Meeting Central Retail Vietnam female leaders

March 08, 2022 | 10:00
VIR had an exclusive chat with three female leaders in Operations, Finance, and Value Creation Departments from Central Retail Vietnam – the country’s leading retail behemoth. Each of them has a unique perspective on women in leadership, despite common misconceptions regarding the gender gap.
Meeting Central Retail Vietnam female leaders
Three female leaders at Central Retail Vietnam

Today's working landscape is changing, and the business world is no longer just a men’s game. How have you gotten to where you are today in your leadership position at Central Retail Vietnam?

Nguyen Thi Phuong Thao: Big C was my very first place in the retail industry, and it was such rewarding learning. This came as a complete surprise to me since I had been considering another profession at the time. Following the discussion, the firm determined that I have superior abilities and offered to contact me if an appropriate job vacancy became available.

My second remarkable event was when I served as the first female director of Big C Haiphong, which took place a year later. At the moment, I am the Operations Director of Tops Market, a supermarket chain of Central Retail in Vietnam.

Bopha Sem: I was born into a family of Cambodian and Vietnamese ancestry, and my family relocated to Belgium when I was a child. In 2008, I made a return trip to Asia. Believe it or not, my parents attempted to establish themselves in Europe, but their daughter ended up returning to her origin.

One of the most remarkable experiences I had in Vietnam is when I cofounded EuroCham’s Women in Business Sector Committee to advocate for women's rights, fostering their confidence at work and assisting them in their professional development. I began working at Central Retail in November as Director of Value Creation to sustain this endeavour.

Tran Thi Hong Nhan: I studied at the University of Economics in the class of 1994-1998. My professional life is mostly focused on my academic interests, that is finance and accounting.

I have been fortunate to have had a rather successful professional path, and now I serve as the Head of the Finance & Accounting Shared Service Team.

Are there any correlations between your leadership style and your personality?

Thao: Besides the tendency to be a perfectionist, with attention to detail, understanding, and sensitivity, as a female leader, I often push myself to the limit and always strive for excellence. I believe this could help my team build a culture of learning and constant improvement.

Bopha: A successful leader, from my perspective, should be able to treat and motivate their team to be the greatest versions of themselves first and foremost. By being honest and upfront in my communications with my team, I think establishing a foundation of mutual respect is crucial.

Nhan: Regardless of gender, leaders are the ones who motivate a team to accomplish their tasks. This is the most important trait, in my opinion.

Gender diversity poised to bring about the highest performance
Tran Thi Hong Nhan, head of FAST Department at Central Retail Vietnam

What stereotypes about Vietnamese women still remain unresolved that you want to change?

Nhan: One of the most prevalent preconceptions is that women would get involved with their families and put their careers on hold at some stages.

Moreover, I've noticed that women rarely speak about their professional success. This modest attitude, on the other hand, might lead to the wrong impression that their achievements are much less remarkable than their male counterparts’.

Bopha: In Vietnam, the female employment rate was over 60 per cent in 2020. Nonetheless, according to statistics compiled by the UN Women and the General Statistics Office of Vietnam, the gender wage gap is fairly large, ranging from 29.5-21.5 per cent in urban regions to more than 35 per cent in rural areas.

Furthermore, women continue to encounter societal impediments to their career advancement. Also, they are under severe time limitations to take care of their families. Vietnamese women spend approximately five hours per day on their housework, compared to just around three hours per day for men.

Where do female leaders excel and what rewards do they receive by being an integral part of an organisation?

Thao: Though retail business is closely associated with housewives, many male CEOs still enjoy considerable success. The flexibility of women, however, may be a minor portion of the benefit in a balanced setting.

Many pieces of research show that women leaders tend to score significantly higher than their male counterparts in persuasive motivation, assertiveness, flexibility, empathy, and sociability.

Bopha: Women in managerial positions often have a better understanding of how to strike a balance between their professional and personal lives. Female leaders could easily talk about delicate or intimate topics. Maintaining a broad gender mix in the workforce is critical to the long-term prosperity and sustainability of an organisation.

Nhan: If a company has an all-male leadership team, it is likely that it could not attract and retain top talents.

Gender diversity poised to bring about the highest performance
Bopha Sem, director of Value Creation at Central Retail Vietnam

What is the optimal strategy for women to achieve the success they want in their workplaces, especially in male-dominated industries?

Nhan: I used to be the only woman in my previous job. To be promoted to the management level, I had a plan in place to ensure that I completed all essential responsibilities that had been given to me.

Prior to moving through the ranks, I had a set of rules for accomplishing the job that was given to me and then moving on to bigger and better things. In the finance industry, you can only persuade other people to your point of view by citing clear facts and figures.

Thao: At Central Retail, I have never had any challenges due to my gender identity. You will be regarded if you can establish a strong basis of theory and practice with utmost sincerity, and this will demonstrate to others that you are a vital team member.

To move up on the professional ladder, I’ve proven myself by work productivity and efficiency, along with a serious work attitude.

I believe it is especially important for female leaders to demonstrate both confidence and determination when it comes to business.

Bopha: To empower women, I want to build a platform that will assist them in finding their passion at every stage. I’m aspired to help women to maximise their leadership capacity, communication skills, among others, to advance in their career paths.

If feasible, we should also encourage female staff to work remotely or to take on occupations that are directly associated with their personal lives.

Meeting the three female leaders at Central Retail Vietnam
Nguyen Thi Phuong Thao, operations director of Tops Market at Central Retail Vietnam

Is a work-life balance feasible for female executives who work more than eight hours a day?

Thao: Despite a hectic lifestyle, health should be the top priority. If you make the necessary arrangements, nothing is impossible. On a weekly basis, I go to the gym for two sessions and do one morning yoga session.

Bopha: Everyone will have a distinct interpretation of the work-life balance concept. In my opinion, it's crucial for my daughters to know that I'm working just as hard as their father. We also believe that spending quality time with children is the most effective approach to raising a happy family and strengthening bonds. We spend a lot of quality time together watching movies, cracking crossword puzzles, and playing Lego.

Nhan: My mood-booster is a beautiful floral arrangement on my desk, which will help me to release stress after lengthy meetings. However, twenty-somethings should not be worried about achieving a work-life balance at the moment. You should instead concentrate on determining the best course of action and sticking with it to the finishing line.

What is your advice for young women to advance in their career path?

Bopha: Be hardworking and curious. Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t accomplish something because you’re a woman. You should bear in mind that mistakes may be turned into a springboard for growth and improvement. And that’s always a good thing.

Thao: The leadership role in the retail business, in my view, is especially appropriate for women since it is strongly connected to household responsibilities.

It's much simpler to fulfil customers’ needs when you have a firm grasp of products and customers’ psychology. Don’t let your gender limit your opportunities and career growth. Learn more, practice more, and fortify your willpower.

Nhan: It's also worth noting that success isn't age-related. You may rise through the ranks to become a successful leader at a young age.

Olivier Langlet, Group CEO at Central Retail in Vietnam

Meeting Central Retail Vietnam female leaders

I have always believed that this world cannot exist without women because they are the foundation of all civilisations. Women are and will shape the world’s future.

From an organisational perspective, I highly appreciate female leaders for inspiring people on board especially because of their high level of resilience, social and management skills, positive attitude towards stressful situations.

But you can lead as well without being a leader as such. I’d take my personal example here. My wife is not a leader by profession. She is always by my side and encourages me in becoming the husband, father, and leader that I am today. I am so grateful for what she’s done for me.

On this special day, I would like to wish all the women out there in the world a happy Women’s Day with their beloved family and friends.

By Nguyen Huong

What the stars mean:

★ Poor ★ ★ Promising ★★★ Good ★★★★ Very good ★★★★★ Exceptional