|6 of 15 executive leadership team members are women|
|Managers Who Coach and Develop|
|Objective Hiring, Performance Reviews, and Promotion|
|Flexibility & Family Leave|
When Alpha Investment Partners (AIP), a Singapore-based real estate investment manager, started 12 years ago, the proportion of male to female employees was roughly ten to two. Now, the company’s 78 employees are composed of slightly more women than men (AIP estimates that its current employee group is approximately 60 percent female). Furthermore, the managing director and much of the senior management team are women. “We did not intentionally try to control or balance the proportion of males and females,” says Ang Sock Cheng, a finance director who started with AIP when it formed 12 years ago. Rather, she remarks, it was a matter of “what talent could we find based on the needs we had and merit.” Regardless of the reason, in an industry that is traditionally dominated by men, these numbers are impressive.
The theme of having the right talent comes up frequently at AIP, which many employees describe as a “people business.” According to Ang, “We don’t sell products. We go out and sell the team and investment strategy. Real estate is the end product.” Yang Qianru, vice president of investment, feels similarly, describing a strong team of unique people that works collaboratively as colleagues, starting with senior management down through junior management. This focus has paid off for AIP, since the company enjoys a good deal of success with US$8.6 billion gross value of managed assets.
Since they represent just over 50 percent of AIP’s workforce, women contribute significantly to the company’s achievements. AIP understands this and works with its female employees to ensure they have what they need to be successful and to continue to contribute to the company. For example, the Singaporean government mandates that companies provide 16 weeks of maternity leave, and AIP is supportive of its employees taking this leave all at once. Yang describes her own personal experience with requiring time off after having a child as very supportive. The AIP managing director, Christina Tan, made an effort to let her know that she should take time off if she needed to.
Moreover, AIP emphasizes the importance of performing well and delivering a strong work product above all. This allows for additional flexibility in working schedules. As long as an individual is doing excellent work, managers do not mind if someone needs to leave a bit early so that she or he can balance work and family. Shirley Ng, senior vice president of portfolio management, describes AIP’s management as “understanding . . . that we need to cater to sick kids and have to take care of our families.” While there is no formalized flexible work arrangement policy, management trusts that employees will do what they need to in order to perform at work and take care of their families.
While AIP takes an informal approach to flexible working, the company has a number of more formal programs to support employees in their career development. For example, leadership development programs are available for employees at different levels within the organization. And since AIP is part of Keppel Capital, one of Asia’s premier asset managers, its senior management is able to participate in programs through the globally renowned Keppel Leadership Institute. A mentorship program that pairs individuals with mentors from different parts of the company has also recently been introduced.
Though these programs are not specifically geared to women, AIP’s female employees certainly participate in them and take advantage of the opportunities they present. Overall, women at AIP feel very supported in their careers. Finance manager Tan Wei Yan cites her own personal story of coming into AIP with very little confidence. Her managers saw potential in her, though, and gave her specific opportunities to attend trainings to grow her knowledge and to present at meetings to develop her public speaking skills. She says her supervisors’ support helped tremendously with developing her self-esteem. Now Tan does her part to coach her juniors, scheduling formal development sessions on a bimonthly basis.
Traits like high self-esteem and confidence are necessary attributes for AIP’s female employees to possess. Seng Lai Leng, an assistant finance manager who joined AIP after working at EY and another unnamed commercial firm, describes the female leaders at AIP as quite different from others she has encountered. They have excellent leadership and presentation skills and speak directly and transparently about what work needs to be accomplished. Other employees cite drive and commitment to work as two attributes shared by the majority of women at AIP.
Singapore as a country is not necessarily a leader in gender inequality. According to the 2016 Global Gender Gap Index, published by the World Economic Forum, Singapore ranks 58th out of 144 countries in achieving gender equality. Yet AIP represents an example of where progress has been made and what achievement of gender equality can look like. Ng stated, “Many years ago, real estate was a ‘male industry.’ Now there is a lot of female representation, which is a positive sign.”