In the Year of Celebrating SG Women, we present stories which showcase and celebrate women’s multi-faceted contributions and progress at SNEC and SERI.
Join us to honour and acknowledge our team of amazing women who have made impact in the field of Ophthalmology, inspiring those around them with their brand of ethos in life.
Dr Deborah TanHead and Consultant, KK Eye Centre, KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital
Consultant, Paediatric Ophthalmology & Adult Strabismus Department, SNEC
Being a woman and a head of an eye clinic at the same time — do you feel that these two roles are contradictory in style?Not at all. But that may be because I’m in Paediatric Ophthalmology, where 80% of my department strength comprises females! For this to even be a question shows the unconscious gender bias in our society. It is perhaps more common for society to default to behavioural stereotypes, such as the perception that women are too delicate to lead, aren’t as decisive nor authoritative as men. It’s of utmost importance that, as female leaders, we do not bow to outdated expectations of what a leader should be or do. Those traditional qualities that we associate with feminine styles of leadership — care, empathy, compassion, the ability to connect and relate — may well be what is needed to shape the future of leadership! We can be as competent, while also showing a human side; we can be assertive and strong, while displaying kindness and empathy. We need to actually think about women and their behaviours, practices and leadership capabilities in their own terms, and stop comparing them to male leaders, because then women will be seen as subordinate.
Do you have a female role model?I admire Jacinda Ardern, who was elected Prime Minister of New Zealand in 2017, when she was 37. She was then the world’s youngest female head of state. As if leading a country wasn’t hard enough, she carried on as a mother, having given birth to her first daughter less than a year into her term! I identify with her since we are around the same age with a young family. Also, both our daughters — her first and my youngest — are named Neve! I like how she has the ability to act decisively and robustly when managing any major issue, while at the same time maintaining a warm, down-to-earth and approachable demeanour. She has also frequently demonstrated her exceptional multitasking skills, such as giving major speeches with her daughter on her lap!
Do you ever have the impression that things would be easier had you been male?When I was first approached to take over as Head of KK Eye Centre, I had just returned to work from maternity leave, so I declined. After all, with a newborn and two older children, taking on more roles was the last thing I needed! But Assoc Prof Audrey Chia, my predecessor, was persistent; she gave me time and space to ponder, always encouraging me to push myself. My main concern was my children. As my husband runs a busy private practice, the day-to-day running of the household, as well as the kids’ schoolwork and activities, are largely looked after by me. After much pondering, prayers and discussion with my family, I decided to take up the challenge. It would be a good opportunity to contribute and give back to the centre that has nurtured me to be the ophthalmologist I am today. However, I could only do so with the strong childcare support that I get from my family, especially my mother and mother-in-law. So, yes, in this aspect, it would have been easier if I were a male, and not the hands-on tiger mum that I am!
In five to 10 years, what do you hope to have accomplished in terms of your work?By the end of my tenure, I hope to have been able to attract the best people to join our department, to create a successful, well-rounded and diverse team with a dynamic range of skill sets. I hope to be an effective mentor to my team, to be able to provide good advice and guidance to the younger ones, and to create a development plan that helps each member grow as an individual and fulfill their potential in the department. In the long run, I hope to be known for a style of leadership that emphasises authenticity and empathy, and the importance of open communication, trust, and priority of the common good.
here to check out the
Women of Vision series.
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