Surviving the retail apocalypse with a culture of community and inclusivity

Niki Bruce
·Contributor
·7-min read
313@somerset shopping centre. (PHOTO: Lendlease)
313@somerset shopping centre. (PHOTO: Lendlease)

Ms Cheryl Goh, the General Manager at 313@somerset and Jem, found herself on the frontlines of the economic disaster that was the arrival of the coronavirus in Singapore. How she dealt with it, successfully and with grace, shows just how resilient women in business can be.

"First and foremost, our starting point was to ensure the health and safety of our people, tenants and shoppers," Ms Goh shares with Yahoo Lifestyle SEA, on how she managed the impact of COVID-19 on her industry. "We needed to stay flexible and adapt to the situation as it evolved, given that it was an experience all of us in Singapore had not faced before."

Ms Goh says that at all Lendlease properties, including the two she handles, the aim was to "not to remain in a passive wait-and-see mode, but rather to move with agility and think of how to facilitate a safe experience for shoppers as well as support our tenants across all phases as the situation evolved."

The teams quickly implemented the required solutions - face temperature check systems, stepped up cleaning and disinfection routines, paying attention to specific details like lift buttons and handrails.

"We also looked at measures to provide rental support to retailers through disbursing rebates and offering flexible payment schemes. On top of that, we explored new methods of bringing novel experiences to customers through working with tenants to roll out digital initiatives that captured the interest of returning shoppers," explains Ms Goh.

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(PHOTO: Getty Images)
(PHOTO: Getty Images)

Setting a good example

During her career with Lendlease, Ms Goh has been involved in every aspect of managing large retail outlets, from directing expansion works to reconfiguring spaces from basements to prime retail outlets. Nothing seems to faze her. And being a woman in a traditionally male industry hasn't stopped her either.

"Emergency situations require leaders to think on their feet and lead with certainty, even if the situation is unprecedented. As a woman, I am inspired to step up to challenges like these not only to support my coworkers but also to set a good example for young women in the workplace," says Ms Goh.

"It has been one of the most rewarding moments in my career to work with the team at 313@somerset and Jem to emerge stronger from the COVID-19 disruption and share learnings with my fellow general managers across the other Lendlease malls as well as our head of asset operations at Lendlease Singapore, all of whom also happen to be female.

"I have learned much from them and have seen how my fellow female colleagues make great leaders in times of crisis," she says.

Ms Goh hopes that seeing her fellow female managers' success will make more businesses "recognise the strength of women leaders and focus on creating a culture of inclusion."

"Organisations only stand to benefit from a diversity of perspectives and are more productive when people can bring their whole selves to work," she says.

However, Ms Goh doesn't believe that being a strong leader has anything to do with her gender, saying: "It is about aligning yourself with a clear vision and common values with equally driven team-players". Nonetheless, she also thinks women in positions of seniority should also support other women in their industry.

"At Lendlease, we are stepping up efforts to increase the visibility of female talent in the real estate and construction industry, which men have traditionally dominated," explains Ms Goh.

Facade of Jem. (PHOTO: Lendlease)
Facade of Jem. (PHOTO: Lendlease)

"Through creating [the] Women in Construction Asia Network (WiCAN), we boost development and networking opportunities for women. WiCAN also brings together female employees with experienced female leaders for a mentorship programme. This empowers young female professionals and sets them up for professional success."

This mentorship and support will be important for young women looking to enter the construction and retail industries moving forward.

"The retail industry is evolving in accordance with customer demands that have been altered by the pandemic, globally and in Singapore," explains Ms Goh. "As shoppers become increasingly reliant on digital platforms, the future of shopping malls will be driven by a growing demand for omnichannel experiences that capture the best of online and offline realms."

According to Ms Goh, the coronavirus's arrival has seen Lendlease accelerate its digital space development.

"For example, we further enhanced our Lendlease Plus app with features like direct e-voucher redemption, in-app purchase-with-purchase campaigns and buy-now-pay-later options to enable greater seamlessness for the overall shoppers' experience across our malls," says Ms Goh.

Don't discount the bricks' n' mortar stores yet, however. Ms Goh explains that malls will continue to be a part of our shopping experiences as a way for customers to discover new products and brands and to increase customer engagement and loyalty.

Cheryl Goh, the General Manager at 313@somerset and Jem. (PHOTO: Lendlease)
Cheryl Goh, the General Manager at 313@somerset and Jem. (PHOTO: Lendlease)

Women working for women

The coronavirus has greatly impacted women who work in the retail industry in Asia, as well as around the world, at all levels, from salespeople to senior managers. Singapore's reliance on 'shopping' as the national sport and as a tourist attraction was already oversubscribed, so the impact of the coronavirus lockdowns affected a large number of women and their families.

"Unfortunately, women around the world bore the brunt of the COVID-induced effects on the retail industry. A study by McKinsey shows that female-dominated jobs in the retail industry were among the most impacted in 2020 globally due to the pandemic," says Ms Goh.

"The pandemic has shone a light on the importance of supporting women in the workplace, and it is crucial for employers to ensure a level playing field in their organisations. This begins with recognising that businesses are more productive and dynamic when they employ diverse individuals of all backgrounds and make them feel safe and empowered.

"Leaders must then ensure that talented people can join their business and fairly access opportunities. For example, at Lendlease, we have put in place equal female representation in our leadership pipeline through efforts to reduce unconscious bias and develop female talent across all levels of the business."

The management strives to have 50% of female representation in its senior leadership team, thus giving it an edge in helping to manage the impact of the Coronavirus.

"During the pandemic, I worked alongside our all-women leadership team across Lendlease malls (including my fellow female General Managers at Parkway Parade and PLQ Mall and our head of asset operations at Lendlease) to manage the rapidly evolving situation across our properties, which constituted an unprecedented prolonged crisis for all of us," explains Ms Goh.

"This unique opportunity showed me the value of strong female leadership. I'm a firm believer that women should support women by uplifting those around us and focusing on meaningful ways to work collaboratively."

For Ms Goh, the common understanding and support she receives from her all-female team helped her cope during the ups and downs of dealing with the coronavirus. "The challenges we faced together as a team, especially during the Circuit Breaker period, made me even more aware of the multiple roles that us women play. This made dealing with the stresses and sacrifices in having to balance work and home responsibilities easier."

Being a good manager, working in a "culture of community and inclusivity" is not just specific to female managers. Ms Goh says that it is "important to be an ally to women, regardless of your gender or rank. Likewise, being a good manager and an advocate for diversity across the board go hand in hand."

"This year, Lendlease's diversity, equity and inclusion theme is 'eradicating everyday sexism', a major issue to address in building a better workplace where everyone feels valued. This will create a progressive environment where everyone has the opportunity to succeed and fulfil their greatest potential.

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