To commemorate Kartini Day, we spotlight women leaders and their inspiring journeys of triumphs, failures and self-discoveries, celebrating their efforts and achievements that contribute to women empowerment in Indonesia and embody the spirit of Ibu Kartini.

Kartini Day is celebrated in Indonesia to commemorate the life of Raden Ayu Kartini. Born in 1879 into an aristocratic Javanese family in Central Java, Dutch East Indies, Kartini is hailed as the first feminist in Indonesia. In a time where Javanese girls were denied education, Kartini was allowed to attend school due to her social standing. She saw the disparity and used her influence to open the first Indonesian primary school for native girls regardless of their social standing. She continued to make strides towards women’s emancipation through education in the country until her passing in 1904.

In this feature, Oliza Azwan, Manager at Michael Page Indonesia, who leads the Digital and HR recruitment teams, shares how a sense of curiosity and exploration instilled a love for lifelong learning.

Raised in a very rural and remote area in Sumatera, Oliza looked forward to attending school every day. It was her only entertainment, and she loved learning about things outside of her “small bubble”. This penchant for learning led her to study in Italy, exposing her to more adventures, building her confidence and making her feel more empowered in her career.

Q: How do you overcome challenges as a young female leader?

I’m drawn to continuous learning and becoming a logical and solution-oriented person. [I overcome challenges] by avoiding assumptions and not jumping to conclusions without having an objective understanding of the situation. If things make sense, I will keep trying until I overcome the challenge. If they don’t make sense, then I will be reasonable to set reasonable standards and aim for reasonable goals.

Related: Kartini Day: Empowering women through meaningful fashion

Q: What inspires and empowers you?

Educational empowerment has always been a big part of my life. With the small-town personality of being adventurous and saying yes to everything that sounded like a great opportunity for growth, I applied for a full-time scholarship to go to an International Baccalaureate (IB) school in Italy for my high school studies. Out of 50 applicants, I got in. It was the only school provided by the agency, so I just went with it.
 
I was exposed to many activities in Italy that I never knew existed before. I joined social service activities taking care of the disabled community once a week for two years. I took up open-sea kayaking for two years and did cross-country skiing in the Alps in winter. It was a boarding school, so I lived with 187 other students from 88 countries for two years.

Because of this scholarship, I was spotted and quickly managed to secure another full-ride scholarship – this time to study in the United States for my bachelor’s degree. These experiences empowered me to aim higher and achieve more in life. I became interested and committed to being an interesting person. I always want to experience different things and create memories to look back and know that I did all right in my life.

Now, I live in Jakarta and have a stable career leading two teams at Michael Page. I make sure I am learning every day. I make sure I finish reading at least one book every month. I took online classes like The Science of Wellbeing from Yale and Introduction to Cryptocurrency and Blockchain from The Wharton. I have just recently completed a Spanish course of 12 weeks at a beginner’s level.

I believe that educational empowerment can put anyone on equal footing as it did for me. Knowledge empowers me, and it is a handy tool, especially when I deal with businesses that some days look like male-dominated industries. It makes me confident and serves as a home base that I’m worthy of, I work hard to be where I am today, and I will continue doing so.

Related: Leading Women: Transcend gender bias with mental toughness

Q: What extra miles have you taken to be where you are today?

I left the town where I grew up at 17 for Italy. I left home at such a young age. I followed my intuition, and I’ve had my fair share of hardship and life lessons to be where I am today. I go out of my way to achieve many things in my personal and professional life.

In the Michael Page context, I am a returnee employee. I joined previously and was assigned to the Services team. Then I left because I wanted to be in the digital industry to learn directly from one of Indonesia’s largest e-commerce unicorn companies. I rejoined Michael Page in June 2020.

When I knew I was assigned to take care of the Digital industry and that I would inherit a team, I was very excited. It was something new, and I could not wait to share what I had learned being on the client’s side. The most significant challenge was how to connect with my team members because they had a different lead, and now they are under my supervision.

I decided to have extra catch-up sessions with each team member. Instead of the regular hourly session once every week, I implemented two separate sessions for each team member. One session focused on work progress and the other to get to know each person better, their motivations and goals. I made notes on the communication style of every team member. I found the common grounds, so we could work in harmony even though I was the new joiner there.

I asked them to take an online test on communication style and motivation factors. This was proven successful, and the team, including the new joiners, works in the same frequency. They can level with each other and understand the digital industry in Indonesia. It is the speed that matters the most besides quality. I rebuilt the team to a high productivity level from a low engagement level.

Related: Leading Women: Succeeding through grace and grit

Q: What advice will you give to your younger self?

You are doing OK. Don’t always go so hard on yourself. Remember always to make new friends everywhere you go. Find your people who can be your support system. Always choose to be a friend first because friendship can go a long way. Never turn your face away from knowledge. If there is anyone who wants to share with you what they know, make the time and stay to listen to them. Be brave, and don’t be afraid to voice your opinion.

Learn to agree to disagree because, in life, there are moments that you cannot keep pushing no matter what. Take care of yourself. Love yourself first. Spend time to be alone with your thoughts and emotions. Get to know yourself. Find out what makes you happy and what makes you unhappy. Don’t be too picky when you have nothing to offer. When the going gets rough, don’t play the victim. It’s just a bad day, not a bad life.

Connect with people. Exercise more for your physical and mental health. Have faith. Always have that one thing from time to time that you can do to experience the process of ‘becoming’ so you learn to respect yourself. Don’t be easily satisfied, and don’t always go for instant gratification. Beautiful things take time. Keep learning. Share what you have, be it knowledge or charity work.

Remember your place and know that you have come so far and have survived changes, so keep your head up and stay focused. You are doing great. You need rest too, and they can wait. Don’t ignore your sleeping time.

Q: What can you learn from the experience from Ibu Kartini?

From Ibu Kartini, I learned about her curiosity and willingness to break stereotypes, not compete with the opposite gender during her time. She was from the high and royal class, and she used her privilege to promote educational empowerment and be very frontal and bold about it. She was naturally critical and genuinely would like to understand why everything was systemised for women and that the presence of ‘equality’ was not felt. 
 
She believed that knowledge empowers everyone, and I’m 100% with her on this. She kept herself updated with social issues that happened around her. She refused to be oblivious or ignorant, and I think that’s beautiful.

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