Clair Deevy works at Facebook as the Head of Economic Growth Initiatives for Asia-pacific and has been living in Singapore for about nine years.
One of the exciting things she has been working on is a program called “She means Business”, which is a program to help women entrepreneurs start, and make the most of their small businesses.
Clair did her undergraduate degree in environmental management, during which she spent time in the desert counting and measuring trees! She was also hanging out over rivers, trying to get water samples.
About her career, she says, “It makes absolutely no sense.”
“Anybody who thinks that you have to have a straight career path, that isn’t necessarily the right answer.”
She has had an exciting career path and worked in various jobs. She has worked in a forest, an education centre, in accounts, public affairs, design, communications, financial services, and even in the government.
Her diverse and fascinating career path finally led to her current role at Facebook, which she says, “is the ‘sweet spot’ for me – the idea of connecting organisations, connecting people from different sectors.”
I just want everyone to be happy, and succeed at what they want to do. And what brings happiness to me, is different to another woman.
The New Savvy: Tell us about your role in Facebook, and about the “She means Business” initiative.
Clair: I am Head of Economic Growth Initiatives for Asia-pacific. And what that means is I work in partnership with non-profits, with small businesses, with governments, to look at how we can help small businesses grow. And there are lots of different things we can do around education, around providing networking opportunities, to make it easier for them to grow in their country and overseas.
And as part of that, we launched “She means Business” on International Women’s Day this year. And what we decided, is how we can take this program that’s broad for small businesses, and focus it on women entrepreneurs. And we did some research around what is the particular help that women need.
And they were keen to find opportunities to meet other women and learn from each other. And they also wanted to understand how to grow their business online.
The New Savvy: Can you tell us a bit more about your story and background. What were you doing before Facebook?
Clair: Sure. About my career, I would say it makes absolutely no sense. So, anybody who thinks that you have to have a straight career path, that isn’t necessarily the right answer.
When I finished high school, I did my undergraduate degree in environmental management. So I spent time in the desert, counting and measuring trees, trying to avoid kangaroos. Hanging out over rivers, trying to get water samples. My first job out of university was working in a forest, and I worked in an education centre.
From there I ended up moving up into their head office, and I took a temporary role, initially helping with the accounts because that’s what they had, but I was in public affairs. So I got exposed to working with the government in a government department.
One of the things that came up, that I saw an opportunity, was when they needed somebody to run their website. So I put my hand up. I had done some coding when I was younger. I offered to take that on, if they would give me some extra education and bring my skills up to speed.
So I did that for a while, and then somebody I had worked with there, moved into a PR Agency, and they asked me to go with them. And I worked in their design arm initially, but they moved me across into the communication side, and I ended up specialising in partnerships.
So I would work with organisations that wanted to sponsor a non-profit, to bring an event together around a cause. And that’s how I got into what is the ‘sweet spot’ for me. The idea of connecting organisations, connecting people from different sectors.
From there I went on, I worked in financial services, and now have ended up in tech. But what I realised is, at the heart, my strength is a connector.
The New Savvy: So, going back to “She means Business”, can you tell us a bit more about women entrepreneurs? What are your experiences so far?
Clair: What have I learnt from working with women entrepreneurs? Well, I’m inspired by them, to start with. My parents run their own business, so I grew up watching my mum running a business. The thing that I think inspires me the most is there is a real willingness in the women entrepreneur community to help each other. They are fiercely competitive in the sense that they want their business to do well, but not in the sense they don’t want to bring other women along for the ride with them.
I’ve been inspired by the ideas that they come up with. Everything, from people who create their textiles to tech start-ups, to people that are working on social issues, to help other people find jobs. And then you bring them together and see they have this universal need around learning how to make the most of the online space.
But yeah, it’s just most of all this idea that when you bring them together, they all help each other, and you see these businesses form. So they may have a business, then, all of a sudden they’ve created a new thing together.
What was lacking, and continues to be lacking, and this is in every country that we’ve looked at—from Indonesia to the Philippines, to Australia, to Korea—is access to training. All these women entrepreneurs are trying to find how they can learn the skills, which is why we’ve been working on that, and a real hunger for networking with other women.
So at Facebook, we provide not only the physical training, so they’re turning up and working with partners, actually but also, Facebook is a great online space, and we’ve seen great communities built, where sharing information with each other.
The New Savvy: Can you name some of the different initiatives?
Clair: The initiatives that we’re working on Facebook and Instagram under “She means Business,” is a mixture of us putting together events. For instance, the other night, here in Singapore, we had 120 people that we were providing training on how to grow their business.
We’re also working with partners who specialize in supporting women entrepreneurs, organisations like “Business Chicks” in Australia, “IWAPI” and “Girls in Tech” in Indonesia, and E-Cose foundation in the Philippines. And we’re training their trainers, to ensure that more women can learn the skills.
And the skills that we’re teaching are Facebook skills, Instagram skills, and also some basics on marketing, and some basics on digital and creating great content that will get people engaged and help your affairs grow.
The New Savvy: Can you give us some tips for women or even men who want to start their own business, or grow their own business?
Clair: First of all, be clear about what your idea is, and what the need that it addresses is. Because a lot of us have ideas, but we haven’t thought it through.
The second is knowing who your audience is. So, thinking about who wants to buy the service or product, and doing an honest assessment of what the interest is in that product. And that can be hard to do because when you feel passionate about something, you may not want to see that other people aren’t as interested in it.
Once you get to the stage where you’re ready to launch and bring it out, I think this is where you open up to the world of online marketing.
So if you know your audience, it’s easy to target who you’re going to sell it to, but you have to be clear about what you’re doing. And then your packaging— how you communicate it, and how you put it together—is also a crucial element.
Again, thinking about how your customer wants to hear about it, not necessarily how you want to hear about it because your client may not be exactly like you.
The New Savvy: How do you see businesses evolve in your role? Are there any stories you can share?
Clair: What I have seen in businesses is that the person who founded it cares and believes in what they do. And they have this amazing ability to sell because they are so invested in the product. And if you don’t believe in what you are doing, you are not going to able to convince other people to do it.
I think our partner in Singapore CRIB Society has a wonderful model for how they look at these. And they call it the A, B & Cs, which is the idea that you need some A for angel, which is either a mentor or a financial investment to get you started. You need B, around the business.
You can have a great idea, but you also have to know how to balance the books. At the end of the day, it’s not just enough to have an idea. And C is the creative – the great idea. And it’s when you have all those things together that business works
I’ve seen too many great creative ideas not work because people didn’t have the sound financial sense to make sure the business could be successful.
The New Savvy: What are some of the patterns you have noticed over the years about women at work, or even in business, and what can they do better to advance their careers or entrepreneur pursuits?
Clair: I think, at the base of it, it is to have a real confidence and belief in yourself, even at those points where you think, or maybe you’re doubting. Just kind of fake it, till you make it. I met an amazing woman in Indonesia who started a business called “Chic and Darling” which deals in home wares.
She started that business when she just had her first child. She believes in what she is doing, and she has, not an overt but just an inner confidence that comes out. And that’s how she was able to win over suppliers, and win over other people as well.
The New Savvy: What do you think is the biggest challenge facing women today?
Clair: I feel like we’re on the edge of something. There have been so many wonderful things written. Sheryl Sandberg, who is our CEO, wrote “Lean In.” There’re been other amazing women out there talking about, and bringing to the forefront, the issue of diversity and women. And the challenge now, for us, is to take that opportunity and make sure we get the most out of it.
To demonstrate to anyone who has any question, that a woman is just as capable of running a business, is just as capable of being a successful executive; and making sure we bring other women along with us. And that means you have to be prepared to know your strengths, but also admit what your weaknesses are, and be prepared to work on them.
So when we go back to that business model, if you are not somebody who is great at finances, get someone to help you. Don’t be afraid that you can’t do something. Look for ways to bring together partnership opportunities so we all succeed.
The New Savvy: Talking about diversity, can you tell us more about your experience as a woman in a tech company? What advice would you give to young women who want to work in a tech company?
Clair: I’ve had a great experience as a woman in tech. I’ve been on Facebook for a year now. I was at Microsoft before that. Before that, I worked in financial services in government. I have found in the tech companies that I worked in, Facebook particularly, there is a real commitment to addressing the challenge of diversity.
That is not just about women; it is diversity in all shapes. For me, the managers that I have had, have been invested in me succeeding, and that’s made a huge difference. The awareness – we do training at Facebook around unconscious bias. And it’s the idea that even if you’re trying not to be biased, on some level you are. And then just making sure that all our employees are aware of that makes a huge difference.
I think there are significant challenges that women have themselves. The perception of what it is to be a woman in tech. I have learned how to code, but I am not a full-time engineer. I work on programs, I travel around, and I work on disaster response. I work in schools, educating young girls about their career.
I run this fantastic program where I get to meet women who are starting their businesses, but I’m still a woman in tech. And when I tell people that I do all this as part of my job, they have no concept of what it means to be a woman in tech.
There is a perception that you’ll be sitting at a computer, and that’s all that you’re doing. And I think that that is the biggest opportunity for us.
The New Savvy: What are some skills you think all women should learn, and why?
Clair: There are two skills that I think are essential. The first one is confidence. And I do believe that confidence can be learned, or that you can fake it, till you make it. I remember when I was much younger, I went to an event, and it was the first time I had being asked to represent my company or my role. And I walked into this room, and it was predominantly men, and very senior people.
And the first thing I did was hide in the bathroom, and just thought, “What am I going to do?” And then I composed myself, and said, “You know what, I love my job, I love what I do. I’m just going to go out there, and I’m going to start talking to people.
And the worst thing that will happen is it will be an awkward conversation, and I’ll go and get something to eat.” And I found that once I approached people with confidence, spoke a little bit about what I did, then asked them questions, and then gave them the opportunity to talk and that helped me build up my confidence.
So I think learning those skills is critical.
The other skill I would say is making sure you are financially literate. So a power that women need is to be financially literate to make sure whatever job, whatever path you choose, whatever business, that the money you make is going to last you for the rest of your life, that you can have the life you want.
If you choose to have kids, they can have the life that you hope they have. And retirement is a long time, and you want to enjoy it, so make sure you learn how to look after and invest your money well.
The New Savvy: On that note, how do you plan your finances? When did you start, and what do you do for your finances?
Clair: regarding how I plan my finances, I’m pretty traditional. I always had it engrained in me, from a young age, by my father, that it was important to earn my home. So with my partner, we made sure we rented for as short a time as possible and saved up our money to put down the deposit for a house.
For me, the great thing about having property is that it is like forced savings, because I’m paying off for that mortgage, but it’s also investing back into myself.
The second major financial decision that I made with my partner was when we decided to have children. And at that point, we decided to start putting some money into a managed investment fund because we wanted to make sure that there would be enough money for us when we retire.
We planned standard savings for our kids’ education, holidays, those kinds of things. So I have a couple of different accounts that I pull aside for all these different things. And then I put aside for my tax because it’s not prepaid.
I grew up grew up in Australia where your tax is taken out of your salary, whereas in Singapore I learnt the hard way that it is not. So you have to prepare yourself to pay the tax bill.
The New Savvy: What are the biggest obstacles to planning your financial portfolio?
Clair: Biggest obstacles to planning your financial portfolio, is getting over the fear. So if you’re not actually in banking, it seems scary, and there are lots of terms that you have no idea what they are, or what they mean.
So finding somebody that you can trust, who can help to provide you with financial planning advice , is important. And once you take that first step, and you learn some of it, you realise that you can wrap your head around it. So just get past the fear.
The New Savvy: So what would you like to learn more, financially?
Clair: I would like to find out more about shares and how my portfolio works. I have a really basic idea of it. I would just watch the general market, and I loved it.
I have no idea of this work that goes on, and how people are betting on all these different things, and I would love to have a greater concept, not necessarily for me to invest in that, but just so I have a bigger understanding of what’s going on in the world, because it drives so many things, like the financial markets. The impact that they have on so many areas is enormous.
The New Savvy: How can we improve women’s relationship with money?
Clair: To improve women’s relationship with money, I think the first thing that needs to be done is address the fear. Bringing things to a level that is at the right time, for the right person. That being said, don’t underestimate women, because there are a lot of really smart women in finance who don’t need basic investment tips.
But it is necessary to ensure you have the resources to help those women grow further. For those women that don’t understand, not making them feel like they’re stupid for not understanding it, and finding ways to help them learn bit by bit.
So I don’t think there’s one answer for all women because it’s like saying, “there’s one type of woman.” So it’s looking across and making sure that we can address it, no matter what level you’re at.
The New Savvy: Going back to “She mean Business” and your role in Facebook, what are your hope for yourself and the other women in business?
Clair: My hopes for women? Wow! That’s a big one. Well, when I think about myself, and I reflect on the women that I meet, I think I just want everyone to be happy, and succeed at what they want to do. And what brings happiness to me, is different to another woman.
So I never want to push this idea that “this is what you need. If you achieve this, this means you’ll be happy.”
I think there are basics like we discussed being financially stable, being educated, and understanding what’s going on. But yeah, I hope that women, whether they decide to take a career in tech, or they choose to take a career in banking, or they want to start their business, that they’re happy with their choices, and they feel like they had a choice.
The New Savvy: What do you worry about, and why?
Clair: I worry. I have two children. I worry about the world for my kids. I worry about whether they will be able to have the same experiences that I had. And I worry about the people that they’re going to grow into. I also worry about what kind of a role model I am, because I have two boys.
As a woman, I feel an enormous responsibility to make them grow into outstanding gentlemen. And I constantly try to make sure that I’m the best role model, so they will grow up to respect women, and be a great supporter of women as well.
The New Savvy: Have you ever failed at something? Can you describe what happened, and what you learned from it?
Clair: I fail regularly. Sometimes I fail small. Sometimes I fail big. I think, specifically, when I think about in my career, there’ve been times, particularly when I moved up to Asia-pacific. I had a lot of experience in Australia, I knew my area well, and then I moved to Singapore, and I was going to show everyone how to do it.
And I came with a lot of expectations, biases, and tried to steamroll my way through things, and I failed spectacularly at that. But having been here now for nine years, the learning experience, and the appreciation that I have for all these 16 countries that I work in, and how different and unique people are ended up being one of the greatest assets to me in my career.
But if I hadn’t failed so badly when I started, then that wouldn’t have happened. And another big failure for me was when I was going after my first job. I had been temping in a government department.
A role came up, and they were like, “You’re a ‘shoe’ in, you’re going to get this job.” So I was like, “Yeah, I’ve got this. They’re so nice to me.” I didn’t prepare for the interview. I didn’t get the job. They hired someone else, and I was devastated.
But I sat down with them, and I asked, “What happened?” And they said, “Well, you weren’t prepared. You didn’t answer the questions well, you assumed, you acted as if we knew things. And sure we do, but this is an official interview process.” So I learned from that.
The preparation that I do for anything now is much greater, and I don’t ever rely on my assumptions that everything will be fine.
The New Savvy: So, because you deal with a lot of women entrepreneurs, I think that there are a lot of us, that despite our successes, or wherever we are, there’s always this “imposter syndrome.” Can you give us any advice?
Clair: Imposter Syndrome’s tricky. I have days when I have ‘imposter syndrome’. I think a particular part of it is…, I don’t know if importance is the right word, but keeping an honesty in yourself, and questioning yourself, and making sure that you are the best you can be, is important.
If you’re at the point, though, that you are paralysed because you believe that someone’s going to find you out, you need to work on ways to address that. And just reflecting on what you’ve achieved so far, can make a big difference.
I remember, a number of years ago I was having a conversation with a girl that I worked with, and I made this general sweeping statement, like, “Oh, you know, if only I could be like one of those women that people listen to, and I could have an opinion, and it mattered.”
“You are one of those women.”
And she looked at me, and she goes, “You are one of those women.” And I was like, “No, no; I’m not. I mean like,”… and I rattled off all these names. And she goes, “Well, when I think of you, that’s what I think of.” And to hear that from someone else, who I respected, is something that’s made a lasting impression on me, because it occurred to me then, that emotively we’re in the same kind of boat.
Like we’re all thinking, “Oh, I wish I was like this.” And that person’s thinking, they wish they were like someone else.
The New Savvy: Which three people, famous or otherwise, would you most likely invite to a dinner party?
Clair: I remember seeing this question, and I never prepare well for this. Okay. I would like to meet the current Pope. I think Pope Francis. I just find him intriguing. He is so different from all the other Popes, and I would like to invite him to dinner because I think he’d be interesting.
I would like to invite, maybe, a comedian as well, to lighten the atmosphere a bit. So maybe someone like Jimmy Fallon, and then I would love to invite Sheryl Sandberg.
I think that dynamic of having a powerful woman, a comedian, and this person who is changing the world in the religious field, would make for a fascinating conversation. I have no idea what I would cook, though. I would have to get someone to help me with the cooking for that level of dinner.
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