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Women in leadership roles may have increased in the past few years, but the reality is that females in senior executive roles are still far and few between in many major organisations. 

According to figures from the United Nations, in the Asia-Pacific, at 20 per cent, more women hold managerial roles compared to two years ago, but parity has still not yet been achieved in the bulk of countries across the region.

It’s an issue that e-commerce industry veteran Diane Wang is passionate about and just recently, she was awarded the 2022 Business Woman of the Year Award from CEO Today Magazine.

“I am passionate about what we are doing now and will spare no efforts to equip more women with digital tools and help them reach success in the business world,” she said in a statement.

In fact the founder and CEO of cross-border e-commerce marketplace DHgate has long been a leading voice in driving the digital inclusion agenda for micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) and women in the Chinese marketplace.

DHgate offers a one-stop social commerce software-as-a-service program called MyyShop, which supports female entrepreneurs to start and run their own online stores as direct sellers. 

“We have provided cross-border e-commerce training (CBET) to help MSMEs and women-led businesses since 2013. It is a comprehensive e-learning program to enable them to go global through cross-border e-commerce,” Wang told Inside Retail.

The program has successfully trained over 100, 000 MSMEs employees, women entrepreneurs, and policymakers across over 50 economies, and it has been recognised and endorsed by the United Nations, Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation and G20.

According to Wang, to keep multilateral cooperation inclusive and sustainable, it is critical to leverage the local network to enhance the cooperation impact across different markets.

In past years, she has worked closely with B20, APEC Business Advisory Council (ABAC), and BRICS Women Business Alliance (WBA) in this format, bringing women empowerment programs together.

“Our goal is to connect the dots across different organisations, coordinate efforts, and maximise resources. More importantly, to increase visibility to get our voices for women heard,” she said.

Wang explained that what is crucial in the next phase of the business is to embrace more business parties, to make it a more open platform to engage with different member groups, covering all genders, and embracing different resources, leveraging their local network to advance women’s voices across markets.

“More challenges than I have ever imagined”

Wang has held plenty of senior leadership roles during her career before helming Dhgate,and she has worked at several major multinational businesses including Microsoft and Cisco. In 2000, she was co-founder and CEO for Chinese start-up Joyo.com, which was later acquired by Amazon and became the founding operation for Amazon China.

But it wasn’t until she established DHgate that she was faced with “more challenges than I have ever imagined”. 

“When an investor withdrew his plan to invest, we had to move out of our original office, downsize our staff to keep afloat and seek financial support elsewhere,” she recalled.When no investor was willing to believe in us because our business idea was way too advanced, I had to believe in myself, in my decision and our remaining employees.

Eventually, Wang proved the business idea made sense after Dhgate went online, gained orders and quickly registered growth. 

In this day and age, Wang believes that leaders need to be more adaptive than ever before to ever evolving environments. 

“One needs to be digitally minded, and open to various digital tools to keep business operational and seek new growth opportunities.”

The key to leadership

Being down-to-earth, having the foresight, and more importantly, the willingness to lead others, is a must for a successful leader. In Wang’s opinion, a leader needs to have the self confidence and willingness to influence others, persuade them to buy into a new idea and take the final responsibility for decisions that are made.

“Perseverance is key, as there is always a huge gap between what reality offers and the imagined future, with numerous obstacles in between. A leader needs to believe in his or her judgement, cheer on the troops when morale is low, and guide the team forward in a realistic manner.”

Wang often takes to long distance running to fight stress and create a conducive environment for thinking. 

“As long as I have a long term goal, daily stress is not a thing to me, I will just find the reasons behind the stress, such as lack of preparation before an event, and take actions to address the problem.”

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