Are female only leadership programs still needed?

As small yet significant strides are being made towards gender-balanced leadership in organisations, the question of the need for female only leadership programs is a fair one.

My team and I have now run 14 Women in Leadership Programs in Asia. While most of the 150 participants have supported the need for a female only program, there have been a few participants who challenged the idea whether women really need this ‘safe space’. I enjoy in-depth conversations about this whenever the opportunity presents itself. The main reason why participants believed there was no need for a female only program was that they felt welcomed and encouraged in their workplaces. This is truly encouraging to hear!

So why the need for separate Women Leadership programs?

Along the way somewhere women lost, or perhaps never had, the rights to be equal in terms of speaking up, taking up certain (or any) jobs, the rights to vote, and the list goes on. This has naturally led women to question ourselves. Can we really do this, are we worthy of a leadership position? I meet a lot of women who need extra reassurance to believe they have the right to have ambitions and strive for whatever they would like to achieve.

After all, what do we want? We want inclusive female and male leaders and organisations with inclusive cultures. On one hand, we should work on equality together by understanding how subconscious biases influence our decisions and how we can all be more inclusive leaders. On the other, we know from research that any minority representative needs additional members from that group in order to have a voice. As women represent the most typical minority group in leadership, Women Leadership programs help women gain and strengthen their voice.


There is a long way to go despite the fact that things are moving in the right direction. According to the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2020 it will take another 99.5 years until the overall global gender gap will close. The report examines four areas. Although the numbers vary across geographies, significant progress has been made on the Educational Attainment and the Health and Survival gaps where 96.1% and 95.7% of the gaps have been closed respectively. We are doing less well on Economic Participation and Opportunity where 57.8% of the gap has been closed, and we are doing even worse in terms of Political Empowerment where this number is only 24.7%.

The report also points out that it seems to be difficult to make bigger strides in addressing the gender pay gap. If we look at the global average of a woman’s income (in purchasing power parity), it is about $11,000 whereas it is $21,000 for a man.


It is difficult to explain how this all happened and why we ended up with inequality in leadership positions and pay. There could be simple biological reasons, e.g. men on average being stronger and strength was more needed in the earlier days of mankind. Women at times being limited physically while being pregnant and with small babies could be an additional reason. Maybe men have more of a ‘fight or flight’ reflex, while women ‘tend and befriend’, and this makes men more assertive in asking for what they want. However this inequality began and prevailed, our current world is slowly getting ready for the change.

The ‘MeToo’ movement was a fantastic, brave and very much needed outcry. However, I believe we need to be careful. We shouldn’t try to correct inequality without sufficiently including men, and it won’t help our case if we offend men by blaming and shaming all of them. Men need to be a part of the way forward. This is why we include male panellists and presenters even in our women only leadership programs.

For now, our female programs remain, but we have also started running Inclusive Leadership programs. Here, both women and men can learn and practice inclusive behaviour and skills together, embracing not only gender differences, but also cultural and generational differences and ultimately the diversity of thoughts.

The perfect job fit doesn’t always equal 10/10

It’s time for a new job, a new challenge. As you conduct your daily scan of the local job postings a certain job title with an organisation you’ve been monitoring jumps out at you.  Could this finally be the opportunity you’ve been waiting for? You eagerly read the details, mentally checking off the job expectations in your mind. But as you reach the job requirements section, your heart sinks. You can strongly deliver 6 of the 10 requirements, but the remaining 4 you would not count among your strengths.

Do you apply? Or wait for the next opportunity, hoping there will be something that fits your exact skill set soon?

Research shows the majority of women only apply for jobs when they meet 100% of the criteria, whereas most men apply when they meet just 60%. (Source: LinkedIn, Gender Insights Report: How women find jobs differently) How many job interviews are women missing out on?


How about a promotion opportunity at work? Do you believe in yourself and your abilities enough to apply, even if you don’t fit all of the criteria? Or again, wait for that perfect fit?

An extremely successful APAC Director shared her thoughts at the Developing Global Leaders Women in Leadership Program, and her insight was fascinating. Several years ago she had to be coaxed by her superiors to even apply for an internal promotion believing she did not fit all of the criteria. After the interview process, she found out she did not get the job only because she did not have enough allies or sponsors.

Meanwhile, her male counterpart, who had significantly less experience, had been broadcasting his lofty ambitions and lobbying sponsors to support his candidacy for promotion for over 12 months.

It is not men’s fault if they are going after a promotion or new job – good on them! We can all take actions to make sure we make the most of the opportunities out there.


Building a network of mentors and sponsors is critical to career advancement and something that must be nurtured over time, not only when you are seeking promotion or referrals.  Focus on mutually beneficial relationships. They are the most enduring and ultimately rewarding.

Have clarity when it comes to your career goals. When a new job or promotion comes along, gut instinct will always play a part, but you can also refer back to those goals to help with your decision.

Remember, there is never a perfect job for anyone, and we are all able to adapt and learn along the way. Why wait for 10 out of 10? Isn’t the point of a new job to learn, be inspired, challenged and enthused?

To find out about the Women in Leadership Program click here

5 Types of Imposter Syndrome

Deep down you know you are good at your job, but does one small mistake or mishap have you feeling like a complete failure? If so, there is a very good chance you are suffering from imposter syndrome. The psychological phenomenon known as imposter syndrome is the belief that you’re wholly inadequate and incompetent, despite hard evidence proving otherwise.

The line between self-awareness and self-loathing is a narrow one. With pressure to succeed and frequent comparison with others, it’s not surprising that many of us feel undeserving or unworthy of recognition.

Imposter syndrome is more common that you might think. Research from 2011 suggests approximately 70% of people will experience at least one episode of imposter syndrome in their lives. Some of the world’s most successful and highly regarded individuals have confessed to feeling like frauds in light of their own achievements.


“There are still days when I wake up feeling like a fraud, not sure I should be where I am.”

-Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook CEO & Author of Lean In

“I had enormous self-image problems and very low self-esteem, which I hid behind obsessive writing and performing. … And I was driven to get through life very quickly… feeling so utterly inadequate. I thought the work was the only thing of value.”

-David Bowie, English singer-songwriter

“I have written 11 books, but each time I think, “Uh oh, they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody, and they’re going to find me out.”

-Maya Angelou, American Author


Individuals suffering from imposter syndrome generally fall into one of five categories.  Do you recognize yourself in any of these categories? Or perhaps you’ve seen some of these traits in your co-workers. The good news is there are ways address these traits and give yourself and your colleagues the support you all deserve. Awareness and empathy for self and others will go a long way in combatting imposter syndrome.


1. The Perfectionist

Perfectionists set ridiculously high standards for themselves and feel like failures when they don’t reach them. Setting excessively high standards is a no-win situation. If they’re not achieved, it confirms their fears of not being good enough. If they are, they believe they didn’t set the bar high enough.

Is this me?

  • Have you ever been accused of being a micro-manager or control freak?
  • Do you have difficulty delegating? Even when you’re able to do so, do you feel frustrated and disappointed in the results?
  • When you miss the mark, do you accuse yourself of not being cut out for your job and stew on it for days?
  • If you receive praise and recognition for something you’ve achieved, do you tend to discount it?

What can I do about it?

  • We can all strive to be better, but it is essential to remember that if all you do is chase perfection, you miss out on other important things in life.
  • Push yourself to act before you’re ready
  • Learn to accept mistakes/setbacks as a natural part of the process. Learn from them.
  • Force yourself to own and celebrate achievements. Keep a praise journal. Write down any positive feedback you’ve received from colleagues or clients, awards/recommendations. Read it regularly.
  • Remember: a done something is better than a perfect nothing.


2. The Superhero

Superheroes feel like they have not truly earned their title so work harder and longer than those around them to prove their worth. They are workaholics, addicted to the validation that comes from working, not to the work itself.  They feel the need to succeed in all aspects of life—at work, as parents, as partners—and may feel stressed when they are not accomplishing something.

Is this me?

  • Do you stay later at the office than the rest of your team, even after you have completed that day’s necessary work?
  • Are you stressed when you’re not working?
  • Have you given up hobbies and outside interests?
  • Do you feel like you haven’t truly earned your title, so you feel pressed to work harder and longer than those around you?

What can I do about it?

  • Learn to take constructive criticism seriously, not personally.
  • Train yourself to veer away from external praise and validation and let your own sense of pride shine through.
  • Document those accomplishments that you feel particularly proud of and identify what it was about that accomplishment that made YOU most proud. Set that as your own bar for success and achievement.
  • Know your limits and draw your boundaries. Work on finding yourself and building your confidence.


3. The Natural Genius

Similar to Perfectionists, Natural Geniuses have impossibly high standards. However, they also expect to get everything right on the first try. They are typically able to master a new skill easily, feeling ashamed when they cannot. They judge success based on their abilities, not their efforts. If they have to work hard at something, they assume they must be bad at it.

Is this me?

  • Are you used to excelling without much effort?
  • Do you have a track record of getting top marks in everything you do?
  • Were you told frequently as a child that you were the “smart one” in your family? Or that you were “gifted” at school or in the sports arena?
  • Do you dislike the idea of having a mentor? Prefer to handle things on your own?

What can I do about it?

  • Accept that you’re human. And your colleagues are human too. They’re not great at everything either. Most things cannot be accomplished without hard work and effort.
  • Rather than beating yourself up when you don’t reach your impossibly high standards, identify specific, changeable behaviours that you can improve over time.Askyourself, what did I learn from this experience? Is this knowledge or a skill I can develop for the future or an area where I can collaborate with others who do?


4. The Individualist

Individualists feel the need to accomplish things on their own and refuse help from others so they can prove their worth.

Is this me?

  • Do you prefer working alone?
  • “I don’t need anyone’s help.”
  • Do you frame requests in terms of the requirements of the project, rather than your needs as a person?
  • If you do receive help, do you see this as a sign of failure or weakness?
  • Is constructive feedback particularly hard to accept?

What can I do about it?

  • It’s OK to be independent, but not to the extent that you refuse help to the detriment of the team or project.
  • Build a support network. The worst thing that people with imposter syndrome can do is to isolate themselves. Remember that not everything can be accomplished alone. Ask a senior colleague for guidance and mentoring on navigating intimidating environments.
  • Learn to accept that asking for help is not a sign of weakness. It is a sign that you know your limits and have room for growth.


5. The Expert

Experts fear being exposed as inexperienced and unknowledgeable. They will not feel satisfied when finishing a task until they feel that they know everything about the subject. They continuously hunt for new information, which prevents them from completing tasks and projects.

Is this me?

  • Are you hesitant to speak up in meetings because you’re afraid of looking stupid if you don’t already know the answer?
  • Do you avoid volunteering for anything outside of your role because you view it as a distraction that could compromise the quality of your other tasks?
  • Do you shy away from applying to job postings unless you meet 100% of the hiring criteria?
  • Despite being in the same role for years, do you still feel that you don’t know enough?

What can I do about it?

  • Push yourself to take on stretch assignments. As the name suggests, these are designed to challenge you and take your experience and knowledge to new places. You’re not expected to know all the answers.
  • Mentoring junior colleagues or volunteering can be a great way to discover your inner expert. You will be surprised by how much you actually do know, which will go some way in overcoming your self-doubt.
  • Deliberately put yourself in uncomfortable situations that help you grow.


The Imposter Cycle

To stop feeling like an imposter, stop thinking like an imposter!  Chronic self-doubt can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. It’s part of something researchers call the “imposter cycle”. Feeling like a fraud at work makes you behave like one, which makes you feel even more like a fraud.

The impact of unchecked imposter syndrome can be far-reaching in the workplace. Recent research by Ghent University discovered that employees with strong imposter syndrome tendencies are more dissatisfied with their jobs, report less organisational citizenship behaviour (defined as volunteering for tasks outside your remit), and express a stronger intention to stay at their job only because the social and psychological cost of leaving is perceived as too high.

Whatever type of imposter syndrome you suffer from, the good news is that you have already done something about it!

The first step for people with symptoms is to educate themselves about the syndrome. Identifying with a type will help when working to manage symptoms.

And why stop there? Pay it forward and share your newfound knowledge with others; at home and at work.

Children taught that they are superior in intelligence, appearance, or talent can develop imposter syndrome when they inevitably struggle to achieve something. To counteract the mistake of praising traits, (“You’re so smart!”), praise effort instead, (“You worked so hard on that”).

It’s not who you are that holds you back, it’s who you think you’re not.


References & further information:
Gender Equality in Singapore – time to step up

Do we want to go back to a Singapore where daughters stayed at home and sons went to school? Where men could legally take several wives? Where married women could not own and control personal property?

Let me hear a resounding NO!

Singapore has made huge leaps when it comes to gender equality, predominantly thanks to the Women’s Charter. The Women’s Charter was passed in 1961 to advocate girl’s and women’s rights in Singapore, and promote equality in marriage. An event described as momentous in Singapore’s history because it significantly protected and advanced women’s rights.

Should we be happy with the status quo? Singapore has achieved more progress towards gender parity than Asia Pacific as a whole, but lags behind other advanced economies. New research from McKinsey Global Institute (MGI) calculates a country’s Gender Parity Score (GPS) using 15 indicators of gender equality at work and in society. Singapore has a GPS of 0.68 on gender equality in work, well above Asia Pacific overall (0.44) but somewhat behind the best in region (0.73). In 3 of the 15 indicators, Singapore has high or extremely high gender inequality: leadership positions, legal protection and political representation.

Hardly surprising when you look at the facts. 52% of Singapore’s companies have less than 20% of women in leadership roles. The World Bank Women Business and Law database noted that Singapore currently does not have laws mandating non-discrimination based on gender in hiring, or laws stipulating equal pay for work of equal value. Singaporean women account for only 24% of members of parliament and 9% of ministerial or cabinet roles

The sad fact is that despite 76% of Singaporean women of prime working age (25-54 years) in paid employment, subconscious bias and gender gaps in terms of senior management representation still exist. Only 13% of board seats of the top 100 listed companies in Singapore are held by women. Directors promoted to Singapore boards over the past 3 years were predominantly men; more than 80% for all SGX listed companies.

Looking further afield, after reaching an all time high in 2017 with 32 women CEOs on the Fortune 500, so far in 2018, we have already seen a decline of 25%, leaving female CEOs on the Fortune 500 at a mere 5%.

And its not just our boards that have a diversity shortage. LeanIn and MGI research shows that the percentage of roles held by women steadily decreases at every seniority level. Men and women enter the workforce at relatively the same levels. But between entry level and the C suite, the percentage of female employees more than halves, while male representation jumps by 27%. This trend is consistent across every industry; even those that are female dominated in the early stages of the career path see a steady drop off of female representation towards the C suite.

Today, worldwide, women are paid an average of 23% less than men. Taking Singapore specifically, men are still earning 18% more than women, and this gap hasn’t changed much in the last decade. At current rates of progress the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2017 reveals that it will take 217 years globally to close the gender gaps around economic opportunity, participation and pay.

Why do we still see that glass ceiling when 73% of global firms allegedly have equal opportunity policies in place? And when so much research points to the competitive advantages of gender diverse companies?

MGI research actually proved that gender diverse companies in the top quartile financially outperform those in the bottom quartile by 15%. MGI also estimates that S$20 billion could be added to Singapore’s annual GDP by 2025 by advancing women’s equality.

So what are we missing? Why is progress towards gender equality so slow?

One of the most powerful reasons for this is a simple one; we have blind spots when it comes to diversity. How can we solve problems that we don’t see or understand? Nearly 50% of men think women are well represented in leadership roles when 1 in 10 leaders is a woman. 30% of women feel the same way.

Another reason? The simple fact that organisational policies and practices have not caught up to the enormous changes that have transformed Singapore society since 1961. A simple illustration; only 47% of firms in Singapore offer flexible work arrangements. More change is yet to come as Singapore’s population ages, adding elderly care to the list of barriers keeping Singaporean women from participating fully in the workforce.

“Those days when the average family was a dad who went to work every day and a mom who stayed at home and did all the unpaid labour – that’s not what our economy looks like anymore. Household and work arrangements come in all shapes and all combinations, and yet, our workplace policies still look like they’re straight out of Mad Men”. – Barrack Obama

To speed up progress and see gender equality in our lifetimes, we need YOU.

If we really want organisational policies and practices that work for everybody, that account for the realities of how people live today, we need more women in decision-making structures; in politics, in education, in the Csuite. Don’t wait for laws to change – we can make progress without them. We need ordinary women helping to remove barriers that prevent women from participating fully in their societies or workplaces.

There is demand for everyday role models that create more opportunities and show the rest of us how to do it. After all, how can we strive to be what we can’t see?

We can all be that everyday hero

We can all do something to get us closer to our greatest ideal. Let’s start with our own subconscious bias. We are still boxed in by stereotypes about how men and women should behave. We all have the power to change this – for ourselves and for our children. We can change the attitudes that contribute.

  • Change the attitude that criticises our daughters for being bossy and our sons for being sensitive.
  • Change the attitude that stigmatises full-time fathers and penalises working mothers.
  • Change the attitude that sees gender equality as a women only issue. Invite men to the discussion.
  • Change the attitude that sees advances in female leadership as a threat to men.
  • Change the attitude that assumes women are less competent or committed to their careers because they have children.
  • Change the attitude that undervalues women, giving them less credit than men for successful outcomes and more blame for failure.
  • Change the attitude that stops women from applying for roles until they meet 100% of the hiring criteria. (Research shows that men typically apply when they meet 60%).
  • Change the attitude that believes leadership competencies require typically ‘male’ characteristics.


So come on Singapore! Why wait 217 years?

This article was written by Developing Global Leaders Asia (DGL). We believe responsible leadership combined with the ability to lead across borders and cultures has the power to transformindividuals, organisations and societies – when it’s done right.

DGL has decades of research and practical experience, with clients around the globe, and a proven track record of measurable long-lasting results. DGL consulting and training services focus on developing globally competent and socially responsible leaders, cohesive multicultural teams, and sustainable corporate culture that respects the organisation’s social and environmental impact.


Gender Equality in Singapore Article References:

1. Singapore Women’s Charter:
2. MGI The Power of Parity – Advancing Women’s Equality in Asia Pacific: insights/Asia Pacific/The power of parity Advancing
womens equality in Singapore/The-power-of-parity-Advancing-womens-equality-in-Singapore.ashx
3. The World Bank Women Business & Law Database:
4. Singapore labour force statistics:
5. Diversity Action Singapore:
6. Fortune 500 CEOs:
7. LeanIn & MGI Women in the Workplace study:
8. World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap Report 2017:
9. Value Penguin Singapore Wage Gap:
10. International Labour Relations global report – Gaining Momentum:—
11. MGI Why Diversity Matters article:
12. Harvard Business Review article:


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