Vanessa Chan is the Vice President for Asia Pacific Business Development, IGT. In this role, she is responsible for building new businesses for IGT within the Asia Pacific region.
How do you balance between work and your personal life?
First, I try to understand and make room for my priorities, then I focus on finding balance and space. Remember, your career is only part of your life. You can achieve balance by building a life that’s much larger than your career. And it’s important to recognize that you might not find it overnight — it takes a lot of trial and error.
Yoga, running, and meditation are an important part of my life. Being in touch with nature and the world outside of my business network is the way I find my balance.
Why is gender diversity important to you?
We can’t maximize our potential as humans until we can truly see everyone as equal, and treat them as such. Discrimination puts an artificial cap on what we can achieve as individuals and as a whole. In my view, having diverse representation across all sphere – including life and career – will ensure that we are truly optimizing human achievement.
What do you think are the challenges for females working in a male dominant industry?
One of the more prominent challenges that I have witnessed is the expectation for women to work harder to fill the gender gap in compensation and promotions. We are often expected to do things better than our male peers just to get the same opportunities, which sometimes don’t materialize. Nowadays, with the help of data, we know that things like gender pay gap exist, so companies can work to address these issues.
Stereotypes can also be an issue in industries that are less diverse. Assumptions are made based on external factors, which oftentimes put people in boxes that unfairly define them and limit their career opportunities. When you’re in the minority, whether it is in terms of gender, race, or other traits, it’s human nature to feel like you have to bend over backward to try to fit in whenever you are outnumbered. This can range from communication styles to team activities and conversational topics, which can at times be quite lonely and uncomfortable. That said, I do believe it is improving and the good experiences far outweigh the bad.
Can you share with us some of the initiatives that your current company/previous companies had done to address gender diversity?
At IGT, we are working together to build an even more diverse and inclusive company that anticipates and meets the needs of the ever-changing demographics of the communities that we serve. Embracing and anticipating change provides us with an opportunity to build and support a workforce that reflects those global shifts.
In early 2017, IGT took the important step of launching the Executive Diversity and Inclusion Council, which works on our global strategic plan for diversity and inclusion. We also hired Kim Lee as our first ever Vice President, Diversity and Inclusion, with the responsibility to ensure the successful implementation of the strategic plan. In year one, we focused on developing awareness and language, and have grown from there to address prioritized gaps, implement policy and procedure recommendations, launch employee business resource networks, and increase measurements against benchmarks.
What is your advice to leaders who want to create a more diverse culture?
As a leader, you need to be the first one to demonstrate and encourage empathy and kindness, so we can all feel comfortable showing our true selves. You need to welcome displays of vulnerability, including your own.
At the corporate level, you need to walk the talk by creating programs and education to help employees take the leap. Behaviours such as labelling and showing bias can be extinguished more effectively with support and professional development.
If you could go back to the beginning of your career, what advice would you give yourself?
I’d tell myself to be authentic — don’t let others tell you who you should be. Stay true to the values and styles that resonate with you.
I’d also tell myself to make room for life to surprise me. There was a time when my younger, overachiever self would overstuff my calendar so I would feel that I was making progress on my career every single day. In hindsight, I didn’t give myself enough breathing room to reflect and learn from my experiences. And I’ve come to realise that some of the best ideas and insights come when you’re not solely focused on work.
The same theory applies to career planning. You don’t have to micromanage everything. Sometimes you don’t know what will be around the corner. Trust your gut. Even if you need to take a little detour, it’s okay — enjoy it. Who knows what you can find in the rose garden?