Ipek Akinci, Managing Director (Singapore, Malaysia and Emerging Markets), Philips Domestic Appliances (Philips DA) strongly believes in building a high performing team through compassionate leadership as she leads brand growth in the region.
She exemplifies the values of compassionate leadership at Philips DA by prioritizing holistic employee well-being, whether through her “Oxygen Fridays” which allow employees to find “balcony moments” to reflect themselves or improve their own abilities; improving flexible benefits for health and welfare needs; or through the 24/7 Employee Assistance Program hotline that supports the emotional well-being of employees.
In this Breaking Barriers interview, she talks to Aditi Sharma Kalra about the common challenges women continue to face in the workplace, as well as advice for leaders to advance gender equity, diversity and inclusion. .
Q With all the focus on employee well-being at Philips, what do you think is the definition of compassionate leadership and why is it so difficult to build?
The pandemic has taken leadership back to its most basic element – making a positive difference in people’s lives. It is important that leaders in these times, if not always, demonstrate compassionate leadership. The goal of compassionate leadership is to influence, not to direct. We need to understand the hopes and fears of our people. Yes, business is important, but the success and efficiency of a business very much depends on the people working in it.
As compassionate leaders, we need to create a safe environment where we can guide and support team members, recognize successes and learn from failures, create stronger bonds between people, raise trust levels and empower priority to their well-being. All of this must be done while moving the organization towards its goals. It’s certainly not easy, but it’s crucial.
Q With Philips DA in the STEM space, how do you and your team support women in the workplace and encourage women to consider careers in technology?
I think it’s a complex issue that’s systemic, structural, and cultural. It should start from early childhood, where we should not classify genders in their so-called natural vocation.
The glass ceiling is increasingly shattered and this is evident with women in powerful leadership positions around the world. That being said, there is still work to be done as women continue to face challenges in the workplace when it comes to gender equity as well as diversity and inclusion.
At Philips Domestic Appliances, we provide equal opportunity and treatment to everyone to foster a diverse and inclusive culture for our people. As leaders, we provide women with the support, tools and guidance to help them develop their individual leadership style that helps them accentuate their strengths. If their interest lies in areas related to technology, we explore how we can train and encourage them to achieve their goals.
Some ways to encourage women to pursue careers in tech include eliminating bias in the hiring process by developing gender-neutral job descriptions, raising awareness of gender equality, and nurturing talent through the development of career and mentoring.
I am delighted to say that for the countries I oversee, namely Singapore, Malaysia and Emerging Markets, the gender ratio is 60-40 in favor of women.
Q What are some significant leadership lessons that you have adapted over the course of your career?
The organization is an organic creature, like a human body. Each member and organ has a role to play and complements each other. The key is knowing how to use specific and diverse skills to achieve a common goal. As a leader, you need to be confident enough to recognize your own strengths and weaknesses and find people who complement or even challenge you. No one knows everything and every aspect of an organization. You must move as an organic whole towards the goal.
Having a good mentor or role model is also helpful. This person can guide you and teach you invaluable lessons. We learn from each other’s successes and failures. We choose what is relevant and good and give it our own flavor based on our own experiences.
Q With “Oxygen Friday” and flexible benefits among your holistic wellness metrics, how do you typically “listen” to what employees want and meet their needs?
A business is only as good as the team that supports it, and it’s important for organizations to recognize the work done by the team by listening to their needs and wants.
Over the past two years, we’ve come to realize how exhausting working from home while juggling a family can be, both mentally and physically. So we’ve enhanced the flexible benefits plan for employee health and wellness needs and set up a 24/7 Employee Assistance Program hotline for supporting the emotional well-being of employees.
We have also introduced a hybrid work model including a three-day work-from-home model and a two-day work-in-office model. This aims to improve the productivity and general well-being of employees and encourage them to disconnect for meaningful downtime. Thanks to feedback from our employees across APAC, we’ve introduced ‘Oxygen Friday’ so employees can spend a day free from internal meetings and other non-critical work to pause, reflect, catch up and log in.
Q If you could have lunch with three people who inspire you the most, who would they be and why?
Indra Nooyi – His story is simply inspirational. She rose through the ranks of her career despite the obstacles placed in front of her simply because she is a mother and a woman of color. She was also bold enough to admit that things weren’t going so well.
Simon Sineck – I admire people who speak and think quickly while making sense. More importantly, his human touch to our difficult world is invaluable.
Greta Thunberg – She’s such an inspiration at such a young age! His determination and passion for saving the planet should motivate and inspire us all to do our part.
In this brand new series of interviews, titled Break down barriers, HR is for women leaders around the world who have made their mark and made their mark in the career of their choice, doing what they love most: living their passions and inspiring others to go further and faster. Read all of our Breaking Barriers interviews here.
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