10 Women Who Are Shaping Singapore
THIS STORY WAS UPDATED ON MARCH 4, 2020
1/10 Halimah Yacob
This prominent politician has pioneered several firsts in Singapore: she was the first female speaker of parliament and is the first female Malay president of the country, a position she currently holds following an election walk-over in October 2017. The mother of five grew up in poverty and has been working since she was 10 years old. She is well-regarded for being down-to-earth and a “champion for the underdogs”, famously refusing to move into the presidential office, Istana, following the elections. She preferred to stay in her public housing flat but gave in due to security concerns from the authorities. A women’s activist, she has actively pushed for the awareness of mental health issues and issues plaguing senior citizens.
2/10 Claire Chiang
When Claire Chiang was a child, she wanted to be a nurse. Her parents dissuaded her, and instead, she went on to become a co-founder of one of Singapore's largest luxury resort brands, Banyan Tree Holdings. As its senior vice-president, she is currently overseeing the development of the resort's first-ever outpost in Mandai, Singapore. The chairperson of Banyan Tree Global Foundation also regularly participates in inspirational discourses for women.
On the most significant barrier to female leadership, she says: "Our numbers are not large enough to become a tipping point to create a forceful impact. We have to continually raise the visibility of women by supporting each other in a strategic intentional way. The millennial generation of women who aspire to be their own bosses will be the rising force of change. A silent revolution has begun."
(Related: Claire Chiang and Ho Kwon Ping share their definitions of success)
3/10 Angelene Chan
Out of the five major architecture firms in Singapore, only one is led by a woman. Angelene Chan, CEO of DP Architects, has helmed several high-profile international projects, including the Dubai Mall and Resorts World Sentosa. The award-winning architect says that her greatest support is her family but juggling both family and work is a great challenge.
She says, “Raising a family while pursuing a high-stress profession like architecture is tough. Both motherhood and design are 24/7 undertakings; both require full-time commitment.” She attributes her success to a combination of “courage, pragmatism and hard work.” “Courage to trust your instincts, ignore the naysayers, to venture forth and do what others have not tried. Pragmatism to set realistic goals, to make calculated moves in the long-term interest of your team," she says, adding, "And hard work; you have to work harder and smarter than everyone else. As a leader, I am only as good as my team. In other words, my success is dependent on the success of my team. I care about the people I work with."
(Related: DP Architects' Koh Seow Chuan And Angelene Chan On Building A Legacy That Lasts)
4/10 Chew Gek Khim
According to Forbes last year, Chew Gek Khim’s family is among the richest in Singapore with a net worth estimated to be around $1.85b. The executive chairman of Straits Trading Company assumed the control of her family business in 2008 and transformed it from a tin smelter to modern firm that delves into real estate, hospitality and tin smelting. The lawyer-by-training also heads Tecity Group, which was founded by her late grandfather and one of Singapore’s pioneer banker Tan Chin Tuan. (The Group comprises Straits Trading, Tecity Management and Tan Chin Tuan Foundation, and owns the Tan Chin Tuan Mansion.)
5/10 Lily Kong
As the fifth President of Singapore Management University (SMU), Professor Lily Kong is the first woman and the first Singaporean academic to helm a local university. The geographer was formerly a provost at SMU and a faculty member at the National University of Singapore’s Geography department for close to 25 years. She was also appointed a Member of the Public Service Commission in January 2009 and conferred the Public Administration Medal (Silver) in 2006.
6/10 Chong Siak Ching
The National Gallery Singapore chief executive officer assumed her role in 2013 and under her leadership, the museum welcomed more than 1.97 million visitors between April 2017 and March 2018. In a previous interview with Tatler, she said: ”We want to inspire our visitors, pique their curiosity, and touch their hearts, and we all try to live and breathe these words every day." The Justice of the Peace is also on the Tatler 300 list and is involved in charities such as Parkinson Society Singapore and YMCA.
7/10 Ho Ching
The wife of prime minister Lee Hsien Loong is arguably Singapore’s most powerful woman—she was listed number 28 on the 2017 Forbes’ list of most powerful women in the world, far ahead of Hillary Clinton who was ranked 65. Despite being in the global limelight, she is known for being the reclusive CEO of Temasek Holdings and is widely credited for expanding its horizons to Asia and beyond. Under her leadership, Temasek posted an impressive 2017, reporting a net portfolio value of $275 billion.
8/10 Jenny Lee
Jenny Lee is the only other Singaporean woman featured on the 2019 Forbes Power Women list, coming in at number 86. She’s regarded as one of the most successful female Singaporeans living and working overseas. As managing partner of GGV Capital since 2005, she played a pivotal role in helping the firm gain a stronger presence in China. The firm closed $1.88 billion in funds in 2018, one of the largest global raises for venture capital firm that year.
9/10 Grace Fu
The current minister for Culture, Community and Youth started her career as an auditor in the banking sector before joining PSA Corporation in 1995. There, she moved up the ranks steadily and was appointed as the CEO of PSA Southeast Asia and Japan in 2004. She entered politics ahead of the 2006 General Elections and was appointed minister of state for the Ministry for National Development the same year.
The National University of Singapore alumnus helmed various positions in different ministries before becoming a full minister in 2012. Grace is a vocal supporter of having more female representation on the boards of listed companies and the equality of gender roles in Singapore.
10/10 Chua Sock Koong
Widely known as one of Asia’s most powerful and influential businesswomen, Sock Koong heads Singtel, the largest telco and one of the largest listed companies in Singapore. She is credited with keeping the telco highly profitable even during difficult economic times. In fact, it was reported that her annual remuneration package increased from 2016 to 2017—an indication of the company’s financial health and profit margins. A long-serving employee, Sock Koong joined Singtel as treasurer in 1989, working her way up to CFO and eventually group CEO, a position she has held since 2007. The mother of two holds a Bachelor of Accountancy from the University of Singapore and is a fellow member of the Institute of Singapore Chartered Accountants and a CFA charterholder.