Malaysia’s career women — creating a name and tearing down old beliefs

Slowly, but surely, women are stepping up into the brave new world where gender equality has more breathing space as societies progress

By LYDIA NATHAN / Pic By ISMAIL CHE RUS & FACEBOOK

It WAS not that long ago that the roles of both genders were very distinctive and succinct. A woman stays at home, cooked, cleaned, washed clothes and managed the family’s daily affairs. Men and their “positives” references in family, society and career.

Such stereotyping is far from being Malaysia-centric. Across the world, especially in the less developed country, it is a widely accepted concept.

In many parts of the world such preconceived view remains as part of social belief.

But, over the years women have opposed these norms. Such labels have been branded as brash and unruly.

Slowly, but surely, such old notion is simmering as societies progress and women stepping up into the brave new world where gender equality has more breathing space.

Women today are often seen as pillars of communities and in the corporate world. Putting a lot of effort in juggling between family lives with work and succeeding in their careers.

Davina Goh
Davina Goh is one of the examples of a lady who pursues her passion. In her 16-year working career, she has dabbled in theatre, television, radio and film, as well as has a stint in teaching, playwriting and dance.

Instead of trying to tie herself to the gender narrative, Goh says she has always looked at herself as a human being first

Her early days in the industry was more of a form of escapism. She admitted that she was a rather shy and socially awkward child.

“Acting in school plays provided an avenue to break away from that. When I saw people laughing at my characters, it was the most genuine connection I felt with other people,” she said to The Malaysian Reserve (TMR).

She followed her heart and moved to professional theatre. “Juggling between full-time work during the day and theatre at night is sometimes difficult and tiring. “Although I’ve been bullied by directors and stage managers, my joy and passion for the stage have never waned,” she added.

She is also frank, direct and non-apologetic. Instead of trying to tie herself to the gender narrative, Goh said she has always looked at herself as a human being first.

“My beliefs represent humanity. So I have never seen womanhood as a barrier to any of my goals and aspirations. Sure, I’ve experienced setbacks from others with sexist attitudes.

“But men have their own fair share of struggles living up to their ‘macho’ roles in the society. So to me, it is a level playing field and we all depend on each other in a positive way to do and be our best,” she said.

Goh said being a lady at times posed its own challenges.

Some decisions she made may be viewed as her being a difficult or a “diva”. But, she has thrived to uphold her integrity.

“I uphold integrity as much as I can. For example, I turned down a big-paying job because the company’s moral values don’t align with mine,” she said quoting a muchtalked about character from the fantasy drama series “Game of Thrones”.

“I don’t watch ‘Game of Thrones’, but I am aware of Jon Snow’s character and his commitment to moral values, and I relate to that a lot. My close friends know what I stand for, and that’s enough for me,” Goh said.

Aside from all she has achieved, Goh is also a full-fledged vegan and advocates a plant-based lifestyle. She has produced Malaysian inspired recipes and contributes to various channels.

Sharala Axryd
For Sharala Axryd, her passion to achieve more than just getting a stable job, being married and having children propelled her into the world of engineering.

Sharala hopes to see the gender pay gap shrinks as more capable women become empowered and ask for salaries based on merit

“My parents had wanted me to become a teacher or a bank officer. I wanted to be a doctor. At that time, data science didn’t exist yet. For me being practical and logical made more sense than memorising.

“I didn’t know it then, but I guess given the nature of the way I am, engineering was the best choice purely because it was the most attractive to me from a learning point of view,” she said.

Today, Sharala is the CEO of Asean Data Analytics Exchange (ADAX), a regional data analytics exchange platform, responsible for developments in the field of data science and nurturing data professionals.

Sharala said the industry proves to be more of a challenge and has little bearing on her being a woman.

“The odds were not influenced by my gender. Road bumps are always there along the way in any entrepreneurial journey both for male or female.”

“But culturally in this part of the world, we are not afraid of strong women in leadership positions. Work performance is valued over gender.

“If a woman can prove herself as a strong leader, people do take notice and will elevate her to a leadership position,” Sharala said.

She also believes there will be more women in leadership roles in years to come as long as there are new avenues to be discovered and young determined females are mentored and nurtured well.

She said some of the bigger challenges she faced included finding mentors and to connect with similar minded people to talk to.

She soon realised that after forming her first company ULearn, it was too early for her to start such a venture.

“We had the first-mover advantage. But, at that time what we were trying to do was too early for Malaysia. With ADAX, the excitement and interest is there but it still takes some convincing with universities and organisations who initially hesitated because they were nervous about big data being nothing more than hype or myth,” Sharala said.

Today the company has achieved so much, namely the Data Star Programme, a graduate course that includes two months of intensive data science enablement and mentor ship with experienced data scientists and a possible placement with Data Star’s industry partners.

“We recently had our first Data Star graduation ceremony for our first and second cohort. It was truly gratifying to see the fruits of our labour after years in the making.

“A hundred and 13 students graduated from the programme with 0% drop-out. Everyone who started in the programme completed their journey.

“To nurture the skill of learnability within these graduates as well as to be part of the job creation is an achievement. I am proud to be part of it,” she said.

But Sharala hopes to see the gender pay gap shrinks as more capable women become empowered and ask for salaries based on merit.

Yin Yin Boey
For Yin Yin Boey who is recognised as the country’s rising raw vegan chef, it was inconceivable at the early part of her life.

As Yin was growing up, the questions that were constantly asked were — why she could not cook and who would cook for her future husband. “My reply was always — I’ll find a husband who can cook,” she said in jest.

Raw vegan food is extremely new in Malaysia, but Yin today is known as ‘Raw Chef Yin’ who travels around the globe filming episodes for her TV show ‘Velicious’ (pic by Calvin Goh)

Irony as it may sound, she is today known as Raw Chef Yin who travels around the globe while filming episodes for her very own television show “Velicious”.

Yin said she came from a femaledominated family with the emphasis on studying hard, getting good grades and securing a good job. “Strangely enough, I never really enjoyed cooking while I was a teenager.

I remember helping my dad prepare food but not the actual cooking.

“I started cooking more when I moved out and had my own kitchen in the early 2000’s. It was then I started experimenting and discovered the joy of cooking,” Yin said.

Making a drastic move in career wise and leaving the corporate world in 2012, Yin wanted to seek something more meaningful and escaped the rat race.

“There is the obvious financial challenge where you don’t have a steady income anymore. It also meant getting out of my comfort zone and plunging into something that I have never done before,” she said.

She also put her fingers into various other things before turning to cooking in a different way.

“Raw vegan food is extremely new in Malaysia. In the beginning I got turned down a lot of times. Looking back, I am surprised that the negative responses did not bring me down. I think it was just pure passion that carried me through,” she said.

But being a female in an entirely new domain benefitted her greatly.

Her experience in multinational companies helped her course.

“From what I’ve experienced, women are more structured, more detail-oriented and more organised than most men I’ve worked with. In that sense, I think we’re more capable of taking on the world!” Yin said.

“Every morning I list out my kitchen goals and set aside specific time frames to get them done and then just work diligently at them,” she added.

Chef Yin, Goh and Sharala are examples of women who pursue their passion. These are empowered women who believe in what they can do and continue to listen to their heart instead of the surroundings.

Women who will be examples for other women to erase old stereotyping and beliefs.