Serai Spotlight (IWD edition) with Michelle Mak of Dun & Bradstreet

March 7, 2022

Michelle Mak is the Head of Partnership and Enterprise Learning at Dun & Bradstreet. The recipient of the Outstanding Young Female Entrepreneur Award in the Great Bay Area in 2021 shared with us why power and possessions are secondary and the importance of defining one's own success.

What is the biggest lesson you've learned in your journey as a change-maker?

It would be the ability to identify allies who share the same vision as you. Don't be obsessed with having everything perfect or being your own boss. The key is to build an ecosystem where you can fail fast, focus on the big picture, and multiply success with the people who share the same goals.

This year’s theme for IWD is “#BreakTheBias”. Have you faced any bias in your career due to being a woman? If so, how did you overcome them?

It's a great question, especially for someone who's in the data and technology industry.

I think many people have spoken about the gender bias in our industry, but I would like to say that the person who has the biggest bias in my own journey is myself.

A lot of the times bias is self-inflicted in the sense that we do not allow certain beliefs to happen because we are not sure. That's what I had experienced at the beginning of my career. Later on, I realised I could leverage my weaknesses and turn them into opportunities. By showing my stakeholders that I'm able to see a bigger picture at a higher level, it enables me to complement other experts and focus on what I'm good at instead.

How do you gain that confidence and focus on what you're good at?

I've tried different ways, to be honest. There's this saying 'fake it till you make it', right? At the beginning, I tried to fake it. But you are not fully confident when you are faking it, particularly in the face of someone who really wants to test your knowledge and challenge you. So it didn't work for me. Then I changed. I started to laugh at my own weaknesses, or I would joke about it. Of course, you have to balance it with what you are good at at the same time.

You would notice being vulnerable and open about what you don't know aren't necessarily bad. You are actually inviting people to join the conversation, and the right people would appreciate it as long as you show the attitude and determination to make things work.

You touched on embracing our vulnerabilities, which could be quite difficult for young women who are just starting out. Is there any message you would like to send out to them?

There are so many messages I want to send. Early on when I was mentoring business school students from where I graduated, I realised I saw who I was at that time. When we just graduate, we usually get caught up with proving ourselves. We're busy pleasing people. So the single message I would like to send is:

Don't worry about becoming or being somebody you're not.

Focus on building your values and your characters. Your value system is the most important as time goes by. For young women, there are different stakeholders and people telling you who you are supposed to be in order to be successful. But the real success comes from fulfilling the destination that you are meant to fulfil. So you need to find what makes you self-actualised. Look at Maslow's theory, a lot of people get caught up with the physiological needs, the materialistic gains, which is the bottom of the food chain. But why don't we focus on the top, helping others and making a difference to the world? That's a more important question.

So, how do you define success for yourself?

There was a time I thought I was doing great fitting in with the kind of success we are conventionally exposed to. However, instead of feeling proud and happy, I felt empty being in a career hamster wheel. So a few years ago, I started volunteering at the female prison. When I see joy from others and the impacts I'm bringing to them, I felt important. That sense of fulfilment is something I have never had. From then on, I shifted my habits, redefined success for myself, found purpose in life and looked beyond power and possessions.

Which woman/female entrepreneur do you admire the most, and why?

I'm truly impressed by the Prime Minister of New Zealand, Jacinda Ardern. She has continuously shown confidence and fearlessness in the midst of social expectations, judgements and disbeliefs, especially challenging for women in the political arena. She has inspired and empowered many other women by being comfortable in her own skin, believing in her own truth and speaking up for the underprivileged.

What do you hope to see change or progress for women in the next five years?

I think for developed and prosperous cities like Hong Kong, women's rights and gender equality have been talked about, and I think everybody is working towards it. But what I'm seeing is that, on the other hand, it has been going backwards in some places in the world. I would like to see women coming together to make changes across borders. Secondly, I would like to see more male allies coming forward. It would be great to see more leaders and personalities taking initiatives to speak up and protect women.


About the series

To celebrate International Women's Day 2022, we sat down with seven female trailblazers in the fashion and sustainability industry to talk about their struggles and challenges, career learnings and advice to young women.