“We have a choice, and we should celebrate the ability of having that choice by being more compassionate about the choices you and others around you are making,” said Amy Zheng (Co-founder & CEO of Amazin' Graze) as she opens the floor to final EndeavHER of 2021. In our fourth installment of the EndeavHER webinar series moderated by our Local Endeavor Entrepreneur Amy Zheng herself, they discussed the idea of "Having-It-All" for women leaders while maintaining health in all aspects. The discussion was shared between an all-woman panel from the Endeavor APAC network consisted of four other remarkable female figures: Denise Keller (TV Personality, Producer, Celebrity Yoga Instructor), Amina Sugimoto (Co-founder & CEO of fermata inc), Denise Sandquist (Co-founder & CEO of Fika) and Levana Sani (Co-founder of Nalagenetics). Five women from five different cities rocking five different industries, this all-woman panel touched on a range of aspects – from managing internal challenges to handling external challenges faced specifically by women in their careers.
What does it take to switch gears in your career paths?
As the first Singaporean to be an MTV host, Denise Keller opened up about the perks as well as her struggles being on screen. In recent years, authenticity is key for being in a career where most parts of your life is exposed to the public. Currently authenticity from celebrities is highly appreciated as for the recent past years, there has been more and more demand for it from the public. However, during her earlier days in her career, celebrities are required to look like they have it all, especially on screen-young skin, youthful personality, positive and optimistic attitude all day all week. Now, Denise Keller shared that she too had her moments where she cried in the bathroom at work as they too are human after all. In what she considered as the best time of her life, she acknowledged that there was still an overwhelming amount of critique that she personally received especially during the earlier phases of her hosting journey. Despite winning against five thousand other girls for the host role at MTV, she emphasized that it wasn’t her golden ticket for a forever smooth cruise trip. She believes that her strong tenacity helped her in differentiating her from other individuals. The strength that gave her the ability to withstand it all - to put up a masculine front at work, and then go back home to decompress to nature afterwards.
Establish your bearings, understand yourself
As for Denise Sandquist, she believes that the first step in anything that you do, be it personal or at work, is to understand yourself. Manifesting this belief in her company’s business model, she herself founded Fika, an AI powered dating app focusing on women. As she observed herself and women’s point of views in the dating course, she realized the need to create a dating app that specially caters to female-focused problems. For example, Fika addresses the various fears women have when it comes to their dating lives that men don’t have. This shows that it is important for you, especially women, to understand yourself and every part of you that comes along in everything that you do. To understand yourself as a woman, that you are a little bit different than men, helps you to navigate your way through life while ensuring that it caters to your special needs that you have willingly embraced. Developed in 2020, Fika has recently raised US$1.6 million in a seed funding round led by VNV Global.
Being in a male-dominated field, tell us more about your findings and how your career field right now specifically relates to women.
Levana co-founded Nalagenetics, where they create systems to implement pharmacogenomics testing in clinical settings. Pharmacogenomics is a field that studies the relationship of genomics and drug metabolism. According to Levana, currently around 80% of genetic testing comes from Caucasian population, when in fact Asians make at least 20% of the global population. She observed this as an issue due to the fact that this means many prescriptions are made based on results of tests that were tested on genetics that may or may not represent you well. As a result, many patients end up experiencing permanent side effects from drugs that were supposed to cure their pain. Realizing the problem in the status quo, Levana and her co-founders wanted to empower personalized medicine especially for Asian ethnicity as it was not being looked into much yet at the time. Genetics information can save lives yet the field is battling access as there is not enough genetics analytics.
Transforming taboos into triumphs
Many studies have shown that women’s health issues have often been ignored and discriminated against caused by double standards and misogynist perspectives by the medical world. As a consequence, women’s health issues are more often than not considered as topics many people don’t really want to talk about, even the women themselves. Therefore, Amina co-founded Fermata to help transform taboos into triumphs with technologies that can clarify and inform women about their own body. In order to accelerate the access to knowledge and technologies developed for diversifying and liberating women's wellness. From menstruation to menopause, Amina emphasized that female health issues often require physical products to further make a point. This is on top of the fact that it is a new emerging industry that focuses on trying to solve women's health issues using technology. In the west, indeed there are quite a lot of different products and services already emerging in the market scene. However, in many other countries, this industry is still relatively new and much considered as a taboo.
Unrealistic expectations against women across the globe
Spending the last 20 years in the media industry, Denise Keller said, “It’s unfortunate that here in Asia, we have many unrealistic expectations about always being youthful as a woman when age is really just a number”. The media industry might not exactly be a male-dominated space, however the standards and expectations are still very much dominated from a male point of view. Hence, unrealistic values are still predominantly wide and unfairly enforced against women.
It is always valuable for one to have core values in place, as the world has its unfair standards held against the minorities and the disadvantaged groups which in many places include women. In Denise Sandquist’s case, she firmly shared that her company put their core values in place and hence is very active at universities to empower the younger generation. She also believes that the more they communicate, the more women they are able to reach out to join their community.
Oprah Winfrey once said “Women can have it all, just not at the same time”. From your personal perspectives, how do you feel about this statement?
Denise Keller mentioned that she shares a similar sentiment as a public figure in the media industry, where the field inevitably took parts of your personal life away. Hence, being a woman in this industry more often than not means to continuously find the non-existent balance and being really conscious of your timeline at the same time as well. It’s an unfortunate case of it being an endless loop currently many women are trapped in.
Having a good support system by your side helps, big time
Genetics is powerful and can tell you a lot of things but it can never be the only factor that determines something about you. Similarly, as much as a woman would like to believe that they can have it all, it is inhumane to expect such high standards for yourself in every aspect of your life. Therefore, Levana shared the importance of having a good support system by your side in achieving your dreams and attempts in having-it-all. Levana said, “it never should take just one person to do everything. It’s important to have a support system that stays with you for a long time.” As she delved into the field further, she realized that there’s a lot of responsibilities that come into managing someone’s genetic information. Applying a similar philosophy in reflecting on life in general, it is always good for an individual to have a good circle that is always able to share and carry the burden with you along the journey.
Live in the present moment, that’s what matters
For many, especially women, they’re pushed and pressured by society and media to uphold a certain image/personality. However, Amina shared how she’s content with prioritizing the present time and what she wants currently. Being truthful to her life principals, she personally does not want to have everything. She further explains by saying that having-it-all is different for every person, as well as at different ages. What is all to person A and person B can vary differently. Hence to Amina, the present time is simply what’s most important to her at the moment. This is because she also believes that life has its pluses and minuses. She said, “A person might look like they have everything in life, but there’s always parts that you’ll never be able to see from your side”.
Make more compassionate choices and be more compassionate about other people’s choices
Founding a company where 90% of the management team are women, Amy wrapped the discussion by emphasizing the beauty of having a choice. That at the very least, every individual has a choice today. She said, “We have a choice, and we should celebrate the ability to have that choice by being more compassionate about the choices you and others around you are making”. It is easy to assume that your choices are bad and to envy others' decision making skills, or vice versa. However at the end of the day, as long as each of us makes the best of the limited capabilities and resources we have as well as the circumstances that we are in, we’re all good to go.
The content of this article is summarised from the EndeavHER session organised by the APAC Endeavor offices: Endeavor Malaysia, Indonesia, Philippines, Vietnam & Japan. Endeavor is the world’s leading community of high-impact entrepreneurs. We dream big, scale up, and pay it forward. Follow us on our social media pages to get the latest news on upcoming events and key learnings.