Dato Timothy Ong is a leading Brunei businessman and the Chairman of Asia Inc Forum, he is also an acclaimed facilitator of business and public policy dialogue in ASEAN and beyond. He served as the Acting Chairman of the Brunei Economic Development Board (BEDB), Brunei’s leading economic agency from 2005 to 2010
Asia Inc Forum has organised some very successful panel discussions for women in Brunei. What was your inspiration, and why did you feel the need to recognise the role of women in the society?
It is not just in Brunei but everywhere else, women are a very important part of the society. Brunei’s record in this area is pretty good. Brunei provides equal opportunities in education for women. That is why when you go to any banks or government offices in Brunei, you see so many educated women. Some of them hold very senior positions.
In many societies, women are an underutilised resource. We at Asia Inc Forum recognise that if we are to be relevant to Brunei, we need to create a forum to hear the voices of women. Of course, at all our events, women are welcome.
As women play such a great role in the household as well as within the economy, a forum dedicated to women’s perspectives and interests will be beneficial to all of us.
UBD churn out more women graduates each year, than men.
Absolutely. And this is the trend all over the world. Increasingly, women do as well as, or are even outperforming men.
Are there any women who have inspired you at your Forums?
I do not want to single out anyone because there was so many women who I admire. I think one needs to be careful about focusing admiration on those who are most articulate on stage. Over the years we have had some very dynamic women attend our events. We had Dato Marina Mahathir, who has a famous father, but who has developed a voice of her own. We had another woman with a famous father as well, Yenny Wahid, the daughter of the former President of Indonesia. And we have also had entrepreneurs who have been very impressive.
I think the key is to appreciate the different roles which women are playing at different levels. That is why I am very taken up by CNN’s focus on unsung heroes -people who make a difference away from the limelight. At our forums, the stage is usually taken over by famous people. I think we must find ways of recognising those who are quieter but who are also making a very important contribution.
“Increasingly, women do as well as, or are even outperforming men…This is the trend all over the world.”
What are the main challenges faced by women in the workplace in Brunei? Are the patterns similar universally?
I think Brunei is pretty good in terms of opportunities for women. The main challenge women face in Brunei (and elsewhere) is that as well as having a career, women still bear most of the burden of looking after children and managing the household.
I think society still expects women to take on a much greater burden than men. The society has ways of being negative about women who are perceived as being neglectful of the family. So, when a woman is in the office working til late at night, earning money for the family, she is generally not given as much credit as the man.
When a woman does very well; if she does a lot better than a man, sometimes there is pressure of another kind taking place. I think societal pressure is greater for women, especially when they have to contribute to the family income.