An expert in career transitions, unconscious bias and cross-cultural leadership, Jane Horan, the Founder and CEO of The Horan Group, works with global organisations to build savvy, inclusive and engaged work environments with the sole intent of retaining talent. An internationally-recognized speaker and author [I Wish I’d Known That Earlier in My Career: The Power of Positive Workplace Politics and How Asian Women Lead: Lessons for Global Corporations], she has spent a significant amount of time working and researching women in leadership in China, Hong Kong, India, Japan, Korea, the Philippines and South-East Asia.
She speaks to Creative Sparq on finding purpose and having a meaningful career, the challenges of entrepreneurship and the need for diversity within organisations for creative and innovative problem-solving.
Why did you make the change from the corporate sector to building your own consulting practice?
I spent more than 20 years working for multinational organizations in organizational development, talent and leadership. My shift from corporate to building my consulting practice was a forced, unplanned move with deep introspection. For many years, I struggled with questions around ''purpose and finding a meaningful career''. While I absolutely loved my role at The Walt Disney Company, I also felt I should be doing more but didn't know how to articulate ''the doing more'' part. I left Disney in Hong Kong for an opportunity in Singapore. About 3 months into that transition, my role was made redundant. I came face to face with that question of 'finding purpose and having a meaningful career. I now had to answer those questions. I have an entrepreneurial attitude but I had followed my family's advice to join the corporate world.
To uncover what I wanted to do and answer that big question of finding meaning, I followed a process that I serendipitously uncovered in my doctoral research with women leaders. While at Disney, I was given not only the opportunity to train as a coach but I coached many executives through career and leadership transitions. One of my first engagements when I launched my consulting practice was to coach 5 talented Asian women working for a global tech company. My research on women leaders, political savvy, positive psychology, and finding purpose form the basis of my business and my coaching practice.
How has your entrepreneurial journey been different from your corporate experience? What were early challenges that you faced?
In some ways the two roles are similar and in other ways they're different. In my corporate role, I had always been an internal consultant in organisational and talent development helping organisations find and keep the right talent. In many ways, I'm doing the same with my business.
The journey has been exciting and scary. I'm not going to lie, there are days when I think, ''should I stay or go?" That is, should I return to the imaginary safety net of a corporate role or should I continue down the path of being an entrepreneur. With these ideas floating in my mind, I return back to my values and the reasons I do the work that I do.
My firm focuses on building inclusive work environments and helping individuals (in these environments) find purpose in their roles - our practice not only builds inclusion but also engagement. When we're asked to take on projects outside of this scope, we return to our business plan and values for a decision on that particular project. But here's the challenge - when you're first starting out, it's a balancing act between taking on ''work'' for financial reasons or signing up for a project where you can really add value. And, I will say, this balancing act continues. That's where the question of 'should I go or stay'' comes in.
It's exciting and exhausting at the same time. That's why you need to stay true to your values, goals and purpose. I'd say early challenges came from 'my father's voice in my head telling me, "'return to corporate and be set for life, and my entrepreneurial voice saying, ''stick with this!" Summing up early challenges - quieting my inner voice (should I stay or go), figuring our marketing, sales, and navigating the highs and lows of business finances.
Since your work involves Asian women leaders, what are the key challenges facing companies in Asia today, with regards to female talent and why do you think they exist ?
Organisations continue to struggle with the inability to retain and engage women. The broad challenges facing companies today include the inability to embrace leadership differences and using outdated frameworks of selecting leaders, rethinking talent and career development and ways of retaining female talent.
The organisation's inability to retain and engage women comes down to "not seeing the individual" and the strengths this individual brings to the organisation.
What kind of corporate policy interventions are needed to solve these workplace challenges for women in Asia today? How do you approach these issues as a consultant in this field?
There is a need to rethink, reframe, and remove outdated systems and processes. Organisations need to have an adaptable mindset. I approach the problem solving process by conducting focus groups, synthesizing data, and offering tailored solutions.
In the context of your work, what does creativity mean to you?
Creativity means doing things differently. Hence a creative leader is one who has the ability to take a different approach, focus on innovative problem solving, consider and welcome new ideas.
Since creativity involves experimentation and taking risks, based on your experience, do you believe that men and women differ in their risk-taking behavior and correspondingly, can that affect their creative thinking and problem-solving approach?
There’s quantitative data indicating men and women are equal in terms of risk-taking. As a matter of fact, I believe a quantitative study by Renee Adams of the University of New South Wales, Australia, found that women were more prone to risk-taking. Creative thinking and problem solving work best with diverse and inclusive groups. There is a lot of quantitative research supporting the benefits of gender diversity on teams. That being said, I do not think we can or should single out men or women, as it is diversity that drives innovative thinking and robust problem solving.
Are there any challenges you see related to the traits of creativity or leadership that can affect women in the workforce in particular?
Unintentional exclusion, that is, not including women on innovative projects or not listening to diverse perspectives at team meetings, or not having women represented on talent and leadership selection plans, is a key challenge that needs to be addressed.
If you were given the opportunity to champion a cause, what would it be ?
Outside of the work I’m doing now – I’d champion girls education globally and women in film (directors, producers and meaningful roles for women in film).
Finally, what do you do to fuel your creativity? Any favourite books?
I find writing to be a creative outlet and of late, I’ve started re-reading poetry. I’d recommend relatively unknown poets – Barbara Crooker . I’m using one of Barbara’s poem in my new book, Now It’s Clear, The Career You Own. Hard to pick a favorite book, but two that come to mind, The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy and Trinity by Leon Uris.
To read more interviews on business and leadership, here are some conversations that may be of interest to you: Designing A Culture Of Innovation With Agata Mathiasen, Enabling Success With Anuj Jain, Creativity Distilled With Amitava Chattopadhyay.
About The Interviewer: Ayesha Kohli
A brand storyteller, Ayesha Kohli is the founder of communications consultancy, Sparq Communications and the Editor of Creative Sparq. She launched the site in 2017 to showcase different perspectives on creativity and creative thinking. Passionate about people, culture, education, leadership, technology and trends, she loves championing emerging talents and new businesses.