Rachel Eng: Leading The Charge Against Gender Stereotyping

By Joji Thomas Philip
Mint, New Delhi.

SINGAPORE

In 2010, Rachel Eng broke the proverbial glass ceiling and rose to become the first woman to head a law firm in Singapore when she was named managing partner of WongPartnership LLP.

Nearly five years later, Eng, 46, now joint managing partner, remains the only woman to head one of the top three law firms in the city-state.

For Singapore, which has been taking steps to address under-representation of women in leadership roles, WongPartnership is an ideal model — women make up 43% of its executive committee.

The island republic recently set up a “Diversity Action Committee” headed by Singapore Exchange chief executive officer (CEO) Magnus Bocker to build a pool of women board directors.

But unlike many large corporate entities in Singapore, who have set targets to have women in leadership roles by 2015 and 2020, Eng says this had never been the case at WongPartnership.

“We did not set targets. A lot of partners have families and the firm is generally family-oriented. We always believe that talent is quite scarce and important,” she said in an interview.

“We had a partner who was promoted recently while she was on maternity leave. In legal profession we always discuss that the best phase of one’s career, which is from 28-40, coincides with your child rearing years, and it is very difficult. If the organization does not provide support at this time, they (women) will make a break at 30. Generally, we take a long-term view on the career. This is why we have a lot of female partners,” she said.

Eng studied law at the National University of Singapore and after graduating in 1991, she was called to the bar in the following year.

She started her career with Allen and Gledhill and then moved to Messrs Arfat Selvam and Gunasingham. In 1995, she joined WongPartnership LLP and became a salaried partner two years later.

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