First Appeared on Smart Investor’s May 2023 issue
A report by the Securities Commission Malaysia (SC) shows that the number of women holding board positions in the private sector stood at 29% as of 31 December 2022. Meanwhile, according to the Women, Family and Community Development Minister Datuk Seri Nancy Shukri, in the public sector, over 38.2% of women were at decision-making levels professionally, holding senior-level positions in the JUSA (Jawatan Utama Sektor Awam) category.
Smart Investor contacted Michelle Johnson, general manager of marketing and product development of Niro Ceramic Group (NCG), one of the female figures on NCG’s board of leaders. She talks to us about the insights on the importance of equal opportunity in the workplace and what companies can do to create more opportunities for women to excel in their careers.
Smart Investor: As a successful woman in a leadership position, what challenges have you faced in your career, and how did you overcome them?
Michelle Johnson: As the chief of marketing at NCG, I’ve learnt that being adaptable and flexible is paramount to staying a step ahead of the marketing landscape for the tile industry. Managing a growing team of marketing professionals with varying skill sets and personalities can certainly raise a few roadblocks. However, as a leader, I’ve found that camaraderie and effective communication helps to build a strong foundation for an agile team.
SI: How can companies create a more diverse and inclusive workplace for women, particularly in a male-dominated industry?
MJ: Creating a more diverse and inclusive workplace for women in a male-dominated industry requires sustained efforts and a commitment to change. For a start, companies should nurture a strong culture of inclusivity internally. This means fostering a safe and welcoming environment that empowers employees to express their ideas, opinions, and concerns freely.
SI: What role do you think women leaders play in driving innovation and growth within a company?
MJ: Women leaders can bring diverse perspectives and experiences to the table, which helps drive innovation and creative problem-solving. With more diverse leadership, companies will have a more comprehensive understanding of their market and meet the needs of a broader range of customers and stakeholders to drive innovation and growth within a company.
SI: In your opinion, what qualities are essential for success in a leadership role?
MJ: Throughout my career, I’ve found that the quality of being inspiring is vital for success. To lead is to inspire and motivate the people around me to realise their potential and achieve greater things. I strive to inspire by setting a good example, providing actionable feedback and recognition, and nurturing a positive and inclusive work environment.
Besides that, I also find that being visionary is the key to a successful leadership role. As a leader, having a very clear vision for the future of your organisation helps materialise sizable growth opportunities. Having the ability to conceptualise and communicate that vision effectively is incredibly important.
SI: Can you tell us about a time when you had to make a difficult decision as a leader and how you navigated that situation?
MJ: As a leader, my guiding principles are honesty and integrity. These values help me make coherent decisions, even when challenging or uncomfortable. I have consistently demonstrated these values to those above me, my peers, and those under my leadership. By upholding these principles, I have earned the respect of those around me, and I remain committed to maintaining these values in all my actions and interactions.
SI: What advice would you give young women just starting their careers in marketing and product development?
MJ: Be curious and stay up-to-date with the latest industry trends. The marketing and product development fields are ever-changing for most industries. Always have the drive to learn new things by keeping up with the latest industry movements. You can start by always having a pulse on the market movements and developments by reading industry publications, attending industry events and networking with other industry professionals.
Identify and harness your strengths and focus on refining them further. It could be your eye for analytics or your creativity. Focusing on your strengths will help propel your career trajectory and stand out, especially in a saturated landscape.