Throughout March, we spoke with men and women from around the world about what it will take to #BreakTheBias and achieve gender equality in workplaces, communities, and society. Then, as we moved into Mental Health Month in May, we started to expand the conversation a bit with our colleagues around the world to understand what can be done to “provide healing and promote hope.” Our aim is to move past pain and suffering stemming from the pandemic, systemic biases, domestic incidents and more.
So, we thought this is a perfect time to circle back with Peter Morris, who spoke with us last year about the mental health challenges women face. We also invited Sally Hooi Chern Lim, who co-chairs Zebra’s Women’s Inclusion Network (WIN) with Pete in APAC, to join the discussion. They are both lending support – and their ears – to women in the region who may be struggling to define their professional paths, find their places in society, or simply overcome obstacles set forth by gender inequalities or inherent cultural biases.
It’s not that they have everything figured out themselves. But they know that by providing a safe space for people to come together, share their experiences, acknowledge their fears, and talk through issues that are creating personal conflict, they are facilitating healing and promoting hope in some capacity.
Here is an excerpt of the conversation…
Natalie: Pete, let’s pick up where we left off last year by talking about mental health for a moment. Have you seen a shift in women’s mental health in APAC in recent months, for better or worse?
Pete: I don’t think it has got any better. I feel that one set of worries has been removed and replaced by others! I’ve spent some time in the UK and U.S. recently, and there is definitely a difference in how people are dealing with things between APAC and those countries.
Sally: With the ongoing pandemic, I personally see a sustained impact on women’s mental health. For example, there was an announcement issued by my kids’ daycare management of sustained fatigue experienced by staff who also need to care for their families. So, they encourage parents’ support to pick up their kids once class ends (instead of daycare closure time). All the teachers and care providers are women in my kids’ daycare.
Natalie: With pandemic restrictions being lifted in some areas of APAC, are people feeling a sense of relief and hope? Or do you find there’s a certain hesitancy and fear given that restrictions are once again being implemented in other areas of the region?
Sally: I feel many are wary of the impact it may have on their lives, myself included. Questions frequently emerge about increased COVID-19 infection rates and more work for teachers, care providers and parents. However, I feel fortunate that, at Zebra, we have support groups to help us through via WIN, our managers, and our LifeWorks employee assistance program. At home, I also have a parent’s support group organised by parents of the daycare my children attend – and I hope others have access to similar support resources.
Pete: I think it’s a mixture of both. I’m feeling hopeful but still somewhat worried and cautious about ongoing infection, variants and future infections.
Natalie: It sounds like there’s a lot of healing that will be required at individual and community levels in the coming months.
Pete: I think everyone has suffered in some way, and we’ve all got to deal with this together. Maybe this shared healing will bring us all together.
Sally: I think everyone is trying their best to work through it mentally, emotionally or physically; they’re digging deep. My personal positive observation is I find my resilience level went up during this pandemic period, and it pushes me to think and reflect more instead of being in auto pilot mode. Support groups definitely help me to go through life in a pandemic. So, I encourage everyone to explore what works for them in their individual circumstances, be it taking time off, sharing your challenges or something else.
Natalie: Are more companies or community organizations stepping up to provide mental health care as we enter this transition period? And are women in particular accepting help?
Pete: Yes, I think so. I think it’s become something that we are finally prepared to talk about, and companies are recognizing it’s an issue that affects performance. People want to feel supported and look to companies to help, which we are trying to do here at Zebra.
Sally: I agree more companies are stepping up to provide mental health care in the tech industry. According to the latest Mercer Benefits reports, over 80% of companies in the tech industry provide mental health care in Australia, New Zealand and Japan, whilst over 65% of companies provide such support in the remaining Asian countries.
Natalie: Sally, I know you were born in Malaysia, raised in Australia, and currently live in Singapore. So, I’m curious if you have seen variances in terms of mental health stigmas or care access across cultures. Do you find women are better supported in some geographies? Or that some cultures are better advocates for women’s well-being?
Sally: My parents are Malaysian Chinese and grew up in Malaysia whilst I was raised in Australia. Based on my personal life experiences, there are cultural differences between Malaysia and Australia. In terms of mental health, generally I noticed it is not a topic that can be discussed with my parents. Whilst in Australia schooling, there was a big focus on my happiness, mental well-being and learning. Teachers would encourage open sharing of our feelings and opinions and analyse our experiences collectively so we could learn from them. So, yes, generally I feel cultural differences can impact how well women are supported from a mental health perspective. I do want to highlight “breaking the bias” initiatives have helped break down some of these barriers, so there is hope and progression!
Natalie: And, Pete, you’ve lived in multiple countries as well. What has your perspective been as a people leader and a man actively engaged in women’s advocacy initiatives? Are there still inherent biases about what women want and need? Or perhaps what is expected of them?
Pete: I think, generally speaking, people are more aware of the need of mental well-being and are more ready to get support or counselling, especially amongst the younger generation. I often wonder about the decisions companies make and whether they would be different if those companies were led by women. I think people’s attitudes are changing to what is expected of women.
Natalie: What do you both think it will take to #BreakTheBias at a cultural or societal level?
Pete: Not taking “no” for an answer. We must also keep communicating.
Sally: Based on my personal experience, being open minded, having the courage to face our feelings, and then share and analyse these challenges with a huge dose of empathy will help us progress in terms of breaking the bias.
Natalie: What can we do as global citizens to help women in APAC better understand and embrace their personal strengths as they aim to heal from systemic racism or other cultural biases? How do we give them hope for a better future on both a personal and community level?
Sally: Although I have lived in different countries, I find that does not make me multicultural. Simply being aware of different cultures by living in various countries is not enough to embrace diversity and produce innovation. I realise I tend to make sense of things through my primary cultural lens as an Australian Chinese, so I find it helpful when I accept other cultures and try to find common ground to build on. (Which is not an easy task!)
Pete: I think you must have a big element of self-confidence and self-worth, and everything flows from that. Taking small steps forward is better that taking no steps at all.
Natalie: What can women do to better advocate for their needs without fear of repercussion?
Sally: Honestly, having a company culture of empathy, openness, transparency, and honesty, where each and every person’s voice matters and is heard, has helped me. However, I know not every woman may be employed by a company that listens to and supports employees like Zebra does. So, I would say that finding those support groups within personal networks or the community becomes even more important.
Pete: Insist on this culture when you take a job in that company. Any company that doesn’t value inclusion and diversity (I&D) is a company of the past.
Natalie: Is there a woman you feel epitomizes the definition of “healer” or “helper? Or someone who has provided hope to you personally as you’ve tried to navigate life’s challenges over the years?
Pete: I would say the women who put me forward to become the APAC WIN co-lead, who took a chance on me and that have given me the opportunity of my career!
Sally: My grandmother, who had listened quietly and provided support (be it financially or emotionally) even though she was only fluent in the local dialect of the Putien people. It was interesting that our communication was always made up of broken local dialect (from me), mandarin and sign language. Yet, I found immense comfort, love, hope and support from her.
If you missed our last conversation with Pete, read it now:
You may also be interested in these perspectives on inclusion and diversity: