International Women’s Day Edition: The ’80s—Ms. Koh Hwee Miem

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This is 1 of the 11 interview features as part of our International Women’s Day Special Edition.

By Arielle Yeo (21S07B) 

An established consultant of Gerson Lehrman Group and an accomplished leader in her field, Ms Koh Hwee Miem is the epitome of a distinguished female leader in the Information Technology sector. She shares with us her secret to climbing up the corporate ladder and becoming an influential member of the company, and how she, as a working mother, has successfully juggled both family and career.

1. How has studying in Raffles influenced you or your career?

It taught me the value of teamwork, relentless pursuit and possibilities. I started playing softball, a game that I still love and play today, in JC1.  By then, the entire team of RI players already had 4 years of experience.  I trained and pursued my interest relentlessly.  I was very determined to be on the 1st line-up. I was made Vice-Captain and played an in-field position, and was often a lead-off batter (that is usually one who makes safe hits and gets on base).  Softball is a game where you have to excel individually (eg when on offence ie batting), and as a team (eg when on defence, ie fielding).

Playing on the team taught me I can excel if I put my heart and soul into it; the pursuit of excellence requires hard work, teamwork and determination.

2. What was your favourite subject throughout your time in RJC from 1979-1980? 

That would be [the] Chinese language. Chinese is my mother tongue and also a spoken language at home. I started my education in primary school in a Chinese-stream school.  My parents love Mandarin songs (not yet called Mandopop during those times) and I’ve read comics, folklores and history books in Chinese.  Of course, we know that in school, Chinese teachers are often not the favoured ones.  I love my Chinese teachers.

3. What is a day of work like as a consultant in Gerson Lehrman Group?

I typically spend half my time reading and catching up on world affairs, technology updates, and company updates.  Other times are spent on my projects, which involve specific research and  working with teams and clients.

4. What skills would you say are the most important in your industry?

In my field, the ability to master numbers is key, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. This includes developing models, formulating analytics, and interpreting analysts’ trends.

On the generic side, adaptability, teamwork, and leadership are key to be able to deliver and make an impact through your contributions. And your ability to drive an idea home is important – if you can’t influence nor convince anyone about your opinions or findings, then it’s useless.

 5. What has been the biggest obstacle in your career?

Having to travel for work while fulfilling my role as a mother to 3 young kids.  In those days, tele- or audio-conferencing was not as advanced, so physical face-to-face meetings were essential for regional and headquarter roles. The IoT (internet of things) has really advanced these days, and with Covid-19, we’re witnessing a technology era in history—where travels halt and virtual meetings become the new normal. While I often travel to be home for my kids, and perhaps (you never really know) slowed my career just a tad bit,  I would do that again.

6. Would you say that a gender gap exists in your industry? 

Gender gap in terms of equal opportunities? No.  I think this is mainly due to the fact that in the Information Technology sector, and the company I’ve worked for for more than 20 years, talent is very visible.  This is partly due to the company culture, and the ecosystem being highly collaborative.

7. Have there been any female role models who have inspired you?

In my early days of my career in an IT company, there was a business unit that was led by a female. I admired her for her integrity, love for her team, and pure honest corporate belief. She was courageous enough to admit a mistake, and moved on to speak on learnings and forging ahead to accomplish the next set of goals.

8. What advice would you give to the next generation of aspiring female leaders?

You are your own limits.  You have to learn to assess your values, your interests and talents. Where these meet—that’s your optimal contribution.  You need to internalize other competing priorities in different stages of your life (e.g. marriage, motherhood, “care-giving-hood”), and make a choice and move on with all your energy. Success is not just about career all the time, but tendering to all areas that are important to you. And work relentlessly, with integrity and conviction.  People will notice your potential, regardless of your gender (or race or age for that matter). I think this is true not just for female leaders, but for all. 

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