Meet Ms Gan Siow Huang, YWLC mentor and Singapore’s first female Brigadier General.
Spotting Ms. Gan and Jesslyn at the dinner venue was not a difficult task; even in a relatively filled restaurant, the bright smiles and cheerful laughter from Ms. Gan and Jesslyn’s table in a corner immediately caught my attention. Many of us may know that Ms. Gan, Singapore’s first female Brigadier General, is also our country’s highest female ranking officer in the SAF. What many of us may not know is her extremely friendly and easy-going demeanour. Coupled with Jesslyn’s energetic and lively personality, what I thought was a semi-serious interview turned out to be an extremely enjoyable conversation with these two.
Ms. Gan, having taken up the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) Merit Scholarship in the first year it was open to females, is now the Commander of the Air Power Generation Command, one of the six Commands under Republic of Singapore Air Force. Jesslyn is in her last year in NUS, completing a double degree programme in Law and Economics. The story began when they were paired successfully in YWLC’s mentorship programme.
Could you share a little about yourself, what is a day like for you?
Ms Gan: I have to say there is no typical day in the Air Force. I am in charge of the smooth running of airbases in Singapore, making sure our airbase systems, security, air traffic control, infrastructure, logistics and operations including aircraft maintenance are well taken care of and prepared for the RSAF’s daily operations round-the-clock. I spend most of my time looking after the readiness of our units, training of our personnel, condition of aircraft and sustainability airbase systems and infrastructure. I also allocate resources, assign tasks to my units, and work with other operational commands to meet the RSAF’s mission requirements. On top of this role, I also do coaching for my team, where I am responsible for the career planning of my staff at the headquarters.
Jesslyn: I am a student studying Law and Economics at NUS. In school, I am part of the investment society and that is where the area of finance and investment banking sparked my interest. I am graduating soon and I hope to go into the field of investment banking.
What is your new year’s resolution?
Ms Gan: My resolution is definitely to spend more time with my three daughters (at 5, 10 and 14-years old). They are each growing up fast and I want to be there for them so they can be more reassured and ready.
Jesslyn: My new year’s resolution is to prioritise my social life, meet more friends and spend time with them. I also want to be fitter so exercise is on the top of my to-do list!
How has the YWLC mentorship experience been for you so far?
Jesslyn: It has been a really fruitful first experience for me with Ms. Gan as my mentor. I wanted to learn from Ms. Gan who is senior in the industry and focus on how she manages and leads. In particular, I hope to learn how to best navigate through workplace, especially in a male-dominated environment like the SAF.
Ms Gan: I have enjoyed the experience very much too. I wanted to know more people and broaden my understanding of young people better. Jesslyn is a great bridge for that. She is an energetic girl and a go-getter. I have encouraged Jesslyn to go the distance, while also reminding her to stay healthy and maintain a balanced lifestyle. Eating well and sleeping well are very important in my opinion; these help me to keep up the energy at work and at home.
How would you describe the mentorship style you have built?
Ms Gan: I think my style is to build up the relationship from the start by asking questions to find out more. I prefer an interactive mentorship experience where both people can feel at ease, share and learn from each other.
Jesslyn: Ms. Gan and I have always met through casual settings, often through a meal. This helps to relax me to engage in a better conversation with her, which often covers many topics.
Ms. Gan, do you have a mentor in your life and who is she/he?
Ms Gan: Through the 25 years in SAF, I have had several mentors. I find the “unofficial” or informal mentors the most effective. One of my mentors is a senior in the Air Force who has greatly impacted the way I work and the standards I hold for myself. I personally prefer mentors whose values I can connect to, both on moral and professional levels.
In YWLC the mentorship scheme has a different template. I found it important to to clarify the expectations early with my mentee. I have asked Jesslyn questions such as “what do you want to know”, “what do you hope to get out of this” so that I understand her needs better. Of course, these are not fixed and we are flexible to change and switch.
Being a leader in your field, what kind of advice would you offer to young women who would like to excel in your industry?
Ms Gan: Don’t self-doubt or have self-selection bias. I think that is very important for young women who are at crucial stages of their lives, be it starting a family or considering careers changes. I have met many young women who are very promising, however some chose not to take up more senior positions because of self-doubt, not ability. I hope that happens less because very often, young women believe that starting a family means having to stall one’s own career. I think both can be balanced and it is always worth giving it a try. Of course, I need to emphasise that it is not going to be easy, and that is why a network of support from the spouse, family, colleagues and the organisation is key.
For Jesslyn, knowing that one of her focus was navigating the workplace, I have offered her the advice to not be daunted by gender stereotypes at workplace. I believe she can do well because she has a strong fighting spirit and is always looking for areas to challenge herself.
Is there a cause that you are passionate about?
Ms Gan: Yes that is Girl Guides Singapore (GGS). Outside of work, I serve in the EXCO for GGS and I am the commissioner for membership. I focus on the profile of its members, recognise guiders and help to make sure that GGS as an organisation continues to grow.
On top of GGS, YWLC is an organisation that I have recently come across and started to engage more in. I believe in its cause of of developing young women and empowering them to do well.
Application for 2018 Mentorship Programme is now open. Click here to apply.