Overcoming societal biases as an Asian woman

In most Asian societies, women are still expected to be timid, shy, submissive

Ahead of International Women's Day, Fe Husaint, the creative and global brand head at Green Park Content, says the first step to overcoming bias is to recognize its presence. She explains that, even in its most subtle forms, noticing it can be empowering and not overpowering.

Throughout my career, I have faced my fair share of challenges because of the simple fact that I am a woman. For instance, I noticed that women creative directors are still hard to come by in my industry, although women are naturally creative people. I have found myself wondering why the candidates we screen for certain positions mostly consist of male applicants when I am certain that there are just as many qualified women for the post.

Of course, I recognize that there have been great strides in women gaining more presence, acceptance, and respect in the workplace in recent years. I thank women like Ruth Bader Ginsburg for helping pave the way for so many of us, allowing us to move up and take up space in different industries.

This discussion is close to my heart, and I recognize it is critical all year round. However, given International Women's Day happening in March, there's even more reason to shed light on such vital causes. This Women's Day, I am working with the United Nations Forum on Sustainability Standards (UNFSS) to raise awareness of Women's Economic Empowerment in developing countries.

Aside from my gender, I feel an added challenge on my plate is being an Asian woman in a global organization. Certain pervasive cultural expectations have been ingrained in my upbringing, and they are pretty tricky to shake off. One of these is the belief that a woman only has a certain place in the workplace, that I can only go so far.

Even today, society also has this assumption that women should be submissive and more family-oriented. I have felt the weight of these expectations myself. While sometimes these expectations are subtle, we can't ignore that in a corporate setting, Asian talents are often considered "second-class citizens" on the global stage. As such, we've had to work harder to prove ourselves.

However, as a go-getter, I never thought I was a victim of bias as I’ve always managed to push my way through and achieve my goals. However, the first step to overcoming bias is to recognize its presence. Even in its most subtle forms, noticing it can be empowering and not overpowering. Because once it’s recognized, you can take necessary action to address it and rally for support from those around you.

There are a few ways I have consciously addressed this issue, and I share them here with the hope that we can all do our part to do away with these subtle and not-so-subtle biases as a society.

Spark the conversation

To start breaking down stereotypes, we need to keep talking about them. This discussion will raise awareness of the challenges that Asian women face, and the more exchanges we have about it, the faster we can get to flipping those biases.

Patience and persistence are values that will come in handy here, as we need to slowly break down society's expectations that have been there for ages. Of course, it can get exhausting, but I make it a point to seize moments and opportunities to speak out because sweeping these issues under the rug will not benefit anyone.

There will not be immediate results, as these will take time. Still, I make sure I have my purpose clear in mind to take every chance to break down these limiting beliefs.

Take up space!

Even in these modern times, women are still seen as the minority in the workplace. Some women may feel indebted for being "given" a particular role. This is something that needs to change.

We, women, deserve our place and our positions. I know I worked just as hard, if not harder than my male colleagues, and wherever I am now is primarily due to my efforts. I am proud to take up that space and sit at the table with the rest of our leaders.

Speak your mind

In most Asian societies, women are still expected to be timid, shy, submissive. I am proud to say that I am none of these things, and I readily assert my needs and opinions.

If we continue to subscribe to society's expectations of docility, it will take a longer time for society to come around and get used to the idea that women are just, and should be as, expressive and assertive as their male counterparts.

Believe in your capabilities

There is one particular belief that I hope we move on from–the expectation that women should be dependent on their partners. We are often expected to follow our spouse’s decisions. Whether moving with them when they receive a job offer elsewhere or letting go of our careers when it's time to raise a family.

While I understand caring for and being with family, I believe it should not always be a one-way street: a woman's career and capabilities are just as important. They must be considered in these decisions as well.

It is also essential to send the message that women should not have to depend on anyone else to earn or provide for their families–we are just as capable of getting that coveted lead role. You are your person, with achievements you worked hard for and should be proud of.

Support and encourage others

It's essential to see that this "war" is not one we should fight independently. One woman's achievement is a step up for all women, and that is why I believe in encouraging women and young girls as much as I can.

There are so many strong, capable women. But sadly, some are surrounded by people who make them doubt themselves. I know this because there are times when self-doubt also affects my self-worth. I have second-guessed myself and have felt that I was not enough. During those times, encouragement from someone I trust is greatly valued. I try to be that figure of encouragement to those who need a boost to believe in themselves.

This is a deep-rooted issue that will take effort from all areas of society to solve. As an Asian woman who feels the weight of these expectations daily, I try to do my part in overcoming these biases. I am hopeful that we can move towards a fair society with equal rights for all with these small steps.

I know it's only a matter of time before we see women occupying more coveted roles. It only takes one woman to break the ceiling, and the rest will follow. I believe that the only way to change is to go ahead and do it and take what is deservedly ours.

Fe Husaint is the creative and global brand head at Green Park Content