Even as failure continues to be touted as one of the necessary keys to success, it remains a dirty word to many. And in a climate where more women leaders are being celebrated, the pressure mounts for one to be the model CEO/wife/mother who has it all – or risk being labelled a failure.
The hypocrisy is that men are rarely asked if they can truly have it all, but the same question stubbornly clings on to women through the ages. “Men never think to themselves, ‘If I want to have a career, then I guess I can’t get married and have kids,’” says Sushma Jobanputra, who is the partner-in-charge of leading American law firm Jones Day’s Singapore office. The mother of two, who is one of Asia’s top banking and finance lawyers, will be speaking at next month’s Asian Women in Leadership Summit.
“You can’t be all things to all people all of the time; you have to learn to say no. If you have a successful career, it is going to be demanding but it can’t always take priority. Sometimes, family takes priority and sometimes you have to be your own number one priority – though I am still working on that.”
Indeed, the phrase “having it all” is “the worst thing that’s happened to the women’s movement,” Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg told management consulting firm McKinsey & Co. “So we can spend all our time feeling terrible about how we’re lousy workers and lousy mothers.”
Those who appear to have it all, “pretend we have it all,” PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi told The Atlantic. “We pretend we can have it all.”
There is no bag of tricks, nor is there a magic potion to acing this supposedly elusive feat. But what women should do more of – and without shame – is asking for help when the going gets tough, says Jobanputra. “In my experience, men are much less concerned about asking for help than women. We feel that if we ask for help, we will be seen to be incompetent.
“I think it takes confidence to say that there is too much and I need help. Women need to be confident enough to ask for help. Sometimes good enough is good enough.
“I try to make sure that I keep my commitments to my family. If I have agreed to go to school to chaperone a field trip, I make sure I do it, just as I would if I had made a commitment to a client meeting. I am also trying, with varying degrees of success, to delegate some tasks to my colleagues and then relinquishing control over those tasks – which is even harder!
“You never regret what you do; you regret what you didn’t do. Take risks, pick your battles, know your worth and own your success.”
The Asian Women in Leadership Summit will be held on Oct 13 at the Shangri-La Hotel Singapore. Visit http://asianwomenleadershipsummit.com/ for more information.