DJ and are comfortable with it, go for it. Just be true to yourself, like I am.”
Jenny Tay, 31
This Chinese New Year, the public wept over the murder of a pregnant mother and her four-year-old child. Her husband stands accused, and likely faces a death penalty while she and her offspring were sent off pro bono by Direct Funeral Services that is known for its affordability and service. The company was founded by philanthropist Roland Tay who has helped the poor and unfortunate murder victims like Huang Na. He has since passed on the business to his daughter, Jenny Tay.
Tay effectively reinvented the business. “Everything needed to change,” she said. “Operators were often brash and sloppy. So we changed their image, gave them uniforms and training. After all, we are a service line that everyone needs once in their lifetime.”
Jenny’s thoughtful initiatives include a book titled Where Did Grandpa Go? to help explain the concept of death to children, as well as a care package of a wet towel, tea bag and red thread to symbolise luck for the mourning. Career progression is also offered to her employees. Unlike before, there’s now a proper company structure, and everyone has a goal to work towards.
On whether she’s become numb to death, she said, “It is impossible as we are all human and have emotions. But as professionals in this field, we need to be pillars of support to families. It helps that I’m not the least bit superstitious. A lot of people fear death but I rather fear not truly living as the person I want to be.”
Yip Pin Xiu, 25
It’s 4.30pm on a Friday and Yip Pin Xiu is working her muscles. She’s on to her third set of dips, push-ups and rope exercise. In between jokes with her coach who’s also her physiologist, she huffs and puffs. She dips, pushes and smacks the rope on the ground as hard as she can.
She’s quite the fighter. Born with muscular dystrophy, she will not be stopped despite her weakened legs and hands, and went on to win two gold medals in the last Summer Paralympics.
People used to discourage her from “wasting time”, but now she has over a hundred medals to prove them wrong.
Unfortunately, there is disparity between an Olympic medal and a Paralympic one. She was awarded $200,000, a fifth of what Joseph Schooling got.
“People are feeling indignant for us,” she says. “But you know, uncle Siong [Ang Peng Siong] once told me, ‘Don’t do this for the money, but train because you want to do Singapore proud.’ As a disabled athlete, I’d prefer people to know that it is important to look beyond someone’s disability instead. Sometimes it’s tough, being a girl. It is why I’m so contradicted. As a girl, you want empowerment. You want so many things. But being one, there are some things we need that guys don’t. Society insists that everyone be equal, but I feel equality shouldn’t be the word. It’s more of equity, where people are able to start off on the same platform. You can kick ass as long as you set your mind to it. Nobody can tell you what you can and cannot do.”