The word lady boss sometimes conjures up negative associations. For too long, whenever someone mentions that they have a female boss, followup questions include ‘Is she nice?’, ‘Does she make you work overtime?’, or even ‘Is she bossy?’. These assumptions based on gender are getting old. There’s nothing wrong with being a woman at the workplace, and there definitely isn’t something wrong with being a lady boss.

In fact, most of the Great Women of Our Time alumnae are bosses of their own companies, or multinational corporations, and are dynamic, inclusive and successful leaders in their own right.

These are exactly the type of women that The Singapore Women’s Weekly seek out every year as part of the awards, which throws the spotlight on 18 outstanding, high-achieving working women every year in six respective categories: Arts & Media, Public Service & Education, Health, Sports & Wellness, Design & Style, Finance & Commerce and Science & Technology.

The 3 Ladies Who Are Reclaiming The Word 'Lady Boss' — And Why We Support Them
(From left: Agnes Kwek, Goh Ling Ling and Olivia Lee)

Tired of male-concepted marketing, ill-informed products, and poor shopping experience, three women among many others are leading the charge with products and concepts made for women by women. Meet a few of our favorites:

The Great Women Of Our Time Awards 2018 is brought to you by main presenter, Lancôme, and presenter, Pandora.

Agnes Kwek, 40, Executive Director, DesignSingapore Council

Agnes’ foray into design was in 2010 while doing research on public sector innovation. It was for a revamp of the Ministry of Manpower’s Employment Pass Services Centre using design thinking tools with IDEO (a global design company).

“What struck me then was how the team was trying to make things work from the users’ point of view and help the users feel supported.” She adds, “If all government services were designed to make it easy for users, our public sector would be unbeatable!”

As Executive Director she’s led the Council by charting national policies on design. The mother-of-two, who also spearheaded the implementation of recommendations under the Design 2025 Masterplan, predicts many changes in the local design landscape over the next 10 years.

“We will see Singapore-based companies pushing for greater innovation as their growth strategy, and the public sector using more design to deliver citizen-centric services. We will also see designers having a greater voice in the boardroom, and also making an impact on businesses and public services.”

Next month, Agnes will assume the role of DesignSingapore Council’s first Design Ambassador, based in Paris. Her new role will play a big part in deepening Singapore’s design networks.

“I’ll be spending a large part of my time helping Singapore designers and design firms to go international by fostering collaborations and talent exchange. I’ll also be keeping a close watch on the latest trends and developments in the design industry that could be relevant for Singapore.”

Goh Ling Ling, 44, Founder & Designer, Ling Wu

Ling Ling’s sense of style was shaped by the street fashion, flea markets and music she lived and breathed during her time (1995 to 1998) at Central Saint Martins College of Art & Design in London. A year later, after she graduated, she launched Ling Wu, a bag label borne out of her love for exotic skins and a need in the market for “relaxed or casual ones that looked cooler”.

Today, with a showroom at Chip Bee Gardens and a successful online shopping site, the mum-of-three designs bags that balance form with function.

Ling Ling aims to craft timeless accessories for the modern working mother “who knows exactly what she wants”. Her bags are made from butter-soft leathers and hand-polished exotic skins that are sustainably-sourced and painstakingly rolled with glass bottles by artisans in Indonesia and Thailand, to retain the organic texture of the skin while giving it a soft, luxurious feel.

With her graphic design background, it’s inevitable Ling Ling gains inspiration from art and design. “Fashion, music, design, and art – they’re all intertwined,” she says. Travels are also a constant source of inspiration.

“When I travel and source, the sights, sounds and habits of the people I come across in different cultures bring me new inspiration!”

Olivia Lee, 33, Multidisciplinary Designer, Olivia Lee Studio

As a child, Olivia found that her aspirations were always shifting. “The list included artist, inventor, architect, scientist, comic artist, entrepreneur, and writer. But on hindsight, I realised they were all related to creation,” she shares.

It wasn’t till Olivia discovered the practice of industrial design that all her interests amalgamated and started to make sense for her as a lifelong profession. “I finally found a vocation that balanced all my desires and interests.”

And, it wasn’t long before Olivia’s work got noticed too. Last year, she made waves at the renowned Salone del Mobile Milano furniture fair in Milan with her 10-piece furniture and decor range, The Athena Collection.

Designed and presented as “future-proof” solutions for the technology-related habits of modern homeowners, the clever collection included a vanity table that could be used with interchangeable accessories like smartphone holders and mirrors, as well as a tactile rug that helps virtual reality gamers avoid walking into walls. Add to that Olivia’s refreshing “analogue” approach to the idea of a smart home – her designs contained no electronic products and would never require software updates.

“My creative process is driven heavily by concept,” she explains. “I’m most interested in asking questions that have not been asked, and telling stories in ways that have yet to be told. This is an approach that is not driven by ego or style – it is grounded by good exploration and insight.”

Not one who lets critics or discrimination get her down, Olivia says boldly, “If you deliver strong work, then gender is secondary. I treat negativity as noise. I think the best thing to do is to ignore any preconceptions about how you should be as a designer, insist on your existence, write the rules, dismantle stereotypes and be brave.”