Some 26 CEOs of ISO’s national bodies are women. Here, six of them talk about their careers to date, life at the top and the role of women in standardization.
From village to VIP
Malaysia’s Fadilah Baharin
Growing up in a village in Malaysia, otherwise known as a “ kampong ”, civil servants were considered the great maharajas, the “chosen ones” with extraordinary powers. Civil servants lived in a world of their own, doing whatever they wanted, whenever they wanted. This, of course, was in stark contrast to village people, who were making their daily living by running small businesses.
This reminds me of a childhood memory of my mother walking all the way to the local tax office at midday, only to be told to come back at 14:00. Lunchtime was at 13:00. As a common villager, she didn’t complain and did as she was told.
Upon completing my studies at a university in England, I was summoned back to enter the Malaysian civil service. Although my mother’s experiences with the civil service were enough to scare me off, she convinced me that I could help change the culture.
Now, many years later, in my current position as Director General of the Department of Standards Malaysia (DSM), I would like to think that my efforts have been contributing to the cause.
Confucius once said, “ Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life. ” And that describes exactly where I am now. I have found my calling in standardization because it encompasses everything I love, including meeting people and international travel.
For some, standards are little more than sheets of paper. For me, standards are a service. Standards exist because people need them.
But we must stay relevant. To do this, I have to interact with people, listen and understand their needs and continue to meet their expectations. Furthermore, as part of an interconnected network, I need to travel and meet with peers and DSM stakeholders in order to ensure the timely delivery of our standards.
I am proud to say that Malaysia is heading in the right direction, towards a “ quality culture ”. In 2011, we had the honour to hear our Prime Minister, Dato’ Sri Mohammad Najib Tun Razak, announce that standards are among the six strategic reform initiatives in the Government’s economic transformation programme. This plan aims to make Malaysia a high-income country by 2020 and, at the DSM, I will do my part to make this happen.
Is being a woman relevant in all this ? Well, by default, I was born a woman. Has it given me any perks ? Well, I can choose to wear colours in “ serious ” meetings, and I’m often allowed to express my views – first !
Colombia’s María Zulema Vélez Jara
As the CEO of Colombia’s standards body, ICONTEC International, allow me to share with you some ideas.
For a start, it is interesting to be part of an organization that shares knowledge. It is also interesting to see the interactions in technical committees which involve a mix of knowledge management and human behaviour. In these meetings, it is important to work with – and not against – people with different backgrounds, personalities and views.
It is rewarding to work in an activity that helps society. Companies can gain certificates to standards, which is of course excellent, but the standards involved really benefit the market and people’s everyday lives.
How can we attract more women to standardization ? I have the feeling that it is not a matter of gender, but of lack of information. Most people, at least in Colombia, are not aware of the work carried out in standardization. Certainly, before I joined ICONTEC, if you had asked me what a person does in standardization, I really would not have known the answer.
Although standardization is present in all fields, there is a stronger presence where experts or people involved are linked to male-dominated professions.
To attract more women to standardization, therefore, we need to :
- Provide more information on work in standardization
- Apply standardization increasingly to new technologies
- Change the way people see standards (which remains “ boring job, boring standards ”)
We also need to answer people’s questions : where standardization can be learned, what experience and skills are needed, what standardization is trying to achieve, and what can be expected in terms of career progression.
We must also change the idea that standardization is just a logistics job. It is more than that, so we need to highlight broader project management.
A level playing field
Kenya’s Evah Adega Oduor
Standardization is a broad field with a wide scope, and yet it is very specific. It has broadened my work from understanding products and services, and the environment, to newer subjects such as climate change and energy efficiency.
My job in standardization gives me the opportunity to interact with experts and professionals from around the world and from all walks of life. I like the world of standards, which makes the world a better place.
All our staff in the Kenya Bureau of Standards is highly motivated and focused on results. On occasions though, I have asked myself if a female employee has had to work extra hard to rise up through the ranks.
With consistency, perseverance and professionalism, any member of staff should be able to progress. Gender should be irrelevant. I know I have what it takes, and I deliver. When there is an equal, level playing field, women can run just as fast as men – and sometimes faster !
All for the good cause
New Zealand’s Debbie Chin
As Chief Executive of Standards New Zealand (SNZ), there is a lot I like about my job. The best part is the realization that the standards we develop – through our expert committees – have such a positive impact on New Zealand and New Zealanders.
It is satisfying to lead an organization that provides products that keep homes, buildings, playgrounds and health services safe, and help to prevent accidents and injuries ; that minimize the impact of potential disasters ; that improve the quality of goods and services ; that help to protect the environment ; and that boost economic growth and trade.
I enjoy working with our stakeholders – committee members, funders, nominating organizations and industry – who share my appreciation of standards and their benefits. Our expert committee members really do devote huge amounts of time, dedication and enthusiasm to the development of National and International Standards.
It also gives me great pleasure to lead a team of 40 committed staff. Their strong belief in standards is reflected in the high quality of their work.
My role in the international arena also gives me great satisfaction. I learn so much from my counterparts and others at events such as the ISO General Assembly, the Pacific Area Standards Congress and the International Electrotechnology Commission’s General Meeting. They too are always interested to hear of developments in New Zealand.
Of course, SNZ has a special relationship with Standards Australia, with whom we develop many joint standards.
To women thinking of a career in standardization, I say, “ Go for it ” ! Working in this field is always varied, sometimes challenging, and very rewarding. Your chosen career will enable you to have a significant and positive impact on people, organizations and society.
Standards are constantly expanding in terms of depth and breadth. They underpin technological progress and economic growth, and are affected by them. Nothing stands still in standards, which gives us a dynamic and stimulating environment in which to work.
You will meet, and work with, people from many industries. Once you become immersed in this world and become more aware of the value of standards, you will become a firm proponent too.
Because standards are everywhere and often “ hidden ”, people can take them for granted. So it’s important to do what you can to convey the benefits of standards as widely as possible.
Whichever path you take in your standards career, you will find it worthwhile, satisfying (at least most of the time) and always interesting.
Wanted : Female standardizers
Norway’s Trine Tveter
In my role as the Managing Director of Standards Norway, I enjoy what I do predominantly because working in standardization has such a big and important impact on our society. What would the world be like today without standards ?
I also like the idea of the international standardization system as one of the world’s best examples of well-functioning, widespread, cross-border interaction and cooperation. Others have described it as a mini-UN, but I think it’s even more efficient and inclusive.
I regard standardization as a unique arena for experts and stakeholders from all parts of the world to meet and participate on equal grounds. It’s a forum where they can discuss topics of mutual interest to create joint solutions. I have been a part of the international standardization family for years now, and I feel tempted to describe it as a project contributing to international peace in an important and successful way.
There should be increased public awareness of the true significance of standards. This is a challenge but I enjoy bringing this message to decision makers and the market.
More specifically, I want to bring the world of standards into education. In Norway, we are involved in some projects to include standards and standardization in curriculums at certain universities and colleges. And the timing is crucial. Including a standards curriculum will help demystify the long-held belief that standardization is of interest predominantly to older people.
Standardization is evolving into new areas such as sustainable events, where women are better represented. As a result, I think and hope that standardization will become less male-oriented than it traditionally has been.
Recruiting women is important to me. As a female leader, I think we should seek to encourage women to apply for a career in standardization, both as employees and as chairs and members of standardization committees. I want to broaden perspectives and look for female “ standardizers ” in areas that historically have been dominated by men.
I would like to welcome all women to the world of standardization. We need your skills and I’m sure your contribution will enable us to make better standards for all.
Empowering young women
South Africa’s Boni Mehlomakulu
As CEO of the South African Bureau of Standards (SABS), my team and I are currently modernizing the organization, and building new capacity to support South Africa’s industrial development plan.
SABS was formed in 1947 and is a founding member of ISO. We also hold the Secretariat for SADCSTAN, the standardization body for the Southern African Development Community of 14 nations.
I needed to redirect SABS, an organization that had until 2007 enjoyed regulatory powers, into a service-oriented organization committed to continual improvement. My ultimate goal is to position SABS as a standardization services provider of choice.
For me this process has been, and still is, stimulating and enriching. We’ve seen great progress, including the installation of new information and communication technologies, and the opening of a nine-laboratory advanced testing complex in 2011. This is speeding up testing and assuring consumers worldwide that South African products are safe and fit for purpose.
On gender issues, I am lucky to be in a country that puts so much effort into equality. The South African Government has made it clear in its policies on women empowerment that women should play a meaningful role in all the sectors of the economy – starting with a 50 % women representation in Parliament. South Africa has achieved 49 % women representation to date, making us number three in the world.
There should be programmes and caring mentors of both genders to help women succeed in leadership positions. I have been fortunate to benefit from both at a young age.
I have been driving significant assignments for around 10 years. I want to keep my promises to my country and ensure that my children grow up in a better place.
My role puts me in a position where I can help to empower women. In most developing countries, including South Africa, girls would not customarily choose science as a field of study. Women have not been encouraged to pursue careers in the sciences, so I take pleasure in hosting small groups of girl pupils (grades 11 and 12) in my office throughout the year. These young women get exposure to the work of SABS, learn about standardization and see at first hand the level of responsibility that comes with my position as CEO.
Inspired by my passion for girls’ education, SABS has recently established a trust fund for rural girls’ tertiary education in maths and science as part of the social corporate responsibility programme. With the first enrolment having started in January 2013, I hope these young women will be ready to start their careers with SABS in 2016.
As a woman, I look at our economy and think how I can make other women’s lives easier. One answer relates to the key role of standards in stimulating innovation and economic growth in developing countries.
Take, for example, Africa’s large but informal sector of traditional medicine. In South Africa, around 70 % of the population still depends on traditional medicine for primary health care. This sector is estimated to be worth ZAR 2,9 billion per year, has 27 million consumers and employs 133 000 people, mostly rural women. Since traditional medicine is based mainly on plants, the 771 species harvested from the wild is a threat to sustainability. The subsequent frequent informal packaging of remedies in juice and drink bottles has led to many deaths. Standards could save lives and help this sector to become more predictable in its practices.