Have you ever felt that at some point in your life, you were judged for not behaving or acting in a certain way simply because you’re a female? Well, you’re not the only one because as women, many of us have (unfortunately) been through the same experience. To some extent, we’d be taken aback when other women come forward to judge us as well, hence why this year’s theme for IWD plays an important role that urges everyone to #BreakTheBias they have against one another.

While role models in the corporate world are usually figures that we look up to, let’s not forget the women who’ve taken other paths in life to define ‘success’ differently and live life on their own terms. We asked 10 Malaysian women (myself included) to share with us how they’re breaking the bias in this day and age, as well as who the role model in their life is; one who has continued to champion this idea – and here’s what they revealed.

1. Celest Thoi, Fashion Designer

“I try to #BreakThebias constantly as I’m always surrounded by females. My work team, friends, clients and friends are mostly made up of females and I have two younger sisters and two daughters as well, which is why championing this cause is truly important for me. When I was young, my grandparents favoured my male cousins over us girls and I hated that. I’d never want anyone to go through the same feeling as I.

“The person who constantly championed this idea in my life is my mum. Her dad was a real ‘Chinaman’, so she understood how it’s like to be treated unfairly. She always encourages my sisters and I to do what we want in life and allowed us to grow while she guided us to the direction we had in mind. I’ve seen how my friends’ parents had forced them to take up courses so that their kids could fulfil the dreams they never realised, but my mum, on the other hand, encouraged me to go and pursue design because she knew how much I enjoyed art from a young age.”

2. Dr. Dhivya Dhyana, Doctor & Model

“Being a female doctor in a male-dominated field doesn’t come without bias. There are many things we are deemed incapable of, or emotionally or physically unable to do. In my life, I break the bias by simply doing them all. If an opportunity arises to do something better, I never say ‘No’. If a job is deemed too difficult for a woman, I simply get it done. I take everything as a learning curve, and I don’t make excuses for the things I’m told I can’t do. Letting your work do the talking is one of the best ways to break the bias.

“One woman who has consistently championed me to break the bias in my life is my mum. She ran a restaurant business at a young age, back at a time when F&B was dominated by males. She managed three restaurants simultaneously, all while being a hands-on mum, raising three kids. She never allowed anyone to tell her that a woman’s place is in the kitchen. In fact, she ran several kitchens in different places in one go. How awesome is that?”

3. Dr. Hartini Zainudin, Co-Founder of Yayasan Chow Kit & Child Activist

“No one tells me that I can’t do anything because I’m a girl or woman. I don’t allow anyone to tell me that I’m weaker or less than and I love the saying ‘fight like a girl’ – because I will do just that. I’m proud to say that we’ve taken that stereotype and turned it into something positive, hence why I’m glad that I always fight like a girl. In life, no one can tell me that I can’t do something, and I’m only allowed to do that to myself.

“The one woman I admired the most was the former Associate Justice of the Supreme Court in the US, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who passed away in 2020. She’s one who championed this idea by breaking the ceiling of many taboos. The late Ruth stood out to me as she exemplified the continuous struggle against injustice and inequality in everything that she did.”

4. Dr. Soo Wincci, Artist & Entrepreneur

“Personally, I always break any existing stigma and go beyond my limits regardless of the situation that I’m in. My mum is the person who’s always encouraged me and from whom I’ve seen and learned a lot about the greatness of being a woman. No matter what the odds are, she’s the one who will always support me in good times and bad.”

5. Jenn Low, Founder of Wanderlust + Co

“In recent years, I’ve definitely seen a shift away from having gender-specific conversations towards having more focus on the work or change that we’re trying to drive as individuals and entrepreneurs instead. I believe that breaking the bias represents individuals who’re standing for their ideas and unafraid to take a leap of faith outside of their comfort zone. I find that always empowering and inspiring to see!

“I really enjoy having transparent, open conversations with people around me, exploring and sharing learnings and experiences with the team, and working on solving problems together, which has, in turn, encouraged me to have a growth of mindset too. With my team, I find that having these conversations are key to ensuring that everyone feels heard, valued and empowered in everything that they do – be it big or small wins and that no one feels left behind.

“American researcher, Brené Brown and American host, Oprah Winfrey are both strong yet heartfelt figures who I look up to for breaking the bias in their own ways. Although they come from different industries, they excel at sharing their purpose, values and mission with their community – be it through education, entertainment or even just by being their true authentic selves.”

6. Kim May Chee, Founder of COCOdry

“To me, breaking the bias really depends on which bias! Knowing your worth, stepping up and having a voice is important because we need to have an open conversation about stereotypes and know when to call out the rude and sexist. Also, it can be as simple as doing things that people assume you can’t do.

“The one woman who I reckon has championed #BreakTheBias through her words and actions is Sheryl Sandberg, the Chief Operating Officer of Meta and author of Lean In. Sheryl has helped women to achieve their ambitions and helped companies build inclusive workplaces where women of all identities are supported and empowered.

“I was inspired by her to never settle for less and encourage other women to step up and own their own success. It’s very similar to what I do with my team every day and the most fulfilling feeling is to see them grow and thrive in their work.”

7. Miriam Omar, Artist

“When you’re trying to do something that’s out of the box and breaking the bias as well as stereotypes, it can be daunting and you’ll always face challenges. But you just have to believe in yourself and remember that anything good doesn’t always come easy. Whatever you’re doing to #BreakTheBias is paving the way for others to follow suit. I always remind myself that it’s okay to not be or do things like everyone else.

“I look up to Oprah Winfrey because she wasn’t afraid to break all stereotypes. Despite a really tough childhood, she became one of the most important women in the media globally. She didn’t get married and she doesn’t have kids, and she’s living proof that you don’t need to fit the mould to be successful. She has truly impacted me in so many ways! I am inspired by her attitude to life, her empathy towards others and her work ethic and dedication to what she does.”

8. Natasha Shazana Evans, Co-Founder of Soko

“The uncomfortable truth is that we are all biased, so it takes an active effort to create change. I call myself out in moments where I catch myself either thinking, saying or acting in a biased manner. Holding myself accountable for whatever that bias is – whether unconsciously or otherwise – gives me the opportunity to learn and not repeat it moving forward.

“My mum is my role model. She leads by example, breaking biases through mentoring, supporting women-led organisations both within and outside of the workplace, and championing gender-equality initiatives. What inspires me most is how she actively unlearns and relearns, and shares her learnings with others so that we, too, can become more aware and correct our biases.”

9. Ong Ming Yen, Digital Creator & Image Consultant

“I have a voice, so if there’s anything that makes me uncomfortable like gender inequality and discrimination, I’ll definitely voice it out. At some point in life, I realised that I can be just as smart, determined and achieve whatever I want like the other gender if I set my mind to it. I always remind myself that I can do it and that has nothing to do with being a female.

“The one woman I look up to is my mother-in-law. Action speaks louder than words and she has shown me how she has successfully raised her two sons. As the only woman in a household of three men, she has ensured that all of them practice the idea of ‘ladies first’ and a woman as an equal partner, and that they even go to the extent of putting down the toilet seat in the bathroom. That speaks a lot about a woman who raised these men, don’t you think?”

10. Vasenta Selvanayagam, Digital Content Producer

“A journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step, and one of the things I’ve constantly been doing to break the bias is to stand up for other women who aren’t in a position to defend themselves. I’m not one to keep quiet when I see injustice unfold in front of my eyes and I guess that’s why I’m proud to be a woman in this day and age. If being called ‘sensitive’ has made me upset in the past, over the years I’ve learned that it is this sensitive characteristic that has moulded me to become who I am today. I’d rather be ‘sensitive’ and defend the rights of someone who needs help than be considered ‘strong’ and blind to another person’s needs.

“The one person who had always championed me to #BreakTheBias in my life was my late grandmother. From a young age, I was taught that it wasn’t necessary for me to be the only one who had to be in the kitchen to help her out or do all sorts of housework. Instead, she got my brothers to do it too and constantly told me that no matter if I’m married or not, I should always work hard to create a name for myself and be self-dependent at any given time in my life.”

Featured image: Hannah Busing/Unsplash

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