As a child, I was badly bullied. “Your skin is too dark, don’t you shower?” “You are such an extrovert, are you sure you are a girl?” “Your parents abandoned you because you are so ugly…”
In my late 20s, I faced a fair bit of discrimination and sexism as a “triple only” (only woman, only Asian, only one under 40) marketing director. That was in Germany, where I was working in a corporate leadership team in the male-dominated automotive industry.
“She got the role because of her looks.” “Chinese women are cruel.” “Who knows how many people she bribed or slept with…”
During my first solo strategy presentation in Germany, I wore a black suit in front of six white male Exco members. At the end of the presentation, the chairman told me that I was expected to dress “appropriately” the next time – meaning, women should wear dresses and not pantsuits.
I risked my career, gathered my courage and spoke up. After receiving initial pushback on a political level, anti-microaggression and sexism measures were finally implemented in the company’s performance system.
Today, as a founder in my late 30s, I still receive hatred, harassment, and vicious messages questioning my purpose of building Zazazu, a corporate education platform that helps professional women navigate challenges at the workplace and at home.
We tackle topics that others shy away from, such as dealing with microaggression and sexism, understanding female health, and building confidence. Our workshops help women better understand their strengths, and build confidence from within.
“How dare you talk publicly about sexual health for women?” “You offend our culture by talking about female body parts!” “Aren’t women empowered enough today? What is the point of your business?”
My emotions, levels of self-worth, and self-doubt would fluctuate with these outside forces, and I used to get beaten up by setbacks and words from others.
This continued until one day, I finally recognised that the adversity that I had experienced throughout my life actually empowered me to push boundaries, challenge the status quo, and become the confident woman I am today.
I remember my fundraising pitch for Zazazu in front of male venture capitalists, where they questioned my capability to run a business as a new mother. They scoffed at my product offering, where I sought to normalise sexual well-being for women in conservative Asia. They even asked me to present my pitch with a dance because “that’s the language that men understand”.
I risked my reputation, gathered my courage, and reported the unprofessionalism. E27, a networking site for the tech industry, launched an investigative report about harassment in the region, raising awareness and leading to some key people being fired. Through this, our current venture capitalist found us and decided to invest in Zazazu.
All these misogynist experiences convinced me of how necessary it is to break taboos, and help millions of other women fight back and continue smashing the proverbial glass ceiling.
We can never control what people think, how they act, and what they will say. We can only control how we respond to it, and whether we choose to turn adversity into advantage, and build an even more meaningful life.