Work hard, keep a growth mindset, treat others with respect, most importantly, don’t let anyone else tell you what you can and can’t achieve. Erika Leung, currently VP of Regional Strategic at GoJek, based in Lampung, Indonesia has cultivated these main tenets to guide her professional life - and it certainly is working.

After years spent abroad in the United States, Erika returned home to Lampung for new opportunities and settling down and starting a family - becoming one of many who make a life abroad and then return home. As part of our Membangun Negeri series, we sat down with Erika to hear what it was like to return, what she has learned, how to succeed as a woman in tech, and why she is proud to call Lampung home.

Gojek Team with Mayor of Bandar Lampung, Pak Herman, HN

The return home

Erika spent years studying, living, and working abroad in the United States before making a gradual return back. She returned to Asia by moving to Singapore in 2007, then to Indonesia in 2014. Upon return, she found a country that was filled with new possibilities. “With my return to Indonesia and Asia in general, the timing was just right on the global landscape. There was a lot of digital growth which has led to a lot of new, exciting opportunities.”

A global mindset for a big advantage

Exposure to new cultures and being thrown out of your comfort zone are hallmarks of living abroad. Facing situations like these are sure to bring about learnings and growth and for Erika, her time in the USA was no exception. “My time abroad helped me cultivate a global mindset. I have a bigger perspective when it comes to work and gained the ability to approach problems from different angles. Being exposed to different ways of doing things has given me an advantage in many work situations since returning.”

Enjoying a boat ride through the beautiful canals of Amsterdam with coworkers from Philips

Second thoughts about coming back

While overall, Erika felt good about returning, she naturally had a few doubts. When she began to plan her return to Indonesia, her biggest worries revolved around safety. “My biggest concerns coming back were safety and navigating office politics. There were plenty of scary stories about both. After moving, I realized that while of course, these are issues, the depth of them are urban legends, and I feel both safe and able to handle any office environment.” Some of the biggest barriers to returning home are some of the preconceived notions of what you will find, while the reality is vastly different

Big challenges, bigger lessons

When she came back, there were a few factors that challenged her most in the professional setting, particularly when it came to working style and communication.

“I was blessed to have a transitional progression, to Singapore, then Jakarta, then Lampung. But even then, my biggest challenges were mindset and working style. In the USA, the working style is very liberal, merit-based, individualistic, whereas in Indonesia, it’s more laid back with a group mindset with a ‘gotong-royong’ culture where everyone is like a family. It’s essential to adapt your working style in each situation, in order to not offend those that you are working with. I faced many instances of cultural differences on both sides, but have learned that if you treat people with respect, a solution between differences can be reached easily.”

This adaptation of working style is particularly important when you are leading teams, as Erika does today. “My philosophy as a leader has certainly been influenced by both Indonesian and Western culture, so I have adapted my ways of communication with my team depending on the situation. I am careful with interactions, using local ways of communication. At Gojek, we maintain the highest level of performance and way of working, which is something that is shared globally.”

Erika and coworkers in Singapore

Advice for other returnees

Erika says the key to returning successfully is to prepare yourself. “Speak to friends in Indonesia. Ask them about what they do and how they work. Get involved with organizations that can help you get more information on businesses/companies in Indonesia. Spend a summer interning at a local company. Find any opportunity you can to get a taste of what will happen when you come back home.”

A wonder woman in tech

Upon returning to Gojek, even with the progressive environment and supportive working conditions, Erika is still a woman in the tech industry in regional operations, which makes her one of the few women in the team. Often, she’s the only female in 90% of her meetings! This means a lack of female role models, and she has seen a tendency for women at her level to have imposter syndrome. However, Erika has found a way around that.

“Develop your own leadership style. Most women are more nurturing, which can be seen as a weakness, but I’ve learned to see it as a strength instead. By developing that side, and embracing the fact that I can see things from a different angle, I’ve realized it isn’t a weakness at all.”

“I have a lot of women coming to me and saying that I’m Wonder woman, but I’m not! I’m just a woman with a supportive husband, in an encouraging environment. We need to change the overall mindset of our society and that starts with our family and spouse. Women can progress in the business when our society has a progressive mindset towards men’s roles in the household as well. Once that change happens, anything is possible.”

Additionally, it has helped that Erika had a strong woman role model since her early years - in her own mom. “I have always known that women can be leaders, as my mom also had a successful career of her own. Seeing her shaped my way of seeing opportunities for myself when I first moved back to Jakarta. Strong role models make all the difference.”

Gojek Team with the Governor of Lampung’s Province, Pak Arinal Djunaidi

Indonesia’s bright future

Overall, Erika’s return to Indonesia can be called a success. She sees the vast potential that Indonesia has to offer to professionals at all levels, from entry-level to executives. “There are so many opportunities in Indonesia for people now. It’s time for Indonesians to come back and grow the country. Indonesians are true-life hackers - resourceful, entrepreneurial and able to see the way around obstacles and roadblocks as needed.”

Erika sums it up well when asked about the most positive aspects of her return home have been: “Family, food and bigger opportunities!”

Learn more about how Michael Page can assist in making your own return home a success here.

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