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If you want to know what a company with female leadership looks like, look no further than Appier. Since its founding, Appier has had a woman on the management team: Winnie Lee. She is a co-founding member, the chief operating officer (COO), and a key decision maker who has helped make the AI company a startup success story as a unicorn before it went public on the Tokyo Stock Exchange.
In an interview for International Women’s Day, Lee discusses possible solutions for the unique challenges women face in the workplace and the importance of diversity and inclusion for the health and growth of any company.
Female leadership during the pandemic
At a time when women are still underrepresented in the tech industry, Lee represents how companies can benefit from having more women–and more women in charge.
In her role as COO, Lee has implemented policies for flexible working, committed resources to facilities, such as a nursing room at the Appier office, and spearheaded programs that make it easier for employees, especially working mothers, to balance their work and personal lives. All of these initiatives, some made during the pandemic and some before, have helped the company and its nearly 600 employees worldwide to deal with the challenges brought on by Covid-19 and still see growth in the business.
How does Lee explain this? She says that female leaders tend to be more “caring” than their male counterparts. They ask about their team’s wellbeing, their personal lives, and how they are doing overall. McKinsey & Company’s 2021 report on “Women in the Workplace” echoes this sentiment, finding that female managers are doing more to support their teams, especially in providing emotional support and helping navigate work/life challenges, compared to male managers.
This “emotional labor” is extremely critical for employees during the pandemic which has aggravated everyday stress and mental health struggles. As a way to help all employees deal with their emotions during what is undoubtedly a difficult time, Appier launched its “Global Employee Assistance Program,” a free professional counseling program that is offered to employees and their families. According to employees who have used the program, it has been extremely helpful for their wellbeing to talk to someone about the issues they are going through.
Policies & resources for working mothers
The pandemic has been especially challenging for working mothers, who have long shouldered the majority of household caregiving responsibilities. Even as we have witnessed progress towards a more equitable distribution of household responsibilities, both at Appier and society at large, when schools and daycare shut down due to Covid, it was often the women who were looking after their children while working at the same time.
In countries where working from home and other forms of flexible working are not prevalent or even trusted , women with jobs had to choose between work and childcare. As a working mother, Lee understands firsthand the challenge of juggling both one’s responsibilities as a professional and as a mother. To alleviate the pressure, Appier rolled out the option of flexible working early on, even before the pandemic.
“If an employee needs to leave the office early to pick up their child from school or daycare, they should feel free to let their supervisor and coworkers know,” Lee said.
Even with the pandemic relatively contained in Taiwan, Appier has maintained the work from home option. What it comes down to, Lee points out, is respect. Especially when technology has made it possible for employees to carry out their roles remotely, Appier is a firm believer that their employees should be afforded the respect of a flexible working option when needed.
For the working mothers who are breastfeeding, Appier has dedicated nursing rooms with all the relevant equipment, such as a small refrigerator and sterilizers, to make it possible for them to work in the office if they choose to. One seemingly basic but important tip Lee, who gave birth to her second daughter five months ago, shared is to “block certain times off for pumping in your calendar.”
“You need to take care of yourself first, and people need to respect that” she said, “And as long as you can communicate your schedule and availability clearly with your coworkers, people will be able to cowork well with you.”
Innovation comes from difference
Respect lies at the core of gender equality in the workplace and is a key ingredient in making a company successful. According to Lee, we need to respect people with different identities and different backgrounds because this diversity of identity and ideas is what will help a company innovate.
As a leader, Lee knows the value of an inclusive and open-minded culture for a company. “The company is healthiest when the group of the people in the company is diverse,” she expressed. To make the most of the diversity, an open culture of inclusivity and acceptance is important so that people feel free to share their thoughts.
At Appier, one of the three core values is open-mindedness. It is with an open mind that the company approaches its hiring process, its R&D process, and its day-to-day work. Open-mindedness is the antithesis of bias, which is why Appier’s company culture is so aligned with this year’s campaign theme for International Women’s Day #BreaktheBias.
Lee and her co-founders know that good ideas can come from anywhere and anyone, no matter the gender or other identities. The key to cultivating good ideas is to respect people’s thoughts and give people the resources they need to grow.