Can women have it all?

Jade Leong, Singapore partner in Risk Advisory and one of the SheXO Program partners, shares her thoughts on stereotypes that still exist against women today and what more can be done in the workplace to support, appreciate and reward women fairly for their performance.

There is no doubt that women impact the world. Marie Curie, Amelia Earhart, Indira Gandhi, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Malala Yousafzai are just a few women who believed in themselves and their purpose and have left an indelible imprint. 

We also know of many women who have stepped into traditionally male dominated roles such as heads of government, chairperson and directors of large global organisations, CEOs, senior leaders and some have become founders of large successful companies. There has been progress and women have broken the glass ceiling.

Many programmes and taglines have been launched to strengthen the cause of promoting gender equality and the empowerment of women. Diversity and Inclusion has evolved to Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. We have brought men into the fold to support women, through male allyship programmes. We nurture young women through programmes for female students and young adults. We welcome, value and celebrate differences. We support individual needs for better performance. These are all great.

The question however is, are we there? Have we reached the point where women truly can have it all – a great career, fulfilling family life, active personal hobbies, close-knit friendships while also contributing to the community?

I have come across many women who are successful and are progressing well in their careers. However, they resign or move to a less demanding role after a certain point in their lives. Often this happens when they need to juggle the role of mother or family caregiver. The stereotype where women should take care of the family while men work is still very much present in most societies. The effect is more pronounced in demanding professions, where the percentage of women in senior leadership is very disproportionate from the overall percentage of women in the organisation.

So how can we change this – and provide the right support so that more women can stay on and reach workplace heights?

Cultural stereotypical roles must be broken down. Men can clean the house, cook and manage the household too. Let them do it, or at least do their share of it. Even with the ability to hire help at home, women spend a lot of time managing the household. I am heartened to see men applying for childcare leave nowadays, as it shows they know they need to pull their weight in the household too. So here is where male allyship can start – at home.

Workplace performance should be based on real productivity, rather than long hours in the office (or nowadays, long hours on Zoom). This takes discipline and commitment. Many supervisors, whether consciously or not, still measure productivity in terms of how much or often they see their workers. I agree that meetings are important for team morale, coaching and productivity. However, meetings should be used wisely, have a clear agenda or objective, and completed on time. Long meetings, and I have experienced quite a few, where one or two individuals ramble on with no objective, actually takes away productive time from workers, and they then need to make up productivity by spending longer hours at work. 

Appreciate and reward the difference that women bring to the workplace. I’ve worked with many women on my teams, who have great sense of responsibility and commitment. Not just for themselves, but for the team. If a team member has a problem, often the woman will take time to find out about the situation and help. This is usually not written into a job description or performance assessment – how do we measure care – but this is so important in any organisation. Caring people – since I know men can be caring too – foster belonging and purpose. Without this, no organisation can grow.

Lastly, women leaders should take an active role in supporting other women in the workplace and in their community. Share experiences, good and bad. Talk about how you’ve managed your time and your responsibilities, how you’ve faltered and failed, persevered and progressed. There are too many stories of perfect women, but in reality we know no one is perfect. But many have still gone out to achieve great careers, despite their imperfections. Real stories and practical sharing is what can spur on and support other women.

While large-scale workplace Diversity, Equity and Inclusion programmes for women are great and necessary for a cohesive approach, I realise that many of us don’t know what our role is. So let’s start with small, practical steps.

If you are a man, help your wife out at home. If you are a woman, support your fellow woman co-worker who may be struggling. You can share how you worked through a similar experience or lend a compassionate ear. As an employer and boss, be mindful of time and be clear with instructions. And also acknowledge those that go the extra mile for you or their co-workers. 

Great people make great organisations, and a great world for women and men to thrive.

Jade is a wife, and a mother to twin girls who are now in their late teens. She loves people and wants to be a practical help to them. She has gone through moments of self-doubt in her career and in different seasons of her life but believe God has been a compass in her life’s journey, and that she has been fortunate to have a great community of colleagues, friends and family.

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