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 Farra Siregar, Managing Director of ASEAN at Corteva Agriscience, on the importance of self-care, leading in a time of uncertainty, as well as the biggest sacrifice she’s had to make thus far: precious time with her son.
Q: What is an experience that you’ve had that’s unique to a woman?
The first is about being confident, then enjoying the journey personally. The second is around driving gender diversity. To all the women out there, please be sure that you enjoy the journey, stop doubting yourself and be positive. I’m an expert worrier — not a warrior. I would leave a meeting, and multiple voices in my head would ask: ‘Was that good enough? Was that clear enough? What do people think about me?’. As I reflect on my journey, 90% of the time I’m moving into a role previously occupied by a male counterpart. What I’ve noticed is that I have done just as well or even better in some cases.
Q: What are the biggest foreseeable challenges for women leaders?
I think the biggest challenge is to lead in a time of uncertainties, how to develop an agile and resilient team. There is a Mckinsey article that talks about how change can be especially difficult for successful leaders because they are finally faced with the possibility that things might not work out. More than ever, in this dynamic world, we need leaders with the ability to recognise the fears and risks, and how we can actually still deliver on our goals and be successful. Female leaders are relatively more reflective and collaborative in their decision-making process, and this actually means that it will be easier for them to adopt a positive-thinking leadership style.
Q: If you could give just one leadership lesson that you’ve learnt over the years, what’d it be?
One of the key things for me is that IQ alone will not cut it. I think really good leaders don’t actually believe that they have all the answers. It’s really about having the humility to know yourself and what you can and cannot do. Personally, being a leader is about finding the vision of what winning looks like, the steps needed to get there and who do I need on my team to make it happen.
Q: What energises you about your work?
I feel very fortunate to be in the agriculture industry because I get to travel to the most beautiful farming areas across Asia, and I get to meet really down-to-earth and inspiring farmers. About a year ago, I was in the Philippines and we were launching an education forum with the Department of Agriculture. We educate them and bring them the latest technology so that they can improve their yields. There, I met a female corn farmer who told me that, 10 years ago, she was worried about feeding and supporting her family. When you don’t own your own land, you are losing your harvest. So she worked with our agronomy team to have better harvest and yield. Eventually, she started saving money and started buying up land. Ten years later, she now owns her own land and is actively contributing back to her community. So these stories energise me the most.
Q: What have you sacrificed along your career journey?
I would say time with my son. I have a 19-year-old son, and he is my priority. When he was younger, it was difficult for me, whenever I had to go for a business trip, I felt guilty. I questioned if I was making the right choices and if I was a good-enough mother. My own mother, who is also my best friend, shared a good advice: focus on quality versus quantity; to let him know that even though I couldn’t be the mom who’s there every day after school, I wasn’t going to miss an important event in his life.
Q: What’s one advice that greatly impacted you and your career trajectory?
The best advice that I have ever received was from Peter Ford, President of Corteva in Asia Pacific and my current line manager. He told me to take care of my wellness. He and a colleague of mine nominated me to attend this excellent two-and-a-half-day wellness workshop by Johnson & Johnson’s Human Performance Institute, and I learnt how to manage my energy through a wellness pyramid. After the workshop, I started to exercise every day, manage my sleep better, improve my eating habits, and the results were phenomenal. It impacted my overall happiness and my ability to be more positive, agile and resilient.
Q: How have you developed your confidence as a leader?
I was not born with it. I had to work on it and build it up over time. I think having the humility to know that I am not perfect is one thing. The second thing is to know that, sometimes, things fail no matter how hard I try. It is about the ability to learn from your mistakes and rebound from failures. Also, I was a math major, so my approach is to look at problems, no matter how complicated they seem, and break them down into little pieces. So to me, confidence is not about having no fears. It’s realising that you have the strength to overcome those fears.
Q: How do you unplug from work?
I love music and I love dancing. Even though I embarrass my son in doing this, I do at least one hour of Zumba or cardio dance session every day.
Q: What are your holiday plans like post COVID-19?
I would say Bali in Indonesia, for sure. Just to swim in the sea. Nothing beats looking out into the endless blue. It makes me feel as if my problems are very small, and it does put things into perspective.
Q: What’s your favourite home indulgence?
I have easy access to my fridge and ice cream. Instead of going for coffee, I step it up and do coffee ice cream with all my favourite sprinkles added.