One quality that come up again and again amongst successful women, however, is confidence. That ability to own every room you walk into and make heads turn is crucial to getting women’s voices heard and securing a seat at the table. Ready to up your confidence quota?
Every year, The Singapore Women’s Weekly shines the spotlight on 18 outstanding, high-achieving working women in the Great Women Of Our Time awards in six respective categories.
Our previous nominees include an architect who used her design background to tackle the issue of food waste, a media specialist who deftly juggles family and work, as well as the first Singaporean filmmaker to win an award at the prestigious Sundance Film Festival.This year, here are the nominees in the Arts & Media category:
Read on for some expert career advice from our three nominees so you can stand out from the crowd.
When we hear the word “mentor”, we usually imagine it to be someone older and more experienced than ourselves. But Sunita, during her three-year tenure at Forbes as Advertising Director, found a new definition for the term.
“I was advised to seek a ‘reverse mentor’ specifically between the ages of 16 and 18. Knowing that digital is the future, I recognised that I had to upgrade myself and keep up with technology to stay relevant in the industry.” The experience brought Sunita up to speed quickly with technological and social media trends.
Having previously cut her teeth in print media as powerhouses such as Singapore Press Holdings and Time Warner, she carried her newfound expertise to her subsequent roles at Microsoft, Facebook and eventually Spotify.
Spotify was launched locally in April 2013, at a time when many users were consuming music illegally from pirate sites. “We were set up as a better alternative to piracy, giving users legal access to music at their fingertips,” Sunita explains.
“Since then, we have seen growing numbers of subscribers, not only in Singapore, but around the world – today, we are the world’s largest music streaming platform across 65 markets with over 157 million users, including 71 million Spotify Premium subscibers. We also have the most extensive catalogue of songs with over 35 million tracks.
“Everything we do at Spotify is driven by our passion and love for music – I believe that this is the very foundation of our success,” she emphasises.
“Our mission is to make all of the world’s music available instantly to everyone, wherever they are. As a company that sits on a wealth of data, we use algorithms to track music streaming habits and preferences, in order to redefine the consumption experience altogether. Personalisation and localisation are very close to our hearts, hence we are always looking at new ways to bring users a richer, deeper and more immersive Spotify experience.”
As a young girl, Chi Yin. with her mother’s camera in tow, would take the bus down to Little India on Sundays and capture images of interactive street life.
“I realised early on in my late teens that writing and photography were my strengths,” she says, “I was slightly obsessed with this notion of being a useful person in life and society. From that point on, I was focused on doing just that – I wanted to write and take pictures.”
Straight after her A ‘levels were completed, Chi Yin interned at The Straits Times’ photo desk under the mentorship of veteran photojournalist, George Gascon. “I learnt on the job, and that’s when I really blossomed and bloomed into a photographer,” says the determined self-starter who would often ask for extra assignments and take on all the weekend shifts.
After nine months, she left to pursue degrees in history and international relations at the London School of Economics and Political Science. Chi Yin came back to Singapore in 2001, and worked as a social and housing reporter at The Straits Times, covering community news and issues about poverty and disability.
She moved on to The New Paper two years later, where she “became the go-to migrant labour reporter” who constantly pushed boundaries with her hard-hitting stories that addressed the hardships faced by migrant workers.
“I was very passionate and angry about the situation here, and I wrote a lot of ‘human-rights journalism’,” reveals Chi Yin, who also engaged in personal projects such as Day Off (2003) and The Long Road Home (2011), a compilation of eye-opening photos published by the United Nations International Labour Organisation.
“Between 2003 and 2009, I followed the life journeys of a few domestic helpers coming to work in Singapore. I used all my vacation time, including Chinese New Year and Christmas, on multiple trips to Indonesia. When I look back now, I feel really bad because I was absent from a lot of family events. I was often missing from family photos because I was always away.”
Chi Yin was later posted to China as a correspondent, but she took a leapt of faith and left her cushy job to pursue her love for visual storytelling. Within six months of going freelance, Chi Yin’s work quickly got her represented by VII photo agency. She is currently represented by Magnum Photos.
In September last year, Chi Yin became the first Singaporean Peace Prize photographer to be commissioned to showcase 2017’s Nobel Peace Prize winner – the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons.
She took a two-month journey from the China-North Korea border, to six states in the Western United States, travelling along the North Korean border near missile testing facilities, and decommissioned missile silos in US states like Washington, Arizona and Nevada. Her work, titled Fallout, is part of a year-long exhibition called “Ban the Bomb”, in Oslo, Norway.
Today, Rachel Heng is sitting on deals worth six figures each by publishers in the UK and US for her debut novel Suicide Club, but her writing journey was speckled with many disappointments.
“Suicide Club grew out of an early short story I wrote on a long-haul flight, in which a man goes to a party that turns out to be a funeral. I was writing a lot of short stories before and for the first couple of years I was pretty discouraged. I thought ‘well, this isn’t going anywhere, it’s just something I’m doing for fun on the side’,” says Rachel, who came from a finance background and spent six years at GIC before moving to Texas where she’s currently pursuing a Graduate Programme.
“I submitted a lot of them to literary journals and got a lot of rejections. I think my acceptance rate was something like one or two per cent. So, for every one story that got accepted, there were 99 others that were rejected. Given my track record, I didn’t expect that Suicide Club would do well and sell so quickly at all.”
The turning point, Rachel believes, was when she joined a night class at the Faber Academy in London. Posted to the city for work, the 30-year-old first-time author didn’t kick her passion for writing to the curb. She honed her skills at least once a week and it paid off handsomely.
“What happened was they actually published an excerpt of what I had written in an anthology that was sent to agents and editors in London. Then we had to do a reading day of sorts where we read out our work aloud for two minutes in front of a bunch of publishers,” she recalls.
“After the reading, I was approached by 11 agents and a couple of editors who wanted to read the full manuscript and all I could say was ‘I’m still writing it, it’s not done yet’. At that point, I had about 30,000 words and that was it.”
The experience was enough, however, to give her the motivation to finish the novel. Over a period of nine months, Rachel set aside time to write at least 500 words a day after work wrapped up.
Soon, the 30,000 words she began with turned into 170,000; before she threw half of the book out to end up with the 90,000 words that you see on bookstore shelves today.
Her success makes her the latest Singaporean author to break into the international market, following in the footsteps of Crazy Rich Asians’ Kevin Kwan and more.
“I think 2018 is quite an exciting year for Singaporean fiction. There are definitely authors making their mark on the world stage, so writing in Singapore is very much alive and well, contrary to popular belief. One hopes that this will spur people to gain more interest in literature to prop up the local publishing industry in the long-term.”