Junie Foo co-founded BoardAgender and launched it in 2011.  Essentially, it was to create awareness on the economic benefits of having more women on boards. BoardAgender also emphasises the importance of building a pipeline for senior women leadership positions.

Junie Foo has spent much of her time in volunteer and nonprofit organisations, creating opportunities, facilitating and organising events for women to network and to advance themselves. She was the President of Financial Women’s Association (2004-2006) and First Vice President of SCWO (Singapore Council of Women’s Organisations) from 2008-2010.

Junie joined Financial Women’s Association and was the President for two terms.  The Association wanted to build the network of women in banking, finance and insurance.  They went out to get as many members as possible and tried to create an equal system. Networking was part of what they wanted to do.

When we first started, it was about 6.4% of women on boards.  That’s quite sad. Every year, we’ve been inching, but the growth is gradual.  Most recently it’s 9.5 %.  We still haven’t hit the double digit, and I hope that it will be 20% in the year 2020.  It’s only about three-and-a-half years from now, so we’re running out of time.

While at SCWO, she was also Chairperson for International Women’s Day celebration 2009. She is passionate about the fact that gender diversity is the way to go for businesses to be successful and socially responsible. In April 2012, she was elected onto the SIM Governing Council, opening a new chapter in her commitment to education.

She was a speaker at the Women in Business Conference in 2007 where she spoke on devising strategies to integrate more women into top management and spoke at APEC Women’s Leadership Conference 2008 in Peru on Open Business Facilitation for Women.

Junie was also invited to be the keynote speaker at the inaugural Asian Student Banking and Finance Conference 2008 organised by Nanyang Technological University and NTU-AIESEC leadership seminar in 2012. In 2010 and 2011, she spoke at the Women Leadership Forum hosted by Singapore Institute of Management on Women and Leadership.

Effectively trilingual, she had her international stint in Tokyo during which she honed her skills in credit, client coverage, and asset-backed securitization. A seasoned corporate banker, Junie is currently Assistant General Manager at the Asian Business Division of Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ Ltd.

Junie Foo On How Gender Diversity Is Critical For Businesses To Be Successful & Socially Responsible
Credit: Business Times

The New Savvy:  Can you tell us a bit more about your journey to becoming a senior woman in banking. 

Junie:  It did take quite a while, regarding gaining the experience and also the confidence, and credibility to get to where I am currently.  A lot of people supported me as well.  I was very encouraged that my bosses believed in me, thought that I could bring something tangible to the table.

The New Savvy:  Do you feel that there is a disadvantage because you are a woman?

Junie:  I’ve never really thought of anyone having an advantage or disadvantage just because of their gender.  But I think, in a different context, the expectations are different as well.  For instance, the customers’ expectations might be a little different while dealing with a female banker.

When a child is sick, it’s usually the mother that goes to look after the child and has to take a half day.  So sometimes organisations also need to be more open-minded enabling more women to have this kind of flexibility.

The New Savvy:  Banking is male dominated.  What is your experience when you look at younger female bankers, or the women in financial institutions?

Junie:  I do mentor some of the younger bankers, and they are brilliant, ambitious, and confident.  They know their work, and I want to see all of them succeed in life, but of course there are also going to be mothers.  They are also going to have to go through the process of bringing up their children.  So, I’m always concerned how they’re going to balance it all and make it work.

The New Savvy:  What are some of the challenges that women in the corporate world are facing?

Junie:  Essentially, being the primary caregiver because I do see quite some my colleagues or my friends taking a sabbatical.  They take one or two years off from work, and then it’s difficult to come back again.  Or some of them decide not to come back at all. Raising kids  is as complicated as, perhaps even more difficult, having to go to work and meeting your KPIs because it’s entirely different.

The New Savvy:  What are some the skills that you feel that women should learn?

Junie:  Women are good at multitasking, although some women can only focus on one single task at a time.  But I think finishing well is important. A gymnast can do multiple somersaults, but it’s always how you land that scores the point.

The New Savvy:  What are some of your hopes for yourself and other women, because obviously you are doing a lot in BoardAgender and Financial Women Association (FWA), and previously Singapore Council of Women’s Organisation (SCWO)?

Junie:  One of the motivations behind having BoardAgender is to make it a natural thing to have women on boards.  Right now ,we seem to be pushing for women to be on boards.  Honestly, there are so many talented and capable women. It’s just that they haven’t been given the opportunities.

If I’m in a position to give an opportunity to someone, I would want to give that opportunity. Essentially, it’s to be open-minded and to create opportunities.

The New Savvy:  Why are women not given this opportunity?

Junie:  It’s being known.  It could also be the mindset.  At the end of the day, the board members like to be harmonious.  They do not like to introduce foreign elements, or someone with a different background, perhaps.  There’s a lot of group thinking, and this is not necessarily healthy for the company at the end of the day.

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The New Savvy:  So what are some of the initiatives that BoardAgender does to promote women in senior management?

Junie:  Last year, we celebrated Singapore’s 50th birthday (SG50). We decided to have SG50 champions.  We invited the CEOs of organisations and corporations and asked them if they would support our cause. All those who agreed had to sign a pledge to say that they would help to advance women into senior management and enable them to succeed as well.

We engage them, invite them to events, for talks, primarily to share with the potential directors that we’ve identified, so that they’ll be known.

The New Savvy:  Do you have any statistics to share with us?  What was the statistics back when you started in 2011?  Has there been an improvement now? 

Junie:  When we started on 2011, there wasn’t any local publication on the number of women on boards hence, we decided that research was imperative.  If we didn’t show the figures, people wouldn’t sit up to pay attention to that.  Nobody would be tracking those numbers.

When we first started, it was about 6.4% of women on boards.  That’s quite sad. Every year, we’ve been inching, but the growth is gradual.  Most recently it’s 9.5 %.  We still haven’t hit the double digit, and I hope that it will be 20% in the year 2020.  It’s only about three-and-a-half years from now, so we’re running out of time.

Junie Foo On How Gender Diversity Is Critical For Businesses To Be Successful & Socially Responsible
Credit: Issuu.com

Twenty by 2020 – that’s my tagline.

The New Savvy:  What’s your motivation for doing all of these?  Obviously, it takes time.  It takes away from your personal life, and a corporate job. 

Junie:  It does.

The New Savvy:  What motivates you to do all these?

Junie:  I don’t know.  I’m a glutton for punishment. My motivation behind BoardAgender is just to bring everybody up.  I like to build people.  I like to invest in a person.  I’m not very good with large parties, and things like that, but I like to sit down and talk to a person and get to know a person.

It’s the same for BoardAgender; I want to be in a position to help women.  At the moment I’m in a financial institution, so actually there’s a conflict of interest if I do assume a director’s role. I’m not doing it because I want to take on a director’s role.

I do see a lot of good women who can be good leaders, and I want to create that opportunity for them.

The New Savvy:  Can you share some examples of the women you’ve placed on the boards?  Or some success stories you can share with our readers.

Junie:  We’ve had some success.  There have been listed companies that came to me, and I referred the ladies to them for consideration.  It’s something that, I suppose, the executive search companies can do as well.  But I’m happy that they’re coming to BoardAgender and myself, so in good faith, I have been introducing. It’s almost like matchmaking.  I’m a facilitator, so to speak.

The New Savvy:  Is there a succession plan?  How long do see BoardAgender growing?

Junie:  When we first started, we wanted to look at the research.  Then we also wanted to reach out to the stakeholders, which would mean the nominating chairs.  We wanted to speak to the organisations, so there were a few things that we wanted to accomplish. They all were in progress because it’s the journey.  So to bring BoardAgender to the next level. Indeed, we hope to see that twenty percent by 2020.

To be honest, BoardAgender should not be forever, because it should already be a natural thing.  I don’t have to be the advocate.  We shouldn’t have to do advocacy and say, “Hey, let’s get more women on board,” because it should be a natural thing already.

So ironically, the end of BoardAgender, means the success of BoardAgender.

The New Savvy:  To be on the boards of most companies, you have to be experienced and of a certain age.  Are there any plans to involve the younger women, because I think a lot of women start off working first being unsure and not quite figured out what they want to do.

Or there might be some who are ambitious, and they don’t know how to prioritise.  Are there any plans, or have there been any plans to involve the younger women?

Junie:  Yes, we try to engage the younger women through the Young Women’s Leadership Connection, and we have events with them.  We also introduce the most senior ladies, regarding mentorship as well.  Just to guide them.  It’s to build this ecosystem.

The New Savvy:   How can they get involved?  How can women, whether they’re entrepreneurs or corporates, get involved?

Junie:  There are a few associations that have mentorship programs.  The Financial Women’s Association has one.  The Young Women’s Leaders’ Connection also has one, and they are quite comprehensive because the mentees will have to have a report.

It’s not just a meeting and seeking guidance, but it’s more purposeful.  I’ve had a few mentees, and I must say I’ve been very because I feel that I’ve learned from them as well, so it’s been quite good.  I still keep in touch with them.

The New Savvy:  What are some of the things that the younger women mentees can look for?  Let’s say I join.  How would it benefit me?

Junie:  It depends on how structured the mentorship program is.  Iif it’s life guidance, then it’s a little bit different, or if you want the financial aspect of how to be more financially savvy, you can check out The New Savvy.  I think it can be tailor-made.  The mentee has to sit down with the mentor, and the mentee has to have a plan.

I think the mentee must also be responsible to the say, “Okay since the mentor is giving me her time, what should I get out of it, or what can I get out of it, or how can I help myself.”  So that’s also paramount.

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The New Savvy:  From my experience, I know a lot of people wants somebody to guide them, and everybody knows how important a mentor is.  How can I get a mentor?  How can I get someone senior to mentor me, and what is the best way for both of us to have a mutually beneficial relationship?

Junie:  I think sometimes it’s all about having the courage to ask because some people are very open to giving advice or giving of their time.  And while I was growing up I don’t think I had a particular mentor, but I’ve had people who spent their time to sit down with me, to talk to me, and they were open to giving me advice, so that was helpful.

The New Savvy: Is there anything you look specifically for in a mentee?

Junie:  For mentees who want to benefit from a mentee/mentor relationship, as I mentioned just now, I think it’s important for them to know what they want out of it.  And to enjoy that friendship, because it’s also a friendship.

I think if it grows the mentor can be in some other position or some situation, and the mentor can even help you a few years down the road, so it shouldn’t be just a one-off thing.

The New Savvy:  How can the mentee assist the mentor?

Junie:  How can the mentee help the mentor?  The mentees will help the mentor feel young again.  For me, it’s two ways, because I also feel that I’m growing.

The New Savvy:  From what I understand, when a man tries to do anything, they will just do it.  Even the mentor/mentee thing.  For example, if I approach a guy for help, most probably he’ll give me his advice. 

For women, there is resistance or slight reluctance, and they will reply, “Okay, let me think about it” or “I don’t know, I’m not sure.”  I think men are more… ready to step up when they are asked to.

Junie:  I think in cases where the women are more hesitant to give advice, it could also be because they want to give the best advice.  So if they feel that they are not in a position, or they are not experienced enough, they may hesitate.  So it’s not that women are not generous in wanting to guide the younger women.  Maybe they feel that they are not adequate.

And you were telling me about how the men seem to be more ready to give advice.  It could also be their ego, because studies have shown that if men know about 75% or 50% of the subject matter they will say, “I know.”  Whereas for women, even if they know 120% they are still afraid that they may not reach that standard.  So there’s a slight difference.

Junie Foo On How Gender Diversity Is Critical For Businesses To Be Successful & Socially ResponsibleThe New Savvy:  For yourself, who is your role model? 

Junie:  Interestingly, it’s my father.  Because I think my dad was a beneficiary of his two very loving brothers, because at that time they were quite poor.  The two of them didn’t go to school because they couldn’t afford for all of them to go to school, so my father was the only one that was educated in the family.

He believed very strongly in education.  That was imperative for him, and he is a very principled person.  He is a very friendly person as well; he speaks to everybody.  We are very close to our uncles because my father believes that his family helped a lot towards his achievements and what he is today.

The New Savvy:  So what is one of the toughest decisions that you have made so far?

Junie:  One of the most difficult decisions for me was to leave a job that I was actually quite comfortable in, but I felt that I needed to be challenged further.  And so it took me quite a while to decide to jump ship, to go to another financial institution to start something new.  And it was quite painful in that sense, but because of the experience that I’d gained in that financial institution, I was able to replicate that in my current role.  So that was an excellent experience.

The New Savvy:  Why was it painful?

Junie:  It’s always difficult to step out of your comfort zone, so first you have to take your leap of faith.  And then in the new environment, looking at a new business, hiring people, it comes with its pains as well.  But it was superb because this was like a baptism of fire.

The New Savvy:  What are some of the struggles that you faced in your life?  Like you say it’s been painful.  What were some of your struggles and how do you cope with them?

Junie:  Some of the struggles were really to hire real people, or hire the right people for that organisation, because not everybody is suitable because different organisations have different corporate cultures.  And to educate the management on what it means to be in that particular business.

The New Savvy:
  Were there any personal struggles that made you feel that you were not good enough or you want to give up? 

Junie:  Well sometimes I feel that maybe I’m not good enough.  I’m not there, so I’m always trying to see how I can improve.  I think it’s important; I like to know that I don’t know.  I’m a very strange person in that sense because it keeps me self-motivated.  Keeps me going.

The New Savvy: During the time that you had this toughest decision, did you ever think of giving up? What motivated you to stay on?

Junie:  Not really.  It’s not really about giving up.  It’s about pressing on and going to the next level.

The New Savvy:  What motivated you to go on pursuing… because it’s a tough decision, so what motivated you to keep going on?

Junie:  As in to take that leap of faith, is it?

The New Savvy:  Yeah, and when you were in the new role.

Junie:  Because I hired these people, and I felt that I owed it to them to continue.  But to be honest, a door opened for me, and so I left that institution, after about 18 months.

The New Savvy:  You have quite a high position at the bank, and your peers are mostly men.  The world views men as the more successful gender.  So how do you battle with that?

Junie:  I don’t battle.  I know more than them.

The New Savvy:  Because I think women would feel very insecure.  Women would naturally have insecurities…right?

Junie:  Yes.  And I have shared this at an event too because one of the young bankers asked about women working with men as their peers, or maybe having men reporting to them, and if there was a battle or something like that.  I don’t see it as a battle, because as long as you know your work, it’s all good.

So you have to know your work.  You have to be confident, and that’s it.  Because you guide them, so you are nor competing with them, and they will know that you are there to help them, and you can expressly say,“Look, if I come in it is to help you get to your goal.”  So it’s not a competition of sorts.

The New Savvy:  Okay, what about women working with other women?  I mean, sometimes women can be a bit competitive with each other.

Junie:  Yeah.  So women can compete as well.  But then I suppose that’s where the hurt comes in because honestly, why should I be competing with you…right?  I think I’ve always lived by a motto which is, “The good will bring out the good in people.”  And I want to bring out the good in people.

So when a person sees me, or when I see a person, I want to see the good in that person, and to bring that out, and to build that person up.  So if the individual sees me as a competitor, then so be it.  But I just hope that everybody improves.

The New Savvy:  How can women help each other in the corporate world to succeed? 

Junie Foo On How Gender Diversity Is Critical For Businesses To Be Successful & Socially Responsible
Credit: Ywlc.org

Junie:  For women to help women in the business community, it’s to help each other succeed.  It means to pull each other up. You’re climbing the mountain, and you just can give a hand and not push the person down the hill, because that’s not the point at all.

The New Savvy:  How do you plan your finances?  When did you start planning your finances and how?

Junie:  I’ve always like to save, but I think I’ve been spending a bit more money these days.  Retail therapy.  Trying to keep the retail industry up in Singapore.  Automating your savings is important. I’m quite conservative in a way, so nothing too risky, if I do invest.  I suppose I started in my twenties or thirties, but I also collect some art, so I’ve sold a couple of them at a profit.

The New Savvy:  How do you decide what to do financially?  Is there a decision system?  What do you invest in? 

Junie:  As part of my investments, I invest in corporate bonds.  I prefer that.  I’m not really into shares, and also being in a bank; I don’t like to deal with shares.  I focus more on corporate bonds and fixed deposits.  Very conservative.

The New Savvy:  Can you tell us more about your investments?

Junie:  I’ve always been interested in art, and over the years I have picked up a few ones that I liked, and some of them I’ve sold because the buyers were interested in it.  I also paint a little bit on my own, and I just donate the paintings to raise funds for charity.  So the investment is personal in that sense.

Maybe some investors who would say that there are some fixed rules, but for me, it’s real if I like the painting.  Of course, it helps if the painting is a bit well known, perhaps, then if you want to sell it in the market, then there will be buyers.  But I buy to keep because I like the paintings.

The New Savvy:  What do you think of the financial literacy level among the young women in Singapore, and how can we improve their relationship with money?

Junie:  I think the young women around me are very knowledgeable, and these days with the internet, information is very readily available, and I would be surprised if the younger set of women were totally clueless about managing their financing.  I would think that people like my mom’s age, or maybe slightly older, who haven’t been to school, or to university, they may find it a little bit more challenging.  But the young women these days should know better.

The Financial Women’s Association did a Financial Intelligence Program; I thought quite some years ago.  And we went out to corporations, and it was little case studies or scenarios, and we’d ask them questions like, “Oh you got this amount of money, the next day the shares collapse, what are you going to do?”

It was kind of interesting.  We probably did it for one or two years.

The New Savvy:  Is there any advice you can give younger women on financial planning?  Can you give young women some tips on finances, on what they should do, and some financial management?

Junie:  A man is not a financial plan.  Of course, if you marry someone who is quite savvy, who knows his finances, then sure, that’s very helpful.  But I think you should have your personal funds that you can deploy in times of need.

If you’re married, then yes. I like the fact that a couple works together for financial goals.  I think that’s important because it helps binds the couple together as well.  As an individual, you must also know your finances for the future, and that’s important.

The New Savvy:  What are some of the things that are important for young women to look at financially?  In general, what do you think are some of the things that are important to take note of when planning their finances?

Junie:  I believe that we should try to avoid, for example, taking home loans, until sixty-five, or something like that.  Because you end up becoming a slave to the loan.  You can try and speed up the repayment, you know, have that goal.  Because I think when you are financially free, financial freedom is sweet.

I’m very sure it is, so I think it’s important for us to work towards that goal.  So you should have a retirement nest egg, and you should plan as early as possible.  I probably didn’t plan early enough, or I tried planning, but then you know, bought a lot of pieces of art.  But I think planning early is essential.

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The New Savvy:  What would you say about financial planning?  When should you start financial planning?

Junie:  So for those who have not started investing, maybe just to share and discuss.  For me, I spoke to a few friends who were in insurance, because they would be a little bit more knowledgeable about personal finances, and how to plan for retirement.  I bought an endowment; I purchased a savings plan.

Sometimes when I receive a cheque, I’m jubilant, because it was a savings plan that I did maybe about ten years ago.

It’s good if you have a friend that you can share with or a friend who is knowledgeable.  Just sit down and talk to a friend, or even like a personal banker, to start you off.  You can read to as well.  As I said just now, information is very accessible, and it’s to ask what you should do.  I think endowment plans or savings plan can start you off on the right footing.

If you want a little bit of risk, you can look at bonds.  If it’s corporate bond the size is immense, so it’s probably a goal that you want to aim for.  I think, for now, you can look more at savings plans and endowment plans – for someone who is entirely new and risk averse.

The New Savvy:   A lot of women lack confidence in investing and Finance as they think it’s very technical.  How can we improve their relationship with money?

Junie:  How to develop a relationship with money? I think most importantly, money is a lubricant.  I think the love of money is the root of evil, but I think money is necessary, because it affords you a certain standard of living, and if used wisely, you may get to see the world if you travel.  So I think money should be like a sibling, you know, you have to learn how to manage it.  I think some women are excellent with money, but it doesn’t mean they are hoarding.

I believe if you are given more, you should give more as well.   For those who are starting out, just aim to save a little bit every month.  I know some of the use love to spend on handbags, and stuff.

Every month you get something new.  It’s always good to pamper yourself, but I just believe in saving money bit by bit.  I like the cumulative effect of it.  I’ve always seen how couples can grow money twice as fast.  The compounding effect is quite amazing, as a couple.

If you’re newly married, make sure you have that conversation.  It’s always tough to talk about money, but be comfortable in speaking to your husband or your wife about finances, because I think that’s important.

The New Savvy:  You have the BoardAgender, you paint, and then you mentor.  How do you juggle your time?  And how would you advise people who want to do the same, to get more out of life?

Junie:  I am involved in quite a lot of volunteer work.  I think my work life is also very, very hectic.  I travel a lot for work, so sometimes people ask me how I juggle my time.  I’m this gymnast, I’m in the air, everything is up in the air, and I try to land properly and catch them.

But I think the spiritual aspect for me, is also paramount, and I tell people, it’s like God first, then family, and career.  So career is third, because if my heart is in the right place if God is there, that’s my guiding principle.

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And my family, I also try and prioritise them.  So at the end of the day, you know, when you’re on your dying bed, really it’s your family that you want to see.

So that’s important for me.  So I do try to spend time with my husband.  It’s always great to go home, and he’s there.  I’m happy to go home.  I think it’s important.

The New Savvy:  Which three famous people would you like to invite to a dinner party? Why, and probably what would you talk about? Junie Foo On How Gender Diversity Is Critical For Businesses To Be Successful & Socially Responsible

Junie:  There are so many people I want to invite for a dinner party.  But if I had to choose three people, well, they are quite extreme.

I would like to invite Princess Masako because I’ve followed her as she was going to get married to the Prince Consort.  And there was so much written about her, how intelligent she was, how smart, and having being education abroad, at Harvard, and Cambridge, and everything all together.

After she got married, she’s become this mystery, because nothing is said about her, and I feel that it is such a waste of talent.  So if I could have dinner with her, I would want to ask her what it is like being in the palace and if she is in depression.

I would, if I can, invite maybe some of the artists, Van Gogh, or someone.  Just want to tap their brains on their painting, and what made them paint like they did.  I suppose this was a reflection of the times, because when you look at paintings, it’s really how the person sees himself in a situation perhaps.  Or Michael Angelo, because I think he’s a great genius.

And one of my favourites would be Margaret Thatcher because I’ve always been impressed by her.  How she managed to be in politics, especially during a time where you know, in the eighties, it’s not as easy as it is now.  I mean, it’s still quite difficult to be a female politician, but that time I think you needed to be strong.

I also watched the movie, and how she changed the way she spoke.  She talked to a higher voice, and then she adapted and talked with a lower tone, more confident.

I’m not sure how they would converse with one another, but yes, I would like to invite these three people for dinner.

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C.E.O @ The New Savvy
Anna Haotanto is passionate about finance, education, women empowerment and children’s issues. Anna has been featured in CNBC, Forbes, The Straits Times, Business Insider, INC and The Peak Singapore. She was nominated and selected for FORTUNE Most Powerful Women conference in 2016 (Asia) and 2015 (San Francisco, Next Gen). Anna has 10 years of experience in the financial sector and is currently a Director in Tera Capital. Her previous work experience includes positions at Citigroup, United Overseas Bank, a regional role in Business Monitor and a boutique private equity firm based in Shanghai. She graduated from Singapore Management University (Finance and Quantitative Finance).