Emma Lok - Advice for getting more women in the workplace.Published on: 11 Nov 2021
After six years at Procter & Gamble, Emma Lok took a radical step in her career. She left the corporate world to dedicate herself to social change. That’s precisely what she did for five years as Business Manager at OneWorld, and since 2019, she’s continued that mission as Director of Strategy & Communications at WOMEN Inc., an advocacy organization that accelerates women’s emancipation. Top of Minds spoke with Emma about equal opportunities for women and men in the labor market.
Tip 1: Take your cues from Pippi Longstocking.
“The transition from Procter & Gamble to OneWorld couldn’t have been more massive,” Emma says. “I went from international to local, from a commercial to a subsidized organization, from a permanent position to one I had to create myself, and from a corporate organizational culture to a creative culture. At the time, I decided to think like Pippi Longstocking: I have never tried that before, so I think I should definitely be able to do that.”
According to Emma, it’s an attitude more women should feel the freedom to embrace. “From the very outset, you’re often already filtering for factors like location, number of hours, and what you’ve done before. But doing that means you reject a lot of things, and those unconscious choices are a waste. Your work is going to require so much time and energy, it’s important to figure out what you really want to do. Don’t let your ambitions limit you, dream big. I’m sure there’s a way to handle the practicalities if you land your dream job. If I hadn’t followed the example of Pippi Longstocking, I’d still be in the corporate world, even though working towards social change is what really drives my passion.”
Emma Lok’s CV
2019 – present: Director of Strategy & Communications, WOMEN Inc.
2014 – 2019: Business Manager, OneWorld
2008 – 2014: Various commercial roles, Procter & Gamble
2002 – 2008: MBA in Marketing Management, graduated cum laude, University of Groningen
Tip 2: Know what drives you in a job.
“Even though the transition was extreme, I immediately felt just as at home at OneWorld as I did at Procter & Gamble,” Emma says. “Obviously, for me, that sense didn’t come from all the factors that were different, it was in the challenge I saw in the role. What you want to achieve in your job and your job description don’t have to be the same thing—although there will probably be similarities. At Procter & Gamble, I held multiple positions, and the common theme was my specialty in beauty products. And the thing I loved about that was consumer research. By observing and engaging with consumers, we studied their behavior and thought processes. I’ve always been fascinated by behavioral change. I learned a lot about that, both at Procter & Gamble and OneWorld, and I’m putting that to use now at WOMEN Inc.”
Tip 3: Recognize systemic inequality.
“Because of my business background, I see things through a business lens and recognize the systems at work in the world,” explains Emma. “To create a better world, it needs to be where everyone can participate. But 50% of the population is female, and they’re systemically less likely to participate, from healthcare to owning assets to the job market to being part of the media landscape. And that’s true in the Netherlands, too. In fact, the Netherlands is on the wrong end: we think we’re very progressive and doing fantastically in terms of gender equality. But the numbers show that we’re actually behind in so many areas, like the one-and-a-half-earner model, the wage gap, the pension gap and parental leave. That distorted self-image impedes progress because it means we have no sense of urgency.”
Tip 4: Don’t see the one-and-a-half-earner model as standard.
“The Netherlands has deeply entrenched structures around the one-and-a-half-earner model, where men work full-time and women work part-time, while taking on one-and-a-half times as many care responsibilities. Many people tacitly assume this stereotype to be the norm, and that has downsides not only for women, but for men and employers, too. Take healthcare and education. In those sectors, female professionals are overrepresented and part-time contracts are the norm. Employers offer new employees part-time contracts as the standard, while those same employers also struggle with major staff shortages. It’s why I recommend that employers discuss it with their employees regularly, during onboarding and at annual evaluations. You’d be surprised how often people work part-time because that’s the standard in certain industries.”
For many men, the one-and-a-half-earner model is a full-time problem. “60% of men would prefer to spend more time with their children,” Emma says, “but they don’t think they can make the move to work less for fear of negative career consequences or a lack of understanding from colleagues and supervisors.” The only way to change that is by continuing to discuss different options at work and holding politicians accountable for their responsibility to create a system that facilitates equal opportunities, rather than reinforcing existing inequalities the way the current system does.
70% of women who work part-time say they’d like to work more under certain conditions. Those conditions mainly have to do with things that are handled by employers and the government, like free or virtually free childcare and flex work. And some people still have the perception that working more can cause you to lose other benefits, even though that’s not always true. Emma continues, “As a woman, it’s important to make sure you’re well informed by using resources like Werkurenberekenaar.nl. It’s the only way for you to make informed choices based on facts, not inaccurate assumptions. Even if you’ve intentionally decided to work less in the past, you aren’t stuck in that situation. Reopen the dialogue if you want to work more, even if internally you’re still working out some practical obstacles. For example, will you continue to be responsible for certain care responsibilities during the day? Perhaps working from home or in the evenings could open up possibilities.”
Tip 5: Take a close look at what you’re entitled to. Correcting for part-time/full-time, we still have a 14% wage gap in the Netherlands. There are several causes at the root of that disparity, according to Emma. For example, women are more likely to work in lower wage industries, like healthcare and education, but it’s also a reflection of the fact that women are less likely to advance to the top of organizations, and women are sometimes paid less than their male colleagues in the same position. “And over 85% of employers believe that shouldn’t be happening,” Emma says, “and 75% of them think there is no pay gap in their organization. So I strongly encourage organizations to run internal investigations to see if there actually is a pay disparity. If it’s not an issue, shout it from the rooftops. If it turns out that things are less positive than expected, you can take a targeted approach to addressing it. For employees, too, it starts with research. Ask other people what they earn, so you can better gauge whether you’re being properly scaled or ask your employer to look into it.”
Tip 6: Don’t take unequal treatment personally. What should you do if your research shows that you’re being paid less than a male colleague? “Don’t blame yourself,” advises Emma. “Remember, it’s the system and it has nothing to do with you. The same is true when you get passed over for a promotion, or when you get cut off in a meeting. There’s no need to get insecure about things. Keep your cool and decide whether you’re going to do something about it, and if so, what. These are social inequalities, not problems at the individual level. Personally, knowing that helps me handle it far better. I can get it off my chest, and when I do decide to do something about it, I’m more confident.”
You can’t solve systemic inequality on your own. Finally, Emma explains, “Find role models to model yourself after, a confidant or mentor who can help you better navigate a culture that is (unconsciously) built for men, and supporters with similar interests. Voice your opinion when HR holds brainstorm sessions. Want to get promoted? Discuss your ambitions with your managers and explicitly ask what it’ll take to make that move. Actively engage in the conversation.”