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Pink Ties: Her Life, Stepping into Leadership

Leading up to WU’s Career Panel on the 27th of September, we thought we’d start some conversations about what it's like to be a woman in different industries, at different stages of their careers. In this edition of Pink Ties, Hsin interviews Adeline, a Manufacturing Manager at Amgen. They discuss what it’s been like being a leader and a mentor to others, and the importance of having woman leaders in a workplace.

If you’re interested in getting tips on applying to a job, learning about different lines of work, or in gender-related workplace issues, join us on the 27th of September from 4-6pm at WU’s Career Panel. Learn more here, and register here.

Hey Adeline! Why don't you start by introducing yourself to our readers?

I’m Adeline, I’m from Malaysia. I grew up in KL. I graduated in 2015 from NUS with a degree in Chemical Engineering, and my speciality was in Biomolecular Engineering because I had quite an interest in the biopharmaceutical industry. So when I graduated in 2015, I joined Amgen, a biotech company. I think the thing that drew me to Amgen was the single-use technology, because that was something that the other biopharma companies don’t have; when I joined in 2015, Amgen was already using cutting-edge technology.

I heard that you recently became a manager, is that right?

Yep, since May of this year! Initially when I joined the company I was a manufacturing associate, so I was running operations on the floor. After two years of running operations I went on to become a process support engineer. In process support you deal with new product introductions and audits from organisations like the FDA. After two years in process support I wanted to learn more about people management, which is why I took on this role as a manufacturing manager.

As a manager, your role must be very different from what it was. Do you like what you do?

As a manager the thing that really sets you apart is the people part of work. Previously, I dealt with the operations part of it, the process response part of it, the decision-making, etc. But with being a people manager, the thing that is really different and new is developing and coaching people. It can be very rewarding. It can be tiring at times, and because I am new there’s a lot of learning involved, but I think when you see people grow and they say that your advice has been really helpful to them, that’s when it becomes very rewarding. It’s sort of like I’m a teacher, and when I get thanks for guiding my team in the right direction, it’s good to feel that I’ve helped someone.

It appears that you are now becoming a mentor to a lot of people in your workplace. When you first started out, was it easy for you to find your own mentors?

When I first started out it took some work because I'm naturally more introverted. So to go out and talk to people and ask for mentorship was a challenge for me. From the moment I started doing it, it became easier as I got into the groove of it. The first time you do it you think people are going to think you’re weird because who does that around here? But it really got easier and everyone was very open to it. Amgen thought it was a good idea and they started reaching out to early-career professionals to ask if employees wanted mentorship. In Amgen especially there was a really good platform for mentorship. Right now I have two mentors that I go to consistently. One of them moved on to work in the US but we still talk once a month. In Singapore I have a mentor from a different function. I picked her because I really liked her leadership style. I went up to her and we chatted about her function and her role, and I asked her for advice about how she manages certain difficult situations. I had been in meetings with her and I really liked the way she carried herself, so it started from there!

You mentioned that gender diversity isn’t really a problem in chemical engineering. It's good to know there’s gender diversity in the field, and I wonder if despite that, women still gravitate to one another for mentorship?

I think it still happens. I think women have a slightly different way of doing things. I recently read an article about the difference between how men and women react in meetings. The article said that when women go into meetings they tend to say “sorry” a lot (more than men). So I personally chose my mentor because I liked the way that she carried herself. And to be honest, sometimes women don't get by with certain behaviours. Sometimes you see a woman being very strong and firm, and you hear these comments being made about her, like people saying that she’s a b****. But for men, if you demonstrate the same behaviours, you’d be seen as being driven, and people will say that “he knows what he wants.” In that way a woman mentor can help more to provide the necessary perspective to tell you how to avoid these negative perceptions. That’s why I chose my mentor -- I felt she got respect not just as a woman, but for what she did and for what she knew.

Do you find yourself wary about behaving a certain way? That you’d come off a certain way just because you’re a woman?

Initially yes. I watched myself and thought about how the things I might say would be received. But after a while it becomes a habit. And to be honest, even men do this. They may be very direct with their words and depending on who the audience is, sometimes they get feedback for it, and sometimes they don’t. But I think as women we are often judged more harshly for it. So there is a sense that I have to watch what I say, or watch my tone. But I think now this comes a bit more naturally.

Do you have a theory for why, even within the sciences, in different fields of the sciences there is such a variance in gender ratios? For example, like you said, there are not many gender diversity problems in chemical engineering, but fields like physics are notorious for having extremely unbalanced gender ratios.

I don't think I have a theory for this. I think it's the bias as well, where if a girl were to go into mechanical engineering, she’d get comments like “why would you want to go into mechanical engineering? There are so many guys there! It’s just going to be a sausage party.” Haha! It's just the perceptions, and the girls that hear this might think, ok, maybe I’ll do better in bioengineering. It could be that it's just the perception and comments that we get, and that translates into reality. But I do think that having the “female touch” can help. I see in some engineering projects, the attention to detail that women have really helps. Yes it’s a male-dominated field, but having women around brings different qualities to the table, for sure.

Do you think that businesses and employers in science can do better in terms of encouraging diversity?

Most definitely. When I first started out as a Manufacturing Associate we had four Operations Managers. They were all male. But now we have three female managers, out of the eight managers. I think the company has changed a lot, just from the leaders that we’ve had. I think more of them started to be more open to having more women in leadership positions. In recent times we do see lots of women in leadership positions. I think having these women in leadership positions inspires young women. Before becoming a manager I thought about my current manager, and thought, you know, she can do it, and she’s doing it. I can do it as well. So why not? And this is one of the reasons why I applied for the position! It is most definitely important to have women leaders around. That presence in a company shows that you choose people based on merit and not based on gender. It also inspires women who are right for the role to apply for it.

It's nice to hear that times are changing. As someone who’s just recently joined the ranks of these woman leaders, what has your leadership style been like? How do you plan to support young women who were once like you?

I'm still new, so my leadership style is still evolving. I work with my team on developing their five-year plans, and ask them to think about what excites them. We use these ideas to set them in the right direction. This approach is equal for all, and isn't exclusively for women. For women, at least from what I perceived from the team, confidence might be low. So, I'd encourage them to go out and speak up, find any chance to talk to the bosses or people from other functions, and interact and collaborate with them. One of the best pieces of advice I've received, because I was very quiet in the past, was to just attend meetings, and own them. If you go to these meetings thinking that you’re just going to stand at the back and not say anything, then people are going to treat you that way. You’re just going to be a wallflower. But if you go, sit at the table, and fake it till you make it. It’ll happen. So that’s what I tell my teammates, especially the girls. I’ll tell them to go to these meetings, remember that you know your stuff, and just talk.

Do you find maybe that these women are more comfortable taking advice from you, than maybe from a male manager?

I think so! I think it is received better when it is coming from another woman. Sometimes if men tell them they have to be confident, they might think, “Well yeah you're a man, it’s easy for you to say!” But maybe coming from a small girl like me, they might see that I overcame that too, and they’ll know they can do it too. The advice to “fake it till you make it” also came from a woman senior manager, and she really inspired me as well. I felt, coming from her, that it was good advice, and that I should try it.

OK, one last question. A fun one, I hope. If you could turn back the clock to meet yourself when you first entered the workforce, what are some things you would tell yourself?

Don’t take yourself so seriously. You don't have to be so uptight. When you’re at meetings or when you're doing projects, people are sometimes very afraid to talk (they’re afraid they'll be perceived a certain way). I think if people were more open you'd get a lot more fresh ideas. So yeah, don’t take yourself so seriously. Just go, live your life, you’ll be okay.

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