As part of our Leading Women series, we want to highlight the professional challenges and career aspirations of the women we work with here in Asia.
In this story, we speak to three leading women from Heineken Asia Pacific: Anna Campagna, Director Sales Transformation APAC; Maud Meijboom, Brand Director for Tiger Beer and Heineken; and Sarah Maddock, Marketing Transformation Director. The three powering ladies from Heineken share how gender roles have evolved over the years, how they have carved out spaces of their own in a ‘masculine’ industry, as well as how their childhood homes have shaped their attitudes towards leadership.
Q: What is one lesson learnt that’s unique to being a woman?
Anna: The one that sticks out for me is being proud of being the only woman in the room, and it happens all the time. It never bothered me in the past but, over time, I understood what it meant to be there, how to leverage the opportunity and minimise the constraints that come with it. It’s about getting a seat at the table, remaining there and enjoying every minute of the rollercoaster.
Maud: It’s something that my father told me. He used to say, “You have to do the best you can when you want something. And when you want something, you can do it”. He instilled that in me, that confidence, to go after something, and to speak up. I think that’s also a lesson that we, as women, can give to one another, that it’s OK to speak up for what you want and go for what makes you happy.
Sarah: For me, it’s a lesson that I wished I had learnt earlier in life. I feel that women, and that includes myself, feel a need to prove themselves, probably more than their male counterparts, and it’s something that I’ve recognised. It’s commonplace, and once you recognise that within yourself, it becomes incredibly liberating. You get so much more out of every interaction because you’re listening better and actually thinking about other people’s perspectives.
Q: Can you name one woman who’s inspired you the most?
Anna: For me, it’s Brené Brown, a psychologist and researcher. She’s taught me the power of vulnerability. When I first heard the concept, I realised that there’s a lot of things I was fighting inside myself. There’s a force inside me, and I began to leverage that, and my life changed for the better.
Maud: When I was young, it was Madonna! I wanted so much to be like her. Later, I would say Hillary Clinton and Michelle Obama. However, in a sense, it’s more about certain traits in people. It’s the hunger to learn and willingness to change.
Sarah: I am fortunate to work alongside these two amazing women you see here today. They continuously inspire me and that’s fantastic. Outside of work, however, it’s someone who used to be in my team quite a few years ago in the UK. This lady had some challenges with her career, and she was eventually made redundant. I admire her because she went on to have a very successful business based on her own self belief. Even in personal life, she continuously takes on challenges, and she’s not afraid of failing.
Q: What are the biases that you have personally experienced at the workplace?
Anna: For me, it was when I went to Mexico [for work], I was the first female director in a company of 15,000 people, and my husband, who chose to follow me, looked after our children. It was completely unacceptable at the time to have such an arrangement. We were in a place that’s much more provincial, and it took a very long time before we were understood and accepted. My husband and I used to say to each other, “As long as, within these four walls, we’re good with this choice, we are able to face anything outside of this world”, and that’s how we did it. A lot of people think that men who choose to follow women, like their wives or partners, are weak. That’s not true at all.
Maud: Maybe for us, when people hear about beer, they think it is a masculine industry. They say, “As a woman, can you really lead in an industry that’s historically male-driven?” You do have to overcome mental hurdles and biases.
Sarah: I have a slightly different perspective on this. Sometimes, people expect that a woman in a senior position to be ruthless, intimidating and assertive — even aggressive. This is just not the case at all. Someone once said to me, “I was expecting you to be fierce but you’re actually really nice”. I think this comes from something that’s ingrained and I don’t think it’s intentional.
Q: Why is being a mentor so important?
Anna: Let me tell you a short story. I interviewed for a job many years ago. I was in my first marriage, when I was 25 or 26 years old, and I remember being interviewed by the General Manager — the last step, basically. He said, “You’re the best candidate so far, but they’re not going to hire you because you’re married, and you’re probably going to have a baby soon. I will not invest in a person in this situation”. The heaviness of this sentence, this judgment, weighed on me, and I promised myself that I would do whatever it takes to not make another woman feel the same. They need to know that they’re not alone, that it is against the law, and that it is worth the fight.
Maud: Initially, with my mentees, I wondered if they’d really listen to my stories. Then I realised that what I share is actually very valuable. It’s rewarding to help guide the conversation and move someone’s career in a slightly different direction. Especially when they say, “Now, because of the conversation we had, I had the courage to speak up”. I think it’s great to experience it.
Sarah: It’s hugely important! When I think back on the mentoring that I have received throughout my career and the difference it’s made, it’s very rewarding. Also, I think the future of our business lies in its talent, and the more we can encourage and build that talent and give them opportunities to explore themselves, the better.
Q: What advice would you give to aspiring female executives?
Anna: Be authentic, be genuine and be fearless. Not everyone will like your true colours, but people will appreciate your honesty anyway. But showing your true colours means to show your vulnerabilities, too. Let people know what gives you strength, what are your weaknesses, but make sure to turn them into strengths later on. Maud: I agree with Anna. Be yourself, do what you love and work super hard for it. Don’t change who you are for anybody, and that applies for both men and women. I can give the exact same advice to men, because they often have to play to an even higher expectation. Women are luckier, in a sense, because we are newer to the block at the higher levels.
Sarah: I think there is a sweet spot for everyone between what you are good at and what you love. If you can find that point, that’s when the magic really happens. It’s so much better when you’re passionate about what you are doing. Once you find that, the sky becomes the limit.
Q: How do you unplug yourself from work?
Anna: The COVID-19 pandemic was a great opportunity for me when it comes to this because my new office is in my music room, so I have the piano right in front of me. Every time I find five minutes, I jump on my seat and play a song or two. When I am travelling, I listen to a lot of classical music and audiobooks, especially those that feature professors teaching classical music. Right now, I am trying to learn about Mozart. He’s my idol.
Maud: I love cooking and baking, so to compensate for all the eating, I have to work out as much as possible. Due to COVID-19, it’s allowed me to do both. It’s good to do so every day; to sweat it out, then bake something delicious, then you repeat the cycle again the next day.
Sarah: What I really like to do to switch off is to plug my brain into something else. I am quite an avid reader, and I am in the process of learning a new language.
Q: My hometown is _____, and it is important to me because______.
Anna: My hometown is a small village at Lake Como, Italy. I grew up there, and that’s where all my friends and memories are. Even though I found it very static and boring as a child, nowadays I realise that it is one of the most fascinating places on Earth.
Maud: My hometown is very close to Amsterdam in the Netherlands. Over there, everybody has a say, everybody speaks their minds, everyone is equal, whether you talk to the Prime Minister or to the lady next door. What I love about the Netherlands and what I truly believe in is that your children are not necessarily raised for success, but what really makes you happy in life. In general, people are truly happy over there.
Sarah: My hometown is a place called Halifax, which is in Yorkshire in the UK. It is a fundamental part of who I am and, even though I haven’t lived there for 28 years, all my family is still there and I try to go back regularly. What I really value about Yorkshire is the people. They are known to be very straightforward, very honest, what you see is what you get, and there’s a strong sense of community — things that are important to me. I can’t wait to go back there.
Q: After staying at home for an extended period of time due to the pandemic, what’s your favourite indulgences at home?
Anna: Ice cream. I am Italian, and ice cream is just part of my diet. And because of COVID-19, food delivery services would send new imported ice creams from all over the world, so my husband and I have been indulging in them.
Maud: I bought a lot of home workout gear, and it makes me so happy to go for a run every morning, then do all those little exercises. They say you have to do 20 to 30 burpees, it’s weird but I feel happy once I am done with them.
Sarah: I’ve actually started painting and, to be honest, I am completely talentless. My paintings are terrible. But on the other hand, I feel like I am indulging myself in so much time here. I enjoy it so much. It’s something new that I haven’t done before, and it’s a great distraction. I am definitely going to keep up with it even after COVID-19.