The full Q&A between Khaleej Times' wknd. magazine's resident journalist, Karen Ann Monsy and Kristine Lasam
Brief background about yourself: what did you need to do in order to achieve everything you have today?
I think my story, my ongoing pursuit to success – – to more, started pretty early. At the age of 4, when I first learned how to read.
I was fortunate that I had a grandmother who liked to hoard stuff, including the books that were left by the university students who stayed in our home to board and lodge. So at a very early age I was exposed to many things– from biology to trigonometry. I learned about aeronautics. I voraciously read Warren Buffet with my Archie comics and I fell in love with metaphysics. I read. And I read a lot. I read about things that were outside or unfamiliar from my environment then, and that demanded from me a skill to observe. I didn’t know until much, much later, how pivotal this was for my ongoing journey to success. My journey to everything that I do.
There is no shortcut to hard work. You have to do the time. You have to instill discipline in yourself, and you have to dial up your curiosity. You have to be insatiable at being curious, and in experimentation.
You have to forgive yourself easily when you make mistakes, and take that as part of the learning. You have to celebrate yourself when you hit milestones and you have to celebrate this with people who work with you, proudly coast with you. I always say I am only as good as my team.
There is strength, there is far more steely purpose in the collective. And I am fortunate to have this with the team that makes up Pink Entropy.
Did you have to work twice as hard as your male counterparts?
I’d be lying if I say that the early years in Dubai did not warrant me working harder than my male counterparts. I moved here 12 years ago. I had an automotive job. I was first hired as an account executive for Chrysler, Jeep and Dodge. I remembered how my boss back home, and home being Manila told me I was taking a demotion by moving to Dubai. I was one of the youngest executives in one of the best companies to work with in the Philippines, earmarked for an AVP role. I had a year to get it, but I didn’t have a year to see to an ailing father that needed better care to heal. I moved here for the money like everyone else—and that was hard, because I’m wired to want the story, the legend above the money. But the practical took over the dream and I moved in 2005, to take on a role in a predominantly male environment.
The cards were stacked against me. Firstly, because I was a woman in a testosterone-packed environment. Secondly, I am from the Philippines—usually my people are stuck in non-operational roles. Thirdly, I was not afraid to speak my mind. The latter probably caused a lot more stir than the first two factors. I had to muster all the grit I had in me to overcome the hurdles.
There were many trips to the toilet where I just sat down quietly willing myself not to cry, when the frustrations and the slights got to me, got to my soul. I clocked in the hours, I had to fight for many things. I remember how it was. I was doing the job of a manager, at an account executive title and pay. But I loved what I was doing. I always thought that my output was an extension of me. But then over time, I also realized that you deserve what you allow. So I started to ask for things, I learned to draw lines. I fought my own promotion, my own growth—the budgets for my unit. A promotion for my team members and better conditions for the women in my team. I had to fight to get support—which I saw were relatively easy for my male counterparts. I learned to befriend numbers, because numbers don’t lie. So when my unit started showing the numbers, showing growth—the fights became less of a struggle. I learned to manage my emotions, which mind you is very, very hard—simply because it went against my grain, but I had no choice.
If I was going to let everything hurtful touch my soul, there would be no room for anything else,
and there were a lot of good things that were far more deserving of my head space than the slights, or the toxins that were in my work place.
Have you worked for both male and female bosses in the past? What is your perception of them?
Yes I have. I was fortunate to have had a great female boss when I landed my first job. It was a company notoriously known for hiring women, and strong, empowered women at that. My immersion was founded on the values that are critical to any work place, whether you are a mammoth company or a budding start-up. The company values and culture were wholly founded on trust. We were hiring people based on 3 criteria. Wit, passion and integrity—integrity being the mandatory, the non-negotiable. Dinna trusted me, mentored me, listened to me, empowered me and celebrated me as an individual. She told me, “I want you to make me redundant, Kristine.” That was a surprise for a 21-year old novice. I was a little girl in a big man’s world. We were doing logistics, but we were a company that employed more women than any logistics company in the Philippines, so that prepared me well for my foray into the Middle East.
My first boss in Dubai was a man. But a good man. His name is Tony, and he had empathy. He listened and he championed you, championed me. He fought my battles with me, and that made all the bad days bearable. I was responsible for fleet sales, and that meant knocking on doors that were opened largely by men. You know, a lot has been said about how attractiveness makes it easy for women.
But this is a double-edged sword. It can wound you as well. I will not dwell on the slights that I received in the last 12 years here as a woman. But it’s important to acknowledge that to this day, some woman, somewhere is crying on the side of the road, in her car because some man crossed a line and made her feel she was an object. And that hurts. It takes someone who had been there to say that hurts.
My ambition someday is to provide a more structured, accessible venue for women to be able to talk about this openly. To be able to seek the comfort and the counsel of other women—and men that can tell her she is worthy, that the objectification had nothing to do with her, but everything to do with the lack of integrity and respect the other party displayed, because he simply didn’t know any better.
What do you think female bosses bring to the table that male bosses do not?
Empathy. Women move in a more empathic way. We are more intuitive by nature. When you put these two together, you manifest greater kindness.
And demonstrating kindness is not a weakness. It is made from the same stern stuff that courage is made of. That grit is made of. Kindness demands that you become bigger as a person. What can be nobler than that?
What has managing a team been like for you? What do you have to deal with?
It is definitely not a walk in the park. We’ve been taught in business schools about different management and leadership styles. Textbook, classroom, theoretical stuff that can only help you to a minute degree. It’s different on the floor, I tell you. You manage people. You manage personalities. You manage varying degrees of best or of mediocrity. You manage emotions and balls of energy. You manage your own self, your own responses and belief systems and comfort and discomfort zones. It is not easy, but it can be truly rewarding.
I think the rewards can come from having a vision, of being fully aware of what you desire to achieve. It comes from honing patience.
There will be many days where things don’t work, or nothing works. You have to call for patience, you have to exact a purpose in every task. You have to bring your awareness to the goal, to the dream, to the legend, to the story when nothing seems to work and you feel like quitting.
You have to ask for help, even as a boss, especially as a boss because the strength, like I said comes from the collective.
In your experience, what are some of the worst stereotypes women at the workplace are subject to?
If I speak my mind, I am branded the awful “B” word. If I am friendly, open and approachable, I am easy. If I dress up a bit more liberally then I am fun for other things. Women are emotional. Women are crazy. We have been shamed for leaving work because we have a sick kid to take care of at home. If we are emotional, we are PMS’ing. We have been manterrupted or gaslighted because we are simply a woman.
I think there is a need for change. We have called for it for eons now, and I think that as a society as a whole, this will continue. That’s how we all evolve. I mean the society we live in now is a like a throwback to an era that should be as extinct as the dinosaurs. But here we are, we are still as a collective group, fighting for our rights as women.
Can you illustrate from your experiences about times when you’ve faced such stereotypes?
Ooof. I don’t know where to start. If you timeline my career in Dubai in the last 12 years, it would show a great deal of consistency being cast in these varying stereotypes. The last experience as a matter of fact was just a few weeks ago. I was cast as someone who was fair game by a peer. I drew the lines, I spoke my mind and I walked away with my chin up and my self-esteem in tact. If this happened a few years ago, I would have attributed the exchange to be my fault. But you know what, I learned to discern the bad from the good. I learned to work with myself to understand that this wasn’t something I called for, this was not about me, this was about the other lacking ethics and lacking judgment. I charged it to experience. I learned from it, and hopefully the other person did too.
How did you tackle the situation, and how did it shape your outlook/ persona going forward?
I tackled it with grace, kindness and truth. Truth is easy and simple. The situation was sticky, I extricated myself from it by drawing the line. I spoke my mind. I didn’t mince my words, and I said exactly why he crossed the line. I said it with grace and kindness because I want to be the bigger person in the situation and how I handled it made me proud of myself. And that was important for me.
Did it make me feel uncomfortable? The answer to that would be a resounding YES. Did it change me and made me look at the world and the opposite sex in the same lens by which I regarded that recent encounter or that man? NO. Because doing so would mean I would be guilty of the same sin, casting every man in the same bad basket because one acted out of order.
Perceptions of women bosses vary greatly in the workplace: where men are seen as acceptably ruthless and “in control” of their emotions, women are either seen as emotional or pushy and cold. Have you found these perceptions to hold true? Comment.
I like this question a lot. Reading it elicited a throaty laughter, because yes, our society dictates that it’s okay—that it’s actually expected for a male boss to be ruthless—to be always in control of their emotions. Whereas women bosses are just way too emotional. Not sure about the pushy and cold part. I think this comes to the fore when the female boss has very hard and fast rules about what performance means from a team member. When we demand performance, we are pushy. When we do not accept excuses for mediocrity, we are cold.
I am emotional. I am in a creative space, I love what I do. I do things with passion, of course I am emotional. But the problem is not about feelings here. The issue is the varying degrees by which we define emotional. What does it really mean?
If you are passionate, then you are emotional. If you practice empathy, then that is also emotional. If you display anger, or frustration in a workplace, and we all do—women and men alike, these are also being emotional. So how do we define whether it’s good or bad?
The parameters are off. I don’t like the label of it being bad. And that’s what we are all guilty of. We put labels on everything, and when the definitions are hazy. It’s purely subjective—and I can’t subscribe to that.
Are women held to higher beauty standards than men when it comes to the workplace? Do you feel like you’re expected to look a certain way when you meet clients or make pitches?
Frankly, I like to look a certain way. It has got nothing to do with what people expect me to look. Of course, I am mindful of where we are. We are in a place where you can walk into a roomful of people for a pitch, and a few won’t shake your hands because you’re a woman. Or some would regard what you’re wearing inappropriate because you showed your knees. If I dress to please others, I would either have a sack over my head, or wear a monk’s clothing. Or I would be in my natal suit. That’s the reality. You have to dress for yourself.
You have to be comfortable. It’s your choice, it’s your prerogative. But this has to be done in the context of class. I like a well-dressed woman, the same way I would appreciate a well-dressed man. I like class, style and elegance.
In all these perceptions, have you found women to be stereotyped even by other women?
Of course. Some women are not nice, simply put.
What happens in a situation of high stress? How do you personally tackle that?
I have many ways of dealing with stress. One day I would deal with it by going home and cooking. Like really cooking. I could whip up a 5-course meal for myself just because I am stressed. I would read, and I would journal.
I am reparenting myself to deal with stress in a positive way.
We function in a way where we don’t know how to expend stress. We can’t always run (and when I say run– run to flee perceived danger and climb the highest tree (flight mode)). We can’t always fight—and that could mean taking a pencil and sticking it in someone’s earlobes. That’s just not done. So the cortisol stays in our body, festers until it becomes something else. A malady or a sickness.
So stress is a massive thing, it’s a big word but we say it, and regurgitate it like it’s common, like blinking or chewing gum. “Oh I am so stressed.”
People don’t understand how powerful that statement is, how it changes your being at a cellular level.
So I try to deal with it in ways where I can get it out of my system, I expend it—and I usually opt to deal with stress through a process of creation. I would draw, I would write, I would cook. I would put on my boxing gloves and get in the ring. Or I would put on my running shoes, and literally run for my life, for the life I want to claim.
Are you here with family? If so, can you give us an idea of how you manage the work-life balance?
I wish I am.
I have two beautiful sons, age 19 and 15. Their names are Koby and Stephen,
and there was a period where they were here with me. A single mom in Dubai in a single- income household. It was hard, I was getting by with 4-5 hours of sleep on average.
I wanted to be supermom, and superboss and superme. It took a lot from me, it took its toll—but the joys of being a Mom, the joys of doing what I love, the joys of working with myself so I can be a better person than I was yesterday made all the hardships manageable.
As a mother, and a single mom at that, I have punished myself a lot. Guilt was my shadow. I felt that I never did enough, that I could never do enough, never be enough. But when your son, age 19—already a man, over pizza in an island holiday looks at you in the eye and tells you—“you’re a great Mom. You’re a beautiful person Mom, and the most beautiful soul I have ever seen.” You think, well, I didn’t do so badly.
Apparently good things come in small packages and Kristine certainly proves this to be true. She has more than 10 years of experience in integrated marketing, building and managing global brands, and has worked across a broad spectrum of sectors – including automotive, FMCG, hospitality, healthcare and everything in between spanning MENA and Europe. She is also a veritable foodie, fitness enthusiast and a sought after author (not only for her recipes!) and voice for the digital and performance marketing verticals in the region.
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