International Women’s Day: An interview with powerful women

women's international day
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This International Women’s Day, we’re celebrating two women who are shattering the glass ceiling in their respective professions. 

Meet Janice Chew, Principal at JC Legal. Boasting a feature in Prestige 40 Under 40 and 15 years of practicing experience in Malaysia and Hong Kong, Janice has led the broad practice of JC Legal – an all-women legal team – in cross-border commercial law, dispute resolution and regulatory compliance. 

We’re also proud to introduce Dr. Ng Muan Hong, our experienced software engineer from Talenox. With over 15 years of software development experience, Dr Ng is passionate about and familiar with various programming skills and a diverse range of software development projects.

Both women have faced challenges throughout their careers, but they’ve persevered and become an inspiration to other young women who are looking to enter into male-dominated fields. We sat down with them to find out more about their experiences and what advice they have for other women who are looking to make a difference.

Meet Janice Chew, Principal at JC Legal

Hi Janice, thanks for taking the time out to speak with us. Congratulations JC Legal for winning accolades at the Globee Business Awards 2 years in a row, and yourself making to LexisNexis 40 Under 40 this year!

Can you tell us a bit about your personal background and within that, what led to the genesis of JC Legal and your professional interest in law?

Thank you for your warm greetings. I am Janice, qualified as a solicitor and advocate in Malaysia in 2007, and later admitted to practice in Hong Kong in 2014. I was trained as a litigator, specialising in commercial and cross-border litigation. In 2018, I decided to set up JC Legal to help startups and small businesses navigate the ever-changing regulatory landscape in Hong Kong and Southeast Asia.

I started my career in traditional legal practice like most lawyers. The turning point came when I switched to an in-house role and later worked at Thomson Reuters, where I realised that one person can only do so much, and teamwork is essential in order that people specialise in what they are good at. That is why I value diversity, and I run my law firm like a company, with legal, marketing and office administration teams working collaboratively.

Indeed, diversity and inclusivity are important assets in the workplace as they acknowledge the individual strengths of each teammate and the potential they bring.

That said – in your opinion, what are some of the unique challenges that women face in the legal industry, and how does your company address these challenges?

As a woman law firm owner, it is a bit of a barrier at first to build the firm’s reputation and gain the trust of each potential client or partner. I am actively attempting to overcome that challenge by focusing on creating shared value for all stakeholders – our business partners and our clients – as well as enhancing our marketing strategies. Partnerships are very important to us so we can provide holistic service to our clients and help them resolve cross-jurisdictional issues.

Could you share some examples of how your company has helped to empower your employees in the legal profession, whether it be through mentorship, career development, or other means?

At JC Legal, we value our people and encourage them to discover their own path for professional development. This company has supported legal support staff in earning professional qualifications such as the Common Professional Examination and Chartered Secretary. We also provide team and individual coaching to enable us to thrive.

We also enjoy working with students. Since 2018, JC Legal has been a law firm partner of the Legal Advice Programme of the University of Hong Kong. Every semester, the law school pairs a law student with us to take on pro bono work, helping charities and social enterprises with legal research, drafting or training. The experience was positive both ways as some of the interns have extended their internships with us until summer or become our full-time staff.

And that is excellent, and I’m sure indicative of what a wonderful company JC Legal is to work at!

Since we’re at the topic of employment, I am curious to know – in your experience, what are some of the key skills or qualities that you think women bring to the legal industry, and how can they be leveraged to create a more inclusive and equitable workplace?

I think the intuition and communicative abilities of women go a long way to help make the legal industry and the workplace more inclusive. These qualities are not exclusive to women, but the empathy and sensitivity they underlie are much needed in an industry known for an impression of being impersonal or argumentative. Women can succeed in all positions with these skills. A good lawyer, I believe, is first a good listener who attends better to a client’s needs. A good leader inspires and influences.

And what are some of the biggest successes that your company has achieved in terms of advancing women’s rights and representation within the legal profession?

We are proud to say we are a women-led and run law firm, with our staff being predominantly women. People have asked me if we hire women only, which is not the case. This has got me thinking how we should deepen the conversation about gender representation in the legal profession, or the workplace in general. If our firm is almost all female, in what position are we to celebrate gender equality?

I believe our core value is embracing difference. Indeed, our team is not defined by the gender we identify ourselves as, but the multiple dimensions to our personalities: our training (which is not all related to the law), our strengths and our passions. This is why in 2020, we made a video about how JC Legal is “more than meets the eye.” We are not just a group of women lawyers, we are the sum of all our differences, which enables us to do much more.

I’ll be sure to include the video in the article!

So, looking ahead, what do you see as the biggest challenges or opportunities facing women in the legal industry, and how will your company continue to work towards addressing them?

I think with years of efforts in gender advocacy, the progression of women in the legal industry has been improving. Starting from the university level, the gender ratio of the legal sector has been quite balanced, if not more women. From what I see, more firms and companies have the practice of promoting women to leadership positions, and women lawyers also receive a fair share of recognition from awards and the media. Women lawyers are also quite used to the “new law model” where alternative or flexible work arrangements on consultant basis may suit different life priorities.

Moving forward, with the legal industry diversifying with developments of legal technology and public interest, I hope more women legal practitioners will take an interest in developing such skills or paths, and that gender diversity will equally enrich these innovative fronts as with traditional practice.

You mentioned the “new law model” in which there are flexible work arrangements on consultant basis to suit different life priorities. In your case, how does JC Legal support work-life balance for its employees, particularly for women who may face additional demands outside of work?

We have a range of benefits for our staff to develop their best selves. We welcome hybrid work, provide generous annual leave, and support professional development by study leave and study allowance. We also sponsor a fitness programme for staff to enroll in gym classes, and provide bespoke coaching to set goals for career growth and hone specific skills. For female staff particularly, we provide 14 weeks of maternity leave followed by 1 month of remote work and a newborn bonus.

All that sounds wonderful! And what advice would you give to young women who are considering a career in the legal profession? Perhaps you could highlight some key traits that you think are necessary for success in this field!

I would say, legal is a challenging industry, but not for the usual reasons. Surviving and excelling in traditional legal practice was tough for many practitioners, but times are a-changing, which can be good or bad news. The good news is that there are now a lot of channels to do law, like new law, legal technology or public interest I mentioned, or many other innovative ways. This would make legal work more interesting and relevant to our society.

However these emerging fields would need people with knowledge not only of the law, but also other things, such as literacy of the blockchain and web3, media production, community work etc. I think for young women lawyers considering venturing into these fields, they have to be prepared to learn new things fast and be adaptive and creative.

That sounds like terrific advice, and definitely something I would personally love to apply to my career as well. Thank you so much, Janice!

And finally, in honour of International Women’s Day, what message would you like to send to women around the world who are fighting for gender equality and empowerment?

Let’s #EmbraceEquity by respecting individual differences and creating an environment where all can thrive.

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A small and mighty law firm that specialises in a wide range of legal practice areas

Meet Dr Ng Muan Hong, Senior Engineer at Talenox

Hi Muan Hong, thank you for taking the time out to speak with us! Throughout our years together in Talenox, we’ve witnessed first-hand your intellectual interest and prowess in software engineering. The inspiration for becoming a developer can be found in many different places, from our household environments, to school, work, or even simply interacting with computers regularly.

That said – what inspired you to pursue a career in software engineering? Did you have any role models or mentors who helped guide you along the way?

To be honest, I pursued a computer major without thinking much about what inspired the decision in my teenage years. I will say my passion in software engineering eventually grew in my postgraduate and working years. In my stint of postgraduate life, I was fortunate to meet Professor Wendy Hall. She is a fearless woman in the male dominant tech industry, and at that point in time, led a team of female engineers in her research lab. And I was part of that team! She helped us believe in ourselves and understand that one can never be defined by how much one knows in the field but one’s willingness to learn and overcome new challenges.

And how do you approach problem-solving in your work? 

Personally, I see every problem as a challenge and opportunity to learn something new. I have more chances of solving them if I am away from my work desk. An evening stroll or a swim does a lot in giving me the space to think out of the box. 

With Talenox, there is a constant demand for different variations of payroll reporting tools. One of the many engineering challenges we’ve faced as a team is that we had to meet increasing demands for a custom payroll report. This was tricky because there wasn’t a one-size-fit-all payroll report that we could automate to meet all requests. 

We had to find a solution. How can we engineer a custom report that empowers users with the choice of tailoring the contents to their specific needs? This simple question is a guiding principle that laid the foundation for Talenox’s Custom Report feature we have engineered today. Users can now specify on the fly what columns and which slice of data to go into the report, the engine will then auto-generate the report for them.

Indeed! And as you’ve mentioned, being receptive to learning and overcoming challenges – these are definitive factors for fields like software engineering which essentially requires a lot of problem-solving. So, speaking of challenges, as a woman in a male-dominated field, what challenges have you faced and how have you navigated them?

A key challenge in the software engineering field is to keep up with the fast pace of evolving technology. The matter of the fact is that there will always be someone more competent and talented than you at any given point in time. That is why I find it personally works very well to stay humble and maintain the humility to learn from various talented engineers.

At the same time, I’ve been fortunate to be afforded an inclusive environment in Talenox in which I never see myself as the minority contributor being a woman in this field. At Talenox, when you deliver in terms of performance, your merit is recognised as such regardless of gender. I am lucky to always have a team of colleagues who are supportive.

It is very comforting to have a supportive team! It makes going to work and doing the work much easier. So on the topic of work, can you tell us about a project you worked on that you’re particularly proud of? What challenges did you face and how did you overcome them?

Programming can impact life. The reason I say this is because in the past I was privileged to be involved in an online medical project tracing antimalarial efficacy, with the end goal of reducing malaria morbidity and mortality. It’s essentially an online tool used by policy makers to decide on the best medicine to fight malaria. The project is serious work because it aims to solve a current problem whereby a child dies every minute from malaria in Africa. 

Software engineering can command long hours of work. This can be challenging as a working mother juggling both career and kids. It definitely helps that at Talenox, we have flexible working hours and can remote work any day. That said, when I am driven by a good cause that has the potential to positively impact lives, it is well worth spending many hours coding the work.

What advice would you give to young women who are interested in pursuing a career in software engineering?

Merits know no gender bounds, with determination and hardwork you can build amazing software products and make your footprints in the world.  

What skills or qualities do you think are most important for success in software engineering, and how do you cultivate those skills?

There is no shortcut in learning software technical skills. That said, good problem-solving and intuition are a plus in software engineering. That’s because every day presents you with a new technical problem. A lot of the time, coding can be a daunting process that requires a lot of patience; if it brings comfort to any female engineer out there, I would like to admit that this is very much a learning process for me too. While dedication and perseverance are integral to problem-solving, it also helps to know when to take a break. Having a passion elsewhere like in cooking, traveling and hiking does a lot in taking my head out of work to recharge and reboot, and get back into work refreshed and sharper the next day.

Looking ahead, what do you think will be the most important trends or developments in software engineering over the next 5 to 10 years, and how are you preparing for them?

I know for a fact that there is rising demand for software solutions to streamline human’s work to make it more efficient and accurate. There is currently (and will continue to be) an increase in the use of intelligent software because of advancements in artificial intelligence (AI), cloud services and blockchain technology. As a result, software engineers will have to work even harder to learn new languages to not just keep up with, but thrive in the latest trend.

On a personal level, I like to ensure I am always mindful that one can never be too old or too late to learn something new! 

Oh, likewise! I think it’s very important to have that mindset as well. Well, thank you, Muan Hong!

One last thing before we wrap this up – as you already know, this interview will be released on International Women’s Day; so, in honour of the monumental occasion, what would you like to say to the women around the world who are fighting for gender equality and empowerment?

Thank you! Your fight, courage and vision are our inspiration. There is really no limit to what we, as women, can accomplish.

Get in touch

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