What does a criminal lawyer, an engineer, a barista, a race car driver and a compliance officer have in common?
Except the ones we met are all women. And they’re running tough jobs that would put men to shame.
The Rough Start
It’s 2020 and we’re still used to the commonplace notion that certain jobs are made for men. Roles that require authority, command and massive balls of steel have been ingrained in society that they’re not exactly accommodating to the opposite of men – women.
We met Nurain Kamarden of Nurain Nadia & Co.
A Defence Council by profession whose job is to bargain for plea on behalf of her clients – sexual offenders, drug dealers, armed robbers and foot soldiers for the underworld. The real deal.
She told us her career path was tough starting out. There were more boys in the bar and she was outnumbered and outgunned. Clients, the society and even her superior tend to trust male lawyers more than the likes of her to handle a criminal case. We mean, who are we kidding, we’re talking about endless trips in and out of prison, interviewing murderers and gangbangers.
But did she falter?
The same goes for another iron lady we met. She however, had a different start. With all the workings of a champion, on and off the race track, she took off in flying colours.
Meet Natasha Nur Ida Adam Seatter. An ex-racer, Natasha was an adrenaline junkie back in the days before hanging the towel for a career shift. She told us that although she too had a rough start, she managed to race past obstacles to get to the podium early in the years.
At 15, she had already made her way into PETRONAS Formula Xperience Racing before earning her racing stripes in hardcore races such as the Merdeka Millenium Endurance Race, the Formula BMW and a number of touring series driving race machines like Porsches and Aston Martins.
Boys, however, were dominating the industry.
“They call me Makcik, not in a disrespectful way and not because I was naggy. It was more of a friendly banter as there were only a few of us female drivers on board”, said Natasha, recalling how the industry was heavily male-dominated and girls like her needed to run the extra mile to come out on top.
The Narrow Ethos
Would the way were brought up mold who we are today?
Chia Ying Yuen seems to think so.
A young Tenaga Nasional Berhad engineer, Ying came from the small town of Sungai Besar where padi and plantation is the main source of income. A kampung girl who’s trying to make it in the big league, Ying despite her dainty appearance is a real tough nut to crack.
But growing up, she realised that she wasn’t exactly brought up the traditional way.
“Boys in the hall, girls in the kitchen. That was how my mother was brought up”, said Ying. And fortunately, her mother decided to break this tradition and apply her own set of rules – where everyone has a voice of their own.
Today, being an engineer for a public utility company, her line of work is dominated by men. Initially in Mechanical Engineering, she was advised to switch to Electrical Engineering as the former was, presumably, tough for girls.
She remembers clearly early in her days on a site visit where she was told by a cleaner not to use the ladies room as the building is mostly occupied by male employees, and they tend to use both ladies and gents regularly.
Another lady we found, shared her side of the story.
“My father was in the education line. He brought us up in a very traditional, regimented discipline and that semblance has been with me from the start. It toughens me to a point in life that I realise I was juggling five roles at the same time”, said Maheswari Kanniah, Group Chief Regulatory and Compliance Officer in Kenanga Investment Bank Berhad.
If there was ever a precedent for a strong, iron lady then Mahes would fit the bill.
Once she was a daughter mending her sick parents, a wife, a mother to her child, a manager and a student all at the same time. Discipline held her still, willpower kept her going.
She continued, “In those days, women were more confined to backburners and the culture was completely different. Education for women was not so important, you get married off early.”
It was the same culture she braced through, and lived to tell the difference today. A paradigm shift, according to Mahes.
“We used to think there was nothing wrong, the way we were brought up. Until eventually we realised we can do more than what we’re molded to.
The government has initiated a lot of initiatives to try to balance the power and allocate more for women but for Mahes, she’s one to trample life’s backbreaking challenges on merit alone.
She said, “Everything should be on merit. Personally, it’s somewhat degrading to be given a quota and get your placement because the guys at the top think it’s the right thing to do. And quota is something I don’t subscribe to.”
It’s the same way Ying got through her demanding environment, the same way Nurain brushed off her discriminating situations to set up her own firm, gaining the public’s confidence and proving critics wrong.
Natasha, however, had a different approach to this.
Perhaps one to look at things from a different light, the ex-racer believes it forces the old mindset to give way to women for the opportunities they rightfully deserve. It’s not a foolproof solve-it-all solution but it does what it’s intended to do, maybe more.
She might be right, given her experience as a racer where there’s no gender-specific categories, no free seats for women and no easy races for the girls. Have you ever seen Formula 1 for women?
It’s this sort of perspective that puts the society at a complex disagreement. And what do you do when you disagree? You speak up.
The Loud & Clear
We usually see Billie when we need a good caffeine fix and the beautiful barista would forever welcome us with a smile. Only that she’s not exactly a barista. And her job doesn’t stop at making coffee.
Billie Jane Hii is the Assistant Operations Manager for a friendly little cafe in Ara Damansara called Foremula and she runs the daily show here. On matters of speaking up, Billie has this to say, “I often find myself at a crossword. Sometimes I sense that opinions from a woman even in this century would somehow fall to deaf ears.”
“When you’re speaking up, the results would either see you brushed off or plainly considered just lashing out,” she quipped.
The solution for Billie, is to get the better of things and prove people wrong. That’s how she did it back in the UK when she was studying (and working) where her environment was a bit discriminative to a girl like her.
For the lawyer Nurain, her voice of change came in the form of her action. Unfazed by the lack of confidence by everyone, she started her own firm and proved everyone wrong. And hard work is exactly what Ying the engineer practices, besides being street smart to survive her environment.
The Malaysia Today
Maheswari believes that there’s no clear issues on gender in Malaysia, especially in her line of work where Mahes says, are avoided by men.
“Being in compliance has its own set of challenges but somehow it’s not a career choice for men. I personally had women to compete with and I think the dynamics would’ve been pretty interesting if there’s more men onboard,” she explained.
For those out there who are still facing difficulties, Maheswari had this to say, “Life is tough but nothing is easy. If you want something, you have to go and get it. Make an effort to pursue our dreams first and everything else will follow. If you don’t you’ll have a sense of grudge for not doing it when you can.”
Billie thinks although gender inequality is unapparent in Malaysia today, the country still needs to improve in some way where some part of the culture needs to be given a second look.
“And girls, if you feel you’re being discriminated against, keep trying what you do best and shut your critics by improving yourself. At least that’s what I did,” ended Billie.
Ying firmly believes that for a male-dominated corporation, there’s no gender discrimination in terms of opportunities in TNB. Citing a study done by McKinsey, Ying says a company with diversity will achieve greater profits as a result of an assortment of knowledge and skills
To females out there who’s still struggling to make it, Ying urges them not to worry about society’s perception. One man’s meat is another man’s poison. What’s important is that you be a better version of yourself so when opportunities come, you’ll be ready.
For Natasha, she sees the stark progress in the country where women are given not only equal opportunities but also lead roles in career. Currently doing Partnership for a tech startup, the introvert but adventurous Natasha views this century as a turning point for women, not just to have a spot but to also wear the pants, like her.
“If you’re facing discrimination, that’s okay. Step out of the zone and find your own way somewhere else,” her last words to us.
Nurain’s law firm has been established for a good nine years and she’s seeing more and more female lawyers stepping up to practice, a positive note to reflect on the country’s progress. At home, she wants parents to educate their children to change the perception on what girls can or cannot do.
She ended our conversation with this, “If you’re finding it hard to face your problems, remember that results happen over time, not overnight. Your hard work needs to be consistent, not the other way around.”
Happy (International) Women’s Day!
The race is now on for gender equal boardroom, government and even media coverage. The race is also on for gender equal workplace, sports, health and wealth.
Here at The Full Frontal, we call upon everyone to be respective for one another, not just the opposite gender but also everyone across the spectrum of race, colour and creed.
Read about 5 Miraculous Women we met earlier who spoke about their fair share of the tale.