With a loving family and a successful public relations business in Singapore and Malaysia, many probably see Elaine Seah as a formidable woman – focused, empowered and successful. We speak with her to find out how she defines success and what gender parity means this International Women’s Day.
Q1. In your opinion what measures success and if so, what would your greatest career achievement to date be?
Money and happiness are often regarded as the coefficients of success. The definition of success is once too often misconstrued and misguided by the perception of others. People often think that a happy person who is financially liberated is a successful person. Perhaps, but certainly not in my regard.
Success is as personal as the perfume we wear. It is never to be measured against the yardstick of others. The best definition of success is the oft-quoted one by Sir Winston Churchill “Success is the ability go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm.” No one is able to measure success except oneself; there is no way success can be projected onto others.
From one of the most inspiring women of our time, Michelle Obama said: “I never dreamt about success. I worked for it.” I couldn’t agree more. If I may correlate Brand Inc.’s success to mine, then I would say that the greatest success is the ability to embrace, adopt and effect change. We live in an era in which we witness the greatest and fastest change. When I first started as a junior in a PR company, fax and phone were common in our outreach to the media. No instant messaging.
We tasted some success when we found our niche: We were one of the first consumer lifestyle PR agencies in the early 2000s. We continue to reinvent ourselves and thriving in a competitive landscape such as Singapore and Kuala Lumpur is in itself a success.
My sense of career achievement, however, does not solely rest on the journey Brand Inc. has taken. It is far more personal. I derive joy and sense of accomplishment from staff whom I personally saw to training. Some are with Brand Inc. and others have left. These individuals have a special place in my heart, and to see them blossom as an individual or in their career gives me the greatest sense of achievement.
Q2. In light of gender parity being one of the main focuses of International Women’s Day, how do you think a small organisation like Brand Inc can strive for gender parity?
Gender parity can be achieved by any organisation regardless of size. If I may draw a parallel, it is a concept not far from Singapore’s founding success: Meritocracy. Like any sustainable organisation, remuneration and career opportunities are offered to those who perform, without discrimination.
At Brand Inc., we believe in career emancipation through education and skills upgrade. Women with different backgrounds have walked through the doors of Brand Inc., flexi-work, training and on-the-job coaching have been provided indiscriminately as long as they look to work as a form of independence and self-reaffirmation. Gender parity is within reach as long as a fair opportunity to learn and to work is given.
Breaking the stigma
Story of a homemaker turned sole breadwinner
Fear was my greatest enemy. Status quo was my comfort zone.
Having to rejoin the workforce after five years of being a homemaker, I was overwhelmed and paralysed by changes, especially in digital communications.
Under the encouragement of my team and support from my family, I took a MS Office refreshment course with SkillsCredit and then another basic Outlook class, supported by the company. I am very glad I took the first step to challenge my fear and embrace change.
The ability to contribute to the company with my polished skills renewed my confidence and helped me allay my fear by and by. And now, I am the sole breadwinner of my household, comprising my elderly parents.
Empowerment starts from within. And parity from opportunity and skill sets, not age, race or gender.
My lack of confidence stemmed from my lack of relevant skills. It was resolved with a fervour to learn, and of course the courage to face fear. I would encourage those with the same predicament to take the first step out.
This is a inspiring story of Ms Pei Cheng, Brand Inc.’s staff, who is in her mid-forties. She hopes to encourage ladies in similar situations to step out by sharing her learning experience.
Q3 What would your advice be for women who are considering between working and staying home?
For many mothers, including myself, it is a constant struggle between career pursuit and caring for the home. A new pilot programme by Singapore government offers 6 months parental leave to employees of the government sector. It aims to close the gap and encourage the dwindling birth rate in Singapore. While it is applauded by some, inherent challenges still exist.
Firstly, such programme is not applicable to non-government sector. Secondly, a universal challenge for those seeking to be re-employed is employability – relevance of skillset, adjustment to working hours and adaptation to stress, and the programme does not address that.
Fortunately for Singaporeans, there is SkillsFuture. It is an initiative by the government to allow for skills upgrade.
For ladies struggling between work and home, my advice is always to take a small step each time. Upgrade yourself (there are many e-learning courses which you can take from home with SkillsCredit. ). Start with flexi-work or part-time work to regain confidence. From there, you will find the compass to your calling.