Jenny Ang, the managing director of EHL Campus (Singapore), wants more women to become leaders. According to UN Women, only 20% of managers in Asia-Pacific’s private today are women. In middle and senior management, representation is even lower, at 18%. There is progress, but it has been slow, with gains disproportionately taking place in East Asia and in selected roles, such as administration.
It is within this context that the renowned hospitality management school launched the Women in Leadership (WIL) Initiative. The aim is to raise awareness, exchange experiences and initiate innovative women-related projects.
Ang makes a fitting figure to lead this initiative. The EHL Singapore campus managing director holds decades of experience in leadership positions in various sectors — including music. We caught up with her to learn more about how her international education — in music and business — helped her stake a claim in male-dominated industries:
Where did your interest in piano come from and why did you choose to pursue this at Trinity Laban in the UK?
Art and music have always been important for my family. When I was a child, my parents would take me to concerts and art galleries which I enjoyed because it was an excuse to dress up and go out.
I started piano lessons when I was five and progressed quite quickly. I went to a secondary school with a dedicated music programme.
Despite a hectic high school programme preparing for my A Level exams in maths and science, I decided to study music at a conservatory level. The idea of immersing myself totally in music, practising and performing, surrounded by others who share my passion was incredible.
I sent my audition tape to a few schools and was accepted by Trinity Laban. The next four years helped me understand how much dedication is required in the pursuit of artistic excellence.
At the same time, I met many people from diverse cultures and backgrounds in the very exciting city of London. That opportunity to study and live overseas was life-enhancing.
From there, what made you pursue an EMBA in Finland? What did you enjoy most about the country?
Having been part of the founding management team at the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music, National University of Singapore, and after nearly 15 years in the higher education sector, I decided to pursue an EMBA. This was to assimilate my experience and learn more about management in the corporate sector.
In one of the annual conferences of music conservatories, I sat next to the Dean of Sibelius Academy in Helsinki and we were chatting about the future. He introduced me to Aalto University, a relatively new innovative one merging three schools of science and technology, design and art, and business and economics.
I enrolled in Aalto University’s executive programme which was based in Singapore but I also spent several weeks in Finland for some of the modules. Finland and Singapore have a lot in common: population size, education outlook, blend of historical and modern, tradition and innovation.
I benefited from a very international cohort in Singapore and a very global programme that allowed me to complete it in several locations. This very positive experience is also now available between Singapore and Switzerland through EHL’s multi-campus programmes and I am incredibly excited to be leading this from Singapore.
Walk us through your career trajectory. What drew you to the hospitality industry from a career in music?
I see many similarities between the two. Musicians and artists have an unwavering quest for excellence, perfection and beauty. This value is very much at the core of the hospitality business.
I am very humbled to be able to contribute again to a milestone project in Singapore — launching EHL’s campus here. Serendipitously, the Singapore conservatory signed one of its first Memorandum of Understanding for international partnership with the Haute Ecole de Musique Lausanne.
That was how I got to know Lausanne and western Switzerland which then led me to EHL! Just like how Singapore’s music landscape has evolved in the past decade, EHL will play a key role in elevating hospitality throughout our Garden City and region.
The education model also includes a notion of leadership, training future leaders and experts in customer experience. As their managing director in Singapore, I look forward to working closely with Dean Dr Luciano Lopez to expand the institution’s reputation across Asia.
Tell us more about the Women in Leadership Initiative. How is COVID-19 threatening to slow female leadership in the workplace?
The Women in Leadership focuses on projects regarding women and on a wider scale. It has promoted social changes at EHL as well as in the broader hospitality sector.
We are running a Sexual Harassment Prevention initiative in collaboration with Student Affairs and Non-violence Project Foundation. This is to educate, protect and empower our students and employees on sexual harassment from all different points of view.
We also give them the tools to stand up and support each other when faced in these difficult situations. So far, we’ve trained over 2,000 staff and students on this sensitive topic.
The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted all individuals and industries across the board. Throughout a variety of industries, we’ve seen many people furloughed or let go completely which affects financial standings and morale.
Women are shouldering much of the burden at home, given school and childcare facility closures. McKinsey recently featured a study that found one in four women are contemplating re-thinking their careers or leaving the workforce completely to focus on family needs.
However, the pandemic has given businesses the chance to embed policies that take into account women’s unique needs, responsibilities and perspectives. This gives women equal opportunity to achieve their potential over the long term.
To enable the female leadership progression, organisations can look to continue flexible working arrangements to balance work and home commitments. Cultivating such environments empathetic to support employees, must be embedded in a business amidst and post the pandemic.
We’ve seen an increase in focus on diversity, respect and inclusion which must continue in all establishments as a priority. Promoting networking and mentorship is also a great way to create an open working environment as well as assist women to rise through the ranks and ensure them opportunities.
How does diversity and inclusion align with businesses’ sustainability goals?
Responsible business practices must encompass economic, social and environmental needs to be sustainable. Embracing diversity will drive such goals by working together as a team to address different issues.
Adopting an inclusive culture ensures that staff members, or in EHL’s case also students, have access to the same chances and are treated in the same respectful way. Preventing discrimination in the workplace, fostering inclusion creates an important and happy working environment.
What skills or knowledge do you wish you had learned more during uni?
Uni life elevates us on so many different fronts: gaining skills in time-management, collaboration, communication, leadership and relationships. It’s a different journey for everyone.
I would say to have a deliberate plan to develop all of these aspects holistically and it’s also important to have mentors to help with this journey. Don’t be afraid to discuss with different people your ideas, joys and fears. Draw on their diverse experience to enhance your own.
What advice do you have for students who plan to study abroad?
Do it! Studying abroad is a really enriching life experience where you learn new things, new culture, make new friends and lasting memories. Go with an open mind, really immerse yourself with the locals, see the world from their perspective, embrace the unexpected and enjoy the adventure!
Where do you envision yourself in 10 years?
Singapore will always be home for me. At the same time, I do wish to see and experience many parts of the world. I hope my life and career continues to take me places.
I would like to be able to contribute more within the fields of education, hospitality and the arts — as part of their evolution and transformation. I hope to stay fit so that I can go on epic hikes, travel and enjoy great food and wine.