Leya Teo

China

Vice President – Edelman

Leya is an advocate for coaching, mentorship and learning opportunities, and has chaired the Global Women’s Equality Network (GWEN) China at Edelman since 2017 – an internal initiative with a mission to continue to foster an environment where women and men of all backgrounds can enjoy equal opportunities to grow, lead and succeed in and beyond Edelman.

Leya Teo began her career in the telecommunications industry in Singapore, but whilst the small island was home, it was never going to be big enough for her global aspirations. Her rise has been meteoric, through advertising agencies in Hong Kong, many communications roles and big-name clients along the way, to-date, where her role as VP at Edelman – the world’s biggest PR firm – encompasses corporate reputation across multiple sectors and industries.

It’s an understatement to say she’s busy, but she still finds time to offer a hand up to others at every opportunity. Leya is a big advocate for coaching, learning and mentorship and has chaired the Global Women’s Equity Network (GWEN) China at Edelman since 2017. It’s clear she has a strong moral compass, but there’s also an adventurous, playful aspect to everything she does. Her mantra is a simple one, ‘if you don’t try, you’ll never know.’

“Those words keep ringing for me. It’s not a big phrase or anything, but so true,” Teo tells us. It’s stood her in good stead throughout her career, and taken her down several paths she might not otherwise have trodden.

“When an organization appreciates and embraces the diversification of points of view and skill sets, that’s when a good company begins to be great.”

“I think that really made a difference to my career path as I did not come with any PR background, but I had an idea that I could weave the complexities of working with clients and advertising into the PR world at a time when they were keen to diversify their talent.”

Leya has never taken the linear route, and it’s that fresh sheet of paper, applying learnings from all aspects of her life, that brings her unique perspective and management style to achieve success. Her role model, the person who imbued her with this adventurous, enquiring spirit, was her father.

“My dad’s not a big professional figure, he’s a simple father, a canteen caterer, and he’s no longer with us, but he’s very close to my heart. He taught me to go and try, and keep trying. He always told me, if you don’t, you won’t ever find out if it’s good or bad, and his words have stayed with me throughout my career.”

In terms of aspirations growing up, very few people end up in the career they’d imagined themselves in as a kid, and Leya is no exception. Back then, the police force beckoned.

“I think somewhere in me, I’ve always wanted to challenge myself to do the right thing and even though I took a very different track, I try to always do right by the people around me, and that includes my team, people who report directly to me, my peers, my bosses and beyond. It could just be calling out what I think is wrong in a simple dialogue, or getting involved in advocacy initiatives, but I always try to make sure everyone has equal opportunities. Maybe it’s the secret cop in me!”

We asked her what advice she would give to her eighteen-year-old self, and as she quite rightly points out, it’s unlikely that she would have listened! However, her main message would be, don’t be afraid to ask, and learn from the mistakes you will inevitably make.

“Ask for what you want – if you want it enough, you will find ways of getting it, but be careful what you ask for!”

Fast-forward to 2022, and Leya’s work on a global scale has given her a fascinating view of how local nuances, sensitivities and social structures can affect people’s life chances. Alongside her day job, she works hard to help level the playing field, challenging unconscious bias and working to educate wherever possible. It’s not her style to bulldoze or bamboozle people, it’s about taking them with her on a journey.

“Some people talk about things in the wrong way because they’re just not aware. We educate and make little baby steps within our network to help influence the locals wherever we are based.

“We realize we are different in every market, but all of us who want to drive change are faced with challenges ourselves first, so we try to come together and lean in for support. We share our challenges and the different solutions we have found, and it’s been very inspiring.”

“Ask for what you want – if you want it enough, you will find ways of getting it, but be careful what you ask for!”

There are unique challenges in every territory, and Leya has seen how these play out across AsiaPac. In China, for example, the city you come from could engender unconscious bias. Some cities are considered superior to others, and there are nuances across China as to how developed cities are, and in turn, people are sometimes unconsciously judged on where they come from. In Japan and Korea, women are less well represented, but the good news is, thanks to the spotlight placed on it by people like Leya, things are improving, and diversity and inclusion is being taken much more seriously across the board.

In a global company, Leya recognises the benefits of diverse points of view better than most. Edelman has 67 offices worldwide, and being a role model matters more than ever when reflecting on ‘you can’t be what you can’t see.’

“When an organization appreciates and embraces the diversification of points of view and skill sets, that’s when a good company begins to be great.”

“If you don’t try, you’ll never know.”