SMU students impress at the inaugural SheXO Young Leaders Challenge

A Deloitte Singapore and United Women Singapore initiative that supports the development of young women leaders

Singapore Management University (SMU) students swiped half of the ten winning spots at the inaugural SheXO Young Leaders Challenge, an initiative designed to draw focus on diversity and inclusion in the Singapore workplace.

The five winners from SMU are Anagi Fernando (Year 4, School of Economics); Brenda Wang (Year 4, School of Social Sciences); Lai Siew Ping (Year 4, School of Social Sciences ); Salin Yap (Year 2, Lee Kong Chian School of Business) and Yeo Zhi Ning (Year 2, Lee Kong Chian School of Business). Congratulations!

The Challenge was open to female students enrolled in any undergraduate programme in a Singapore university, and candidates participate in an individual capacity to propose a solution to a challenge question based on the topic. The goal of this challenge was to nurture and inspire young women, and give them a head start in their leadership aspirations before they enter the workforce.

Out of 59 submissions received, ten winners were chosen based on their analysis of and solution to the challenge question “If you were a leader in current time, how would you improve the commonly used practices to promote gender diversity, inclusion and equal opportunities in Singapore corporate organisations today?”, and their presentation delivery in the final round of judging. Candidates were encouraged to consider, but not limit their analysis and solutions to the following areas of gender diversity and fair representation in the firm and leadership roles; workplace discrimination and biasness and fairness in recruitment.

At the virtual award ceremony which took place on 14 December 2021, winners were awarded a paid internship either with Deloitte or with a supporting organisation of the SheXO Young Leaders Challenge (SheXO YLC) and mentorship with an experienced woman business leader from the same organisation. They will also receive a cash prize and be given access to networking opportunities at Deloitte events.

The judges were really impressed by participants of the challenge. Ms Sheila NG, Chief Financial Officer, Raffles Medical Group and SheXO YLC mentor had this to say, ““I was impressed by the diversity and thoroughness of research into the topic of presentation. The participants were all well prepared and articulate in putting their views across. It is important to nurture young people, in particular women, to aspire to take leadership positions as they advance in their career. I urge all young people, especially women, not to be bound by gender perceptions as they advance in their career, regardless of the industry they are working in.

Ms SEAH Gek Choo, Deloitte Singapore’s SheXO Program Leader congratulated the winners and said, “It was a pleasure to witness the fire and zeal as they shared passionately their vision of a future without bias and discrimination. They displayed their leadership potential, and it is our hope that these young women will build on this momentum and support other young women that aspire to make an impact that benefits the society and the economy. This will certainly be an important step towards creating a pipeline of young women leaders, and opening doors for them so that there can be a more diverse voice in many organisations.”

When asked what motivated them to participate in this challenge, Brenda Wang said,  “I have always been someone interested in gender inclusion and empowerment but it was only after taking several modules under my Politics, Law and Economics and Public Policy and Public Management majors, including gender politics and social stratification, that I had the opportunity to think more deeply about gender diversity and inclusion and discuss them with my peers. SheXO YLC was a great opportunity for me to pursue my interests in gender issues while challenging my writing and presentation skills.” She added that her case analysed the state of gender diversity and inclusion in Singapore, including the key challenges in Singapore workplaces and programmes that corporate organisations have implemented to address the issue. Based on her analysis, she had identified three solutions that corporates could take to better address gender diversity and inclusion and these were: (i) to use AI technology to make hiring processes fairer, (ii) include gender diversity and inclusion as KPIs, and (iii) implement women mentoring men platforms.

For Salin Yap, it was her the first time participating in a case challenge and she appreciated how well-organised and accessible this challenge was. “During my university journey thus far, I have drawn a lot of inspiration and drive from my peers, especially the admirable women around me. This motivated me to say yes to the opportunities I chance upon to challenge myself personally. As cliché as it sounds, saying yes and facing the challenge head on after will bring great fulfilment to one.”

As for Lai Siew Ping, the challenge of creating a more diverse and inclusive workforce really resonated with her and this was a key reason for her to submit a proposal with recommendations to tackle these issues. “I believe these issues will only grow more pressing over time as Singapore and the world grows increasingly connected and hence diverse. Yet, the measures currently available have barely scratched the surface on creating a workforce everyone can feel comfortable and want to work in.” She had three main recommendations: (a) ensuring a fair recruitment process (e.g., blind hiring practices where non-job-related criteria will not be revealed until necessary; (b) creating a workplace environment wherein anyone would feel comfortable in; (c) representation at leadership level positions (i.e. equal men and women as well as LGBTQ representation).

“As an international student from Sri Lanka, women's empowerment and gender equality issues are close to my heart, having witnessed the gaps that exist in both developing and developed countries, said Anagi Fernando.

“While researching for this challenge, it shocked me that there was still motherhood penalties and vertical segregation existing in our society. My solutions highlighted the need for organisations to focus on creating systems that celebrate and promote gender equality and inclusion in order to have long-lasting and sustainable change. I am incredibly excited and humbled by this win! I look forward to the internship and mentorship opportunities. I am eager to get advice and guidance to kickstart my career, and I aspire to join an organisation where I can contribute and add value; to challenge the norms and help create a more inclusive workplace culture” added Anagi.

For Yeo Zhi Ning, “An aspiration of mine is to help cultivate a healthy environment for growth no matter where I work. I hope to be able to make a change by speaking up about the D&I issues that affect many.  This was my first case challenge that I have participated in, and I thought that it would be a good opportunity to step out of my comfort zone and try something new. I was very happy and surprised to hear about my win, and I am very excited for the upcoming internship and mentorship. This is an amazing opportunity, and I am looking forward to growing under my mentor.”

Congratulations to these five undergraduates who have made SMU proud!