How to Thrive in a Male-Dominated Industry – 4 Key Takeaways from a Successful Female CEO

Tan Chong Motor Holdings Berhad Group CEO - Dato’ Rosie Tan, shares a personal note on how she forged her career in a male-dominated field.

It used to be an obvious gender bias that lingers in the workplace, more so, in a male-dominated industry. Some women who work in STEM fields (Science, Technology, Engineering or Math) are still facing some of the biggest struggles in the equality fight.

The challenges that women face in those industries and occupations include being overlooked on promotions due to stereotypes surrounding masculine criteria; having their opinions disrespected due to their gender, and striking a balance between working and family life, often sacrificing the latter to succeed and gain status within their organisation.

Despite the unique challenges these women face, we have seen an increasing number of articles highlighting top female business leaders such as Mary Barra, CEO of General Motors, Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, and Meg Whitman, CEO of Hewlett Packard Enterprise. The visibility of female role models plays a significant role in inspiring other women to pursue similar careers, as well as proving that success in these male-dominant systems is achievable.

Where do we begin when it comes to advocating for equality in the workplace? Well, it is always good to hear words of advice from women who have been through this struggle. In this article, we hope to inspire you with a personal note from Dato’ Rosie Tan, Group CEO of Tan Chong Motor Holdings Berhad on how she managed to build her career in a male-dominated industry. The CEO was also conferred the Entrepreneur of The Year Award at Enterprise Asia’s by-invitation only event – the Asia Pacific Entrepreneurship Awards 2018.

My Corporate Life

I started my professional career with Tan Chong Motor Holdings Berhad at a very young age. I am grateful to have been under the tutelage of the Group founder, Tan Sri Dato’ Tan Yuet Foh. Having been part of the growth of the Group, I am proud to have worked through the ranks to become the Group CEO of a blue-chip listed company in Malaysia. I have seen the changes the Group has undergone and have made significant contributions to the overall operations to ensure growth and profitability.

Being a woman in a male-dominated industry is a challenge in itself. Having had to deal with the stigma that a woman is not as capable as a man is frustrating, but I used that negativity to my advantage. I studied their concerns and planned out my actions and thoughts to counter those popular misconceptions and proved them wrong. It was not easy and often I felt that I had failed but I persevered. I attribute this success to the hard work and dedication of my team and the belief that if you put your heart and soul into everything that you do, you can accomplish anything. My past has made me the stronger woman that I am today.

My area of concentration within the Group is financial management. The role of a financial caretaker is crucial to ensure that profitability remains the major focus of the Group. Having set-up, a strong financial structure for the Group which encompasses both local and international businesses, this has ensured the financial growth of the Group remains resilient even through the many financial meltdowns that many companies had succumbed to.

Apart from finance, I have also structured our Human Resource function to enable the Group to be the preferred employee of choice in the marketplace; specifically, for the newer generation of employees. We have evolved the Group to be a modern and dynamic organisation to work for. We have many employees who attest to this, as they have been with us for many years and have had their children join the Group to begin their careers with us.

The same approach was also applied to the Information Technology division of the Group. We made significant investments into our IT infrastructure to enable us to cope with the demands of our growing business and presence locally and in Indochina and selected countries around the world. These investments proved worthwhile as they have enabled us to operate virtually 24/7, 365 days a year. Our manpower is now mobile and able to complete their tasks easily and efficiently as they are constantly connected to our networks anytime of the day and from anywhere in the world.

My Personal Goal

I adopt a holistic approach when it comes to health and I have always found it important to take time off; to care for myself by relaxing and keeping fit. Keeping my body constantly active improves my overall stamina. I am a staunch believer that living a holistic lifestyle is a lot healthier than most styles of living. I choose to live my life and heal my body through natural remedies. Living holistically prepares me for challenges in life, both emotionally and physiologically. Hence, I am planning to run a disruptive business by venturing into lifestyle homes for senior citizens that specialise in health and wellness so that everyone can benefit from adopting a holistic lifestyle.

My Thanks

God has always been with me through the good and bad times in my life. I am a God-fearing person. I would always give thanks and praise to God as it is with God’s wisdom, grace and compassion that I have always managed to pull through. I often remind my children to turn to God for daily guidance and to never forget that if the world fails, God will always be there for them.

Hopes for The Future

As a Group CEO for Tan Chong Motor Holdings Berhad, I hope to lay the foundation for the Group to be a resilient organisation and for the next generation to grow further. I want to continue the Group’s drive to expand overseas to become a regional player. I will also further explore how the Group can leverage on next gen digital technology and industry 4.0.

Profitability is always seen to be the main focus of any successful business. Remaining relevant, I believe, is also as important. Adjustments need to be made to business plans and projects to meet the ever-changing demands of the consumers. Provide what the customers want and always remember that customers are always right.

Nothing is ever good enough. Evolution ensures success. Everything can and must be improved. If you fail to evolve, then the competition will overtake you and you are left in second place. I challenge myself and the decisions I made constantly as the first idea may not be the best. I believe the best ideas and solutions come after seeing them from different angles. I also challenge my people to be better than everyone else including myself. I allow my people to voice their concerns and challenge my decisions. I am only human, and I also do make mistakes. Trust those around you and better decisions will come forth.

4 Key Takeaways from The Female CEO:

#1 Perceive Obstacles as Opportunities
Despite having to deal with the stigma that a woman in not as capable as a man in her organisation, Dato’ Rosie used the negativity to her advantage by understanding her co-worker’s concerns and taking necessary actions to counter the popular misconceptions.

#2 Passion and Perseverance
With the believe that “if you put your heart and soul into everything that you do, you can accomplish anything”, Dato’ Rosie managed to work through the ranks to become the Group CEO of a blue-chip listed company in Malaysia.

#3 Take Care of Your Health
Dato’ Rosie adopts a holistic approach to health and emphasizes on taking time off to relax and exercise. She believes that living holistically prepares her for the various challenges in life, both emotionally and physiologically.

#4 Evolution Ensures Success
The CEO believes that everything can and must be improved, and that if one fails to evolve, the competition will eventually overtake them. She constantly challenges herself and her people to be better than everyone else.