Empowering female management talent in Asia
Two Hong Kong based women managers have just completed a year-long mentoring programme organised by Kering Asia Pacific. First launched in the region in 2015, it forms part of the group’s Leadership and Gender Diversity scheme, whose aim is to encourage the development of female talent within the corporation. China-born Errial Chiu and French national Anne-Laure Descours shared their experience with K magazine.
Tell us a about your careers to date.
Errial: Having worked at Gucci as an advertising assistant for six years, I joined Kering as a regional media manager when our APAC office opened. Now I work with Vanessa, my department head, and the two of us are responsible for media in the region.
Anne-Laure: I’ve been in Hong Kong for 22 years, and joined Puma five years ago in April, where I’m the global director of apparel sourcing.
How did you both get involved in the mentoring programme?
Errial: It was an attractive prospect to me because Anne has a sports background, whilst my experience is in luxury, so I saw the cross-function and cross-brand opportunities that might help me extend my exposure. Anne is also very experienced, so I really wanted to learn from her, but not limit that to career. We’ve talked a lot about personal things, about politics and what’s happening in the US and in Asia. In the end, it’s been as much about inner mind development as it has a learning experience.
Anne-Laure: For me, education is very important; I believe handing over knowledge and interacting with the younger generation is critical, and the older you get, the more important it becomes. I’m over 50, and it’s really interesting, considering everything that’s happening in the media landscape and changing in the business, to interact with younger people, and to understand their world.
So the mentoring is really a kind of coeducation for both sides. Yes, I’m passing on some experience I’ve had to Errial, especially as a woman, because having a career as a woman has its challenges, but she is also passing on knowledge to me.
How can mentoring be used to help women achieve career progression?
Anne-Laure: I have three kids and being a working mother needs quite a lot of flexibility. People have to be realistic about this; you will need to make some sacrifices. I have also realised that the older you get and the more responsibility you have, competition is increasing, and the fewer working mothers you meet.
I feel that the experiences I learned in my career could be used to help others. As you can see, Errial is pregnant, and I believe managing both is possible. I am happy to share some tips and give support that can be passed to the next generation. Women add something so important to the business that I find it crucial to help having more women in senior positions.
Errial: I can remember the first time we spoke about family, and how to create a balance between your job and personal life. I’m in my mid-thirties, and at that time I was struggling to figure out whether I could manage to give birth to a child and balance my life. But then Anne has three kids and has been located in different markets, and is always busy traveling – and I thought, if Anne can manage that, maybe I can try.
I also remember the first time we met, we talked about empowering women, and Anne was very clear that the first step here is women supporting women. Now, I try to apply it to my daily life and use it to help juniors as well. At first I thought I didn't have enough experience to be really helpful to others, but through this programme I’ve become more open to sharing myself and my time. So Anne has inspired me not only directly, but also to help and inspire a younger group of women as well.
What tips have you discussed for women wanting to succeed at a senior level in business?
Anne-Laure: It’s a lot about your network; a female network is critical, both at work and outside work. I’ve always been passionate about this, whatever organisation I’ve worked for, and I’m glad to hear Errial is starting to mentor junior people. There is no competition; it's a group effort. My mother’s generation fought for women’s rights, and my generation benefited from that. Now I have a responsibility to make sure the next generation can also enjoy what was provided to me.
Supporting each other is critical because I fear that it’s not going as easy in the coming years: there is a lot of pressure and competition these days. I’m thankful to Kering for having the vision of empowering women, because if you look from a business perspective, an organisation is successful if when you have the a right gender balance.
Errial: Anne has also passed on some good advice for how to handle yourself in the workplace and be a better leader. Especially in Asia, women can sometimes be more conservative, and this kind of programme can pair you up with a mentor of a different nationality can help change your mind-set, and encourage you to be more willing to share and express your feelings. In the Asia market, companies can also be quite hierarchical, but the relationship between Anne and me is more casual and free flowing. It’s taught me a different way of doing things, and encouraged me to be more open and share my opinions with my boss. If you could apply more of that collaborative leadership style to our market, it would help women speak up.
Anne-Laure: Yes, women tend to be low key and can have difficulty promoting themselves.
I hope this type of programmes can instil confidence in women, to help them stand up with two feet on the ground, make their own point and show their difference. By nature, we tend to excuse ourselves much more than men do, especially when we have a family.
This programme is about handing over the confidence that as a woman, you have the strength to make it happen!
Will you continue to meet up and keep the relationship going?
Errial: Yes, I hope so. One year has definitely been a bit too short!
Anne-Laure: Yes, of course! I want to continue enjoying our casual coffees and learning more. Errial is so inspiring, as a young woman going through pregnancy and managing her work in a fast moving environment. She’s amazing and I want to be there for her in the future.