HR Champions: Catherine Lian advocates for women in tech; leadership


  • Title: Managing Director and Technology Leader, IBM Malaysia
  • Office headquarters: Malaysia
  • Company operations: Global
  • Industry: IT Services and IT Consulting
  • Employees: 10,001+ (LinkedIn)

Catherine Lian actively advocates for women in leadership. Prior to her appointment at IBM, she was part of the Dell Women’s Entrepreneur Network, supporting women in business by providing access to technology, networking, and other resources. She continues to bring this brand of women empowerment in her leadership today.

The appointment at IBM in 2019 marked Lian’s return to Malaysia after more than a decade of garnering extensive leadership experience across Southeast Asia and beyond, including Cambodia, Singapore, and Indonesia. According to an interview with Talent Matters, this taught her to embrace cultural diversity on another level, instilling both empathy and resilience in her. 

She is passionate about developing D&I in the Malaysian market, especially for women, and harnessing the power of technology to do so. Lian also spoke with The Straits Times on generative AI recently, encouraging CEOs in Southeast Asia to utilise these advancements to elevate the workforce by assessing their impact on boosting efficiency, engagement, and L&D for employees.

Communication and connection are other core elements of Lian’s leadership. Acknowledging that women are socialised to be less vocal, she shared her own journey of learning to self-advocate and take the lead coming from a minority in the workplace. Another formative aspect was the pressure of fulfilling family-oriented roles amid a busy career, which made Lian appreciate her solid support system even more. Thus as an executive, she strives to give everyone on her team a voice, telling Business Today in March, “The hallmark of a great team is when everyone is heard, seen, and valued. Individual leaders need to take on the responsibility to cultivate a culture where every person knows they can bring their authentic selves to work, confidently sharing their perspectives and supported as they chart their path.”

Bold and compassionate; proven resilient and intensely mindful of their own humanness, these HR Champions are being revealed one-by-one. The full report, featuring all 15 Champions, is now available for subscriber download.

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Chief of Staff Asia