Sisters, Doing It for Themselves

By Stefanie Yuen Thio

Feminism in a post-Trump world

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”

Charles Dickens was writing about the French Revolution, but his words echo equally on the Female Revolution today.

The good news: There is an unprecedented number of women in high profile government roles. Germany, Britain, Scotland and soon, it is hoped, the US, have female leaders. Closer to home, both Taiwan and South Korea have women presidents, although the latter is currently embroiled in a scandal involving a close adviser and a religious cult. Women also have a large part to play in steering the global economy – the heads of the US Federal Reserve and the International Monetary Fund both have double X chromosomes. Even Singapore is basking in the sunlight of gender progression. We were ranked top Asian country for gender equality by the United Nations. Further, if rumours are to be believed, our next head of state may be a woman (you read this here first!).

The bad news: Well, Trump, and all he stands for in women’s rights. Hard to believe that the Republican nominee for US President, the most powerful position in the world, is a man who mouthed “You know I’m automatically attracted to beautiful—I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star, they let you do it, you can do anything…”

The US elections are a stark reminder that gender equality cannot be taken for granted.

Singapore’s percentage of women on boards continues to be a laughable 7.3%. Many organisations have embraced the cause and implemented policies to help women in leadership. But, as the Harvard Business Review[1] reports, organisations “don’t address the often fragile process of coming to see oneself, and to be seen by others, as a leader”.

Part of the problem is that practices that have worked successfully for men, do not translate well for a woman. For example, we’ve been told to ride on the coattails of a more senior executive in order to rise in the corporation. But show me a woman who latches on to a male superior, and I’ll show you a broad whom colleagues will accuse of sleeping her way to the top.

Another problem we need to recognize is that women are often our own worst enemy.

It’s imperative, therefore, for women to take the problem into their own hands. In addition to relying on flexible hours and equipping programmes, we should address the mindset defaults that are holding us back in our journey to female empowerment.

Some suggestions from a fellow traveler.

Start Saying Yes

In my two decades in management, I’ve observed that women tend to be motivated by a fear of letting others down, while men are more focused on the win. Obviously this is a gross over-generalisation, but it could explain why women are more risk adverse, and less willing to volunteer for tasks that lead to promotion, than men. Women also get upset when brash male self-confidence is recognized, while their quiet contributions are seemingly overlooked.

If this is true, then women have to stop expecting to be promoted to positions that we do not have the confidence to undertake. Because when thrown into a role, more often than not, women will just get on with it. Look at motherhood – the ultimate example of charging into the unknown filled with dangers and risks.

So, put up your hands, ladies. You’ve Got This.

Stop Beating Yourself Up

May I suggest that women tend to carry the weight of failure badly and for too long?

Too many women feel defined by their mistakes and go into a tailspin of self-loathing and doubt.

A top female partner in an international firm told me how a small error plagued her the whole day. She would replay the misstep over and over in her head, even finding it hard to make eye contact with colleagues in the aftermath.

We need to stop magnifying our shortcomings in our heads. Yes, it shouldn’t have happened. But how big a mistake was it, and what does this mean for your career? This is a harder question to tackle, but a much more valuable exercise than mental self-flagellation.

Use Your Attributes

Women who say it’s a man’s world and that we need to beat men at their own game, are missing out on a key advantage.

The fact that they are women.

It’s been said that women are more collaborative than men. It’s an asset I’ve seen pay dividends. In my years of negotiations as a corporate lawyer, I’ve observed that alpha males striding into a boardroom feel the need to put points on the board first. So begins a male pissing match. Women generally walk into negotiations with one objective – to achieve a “done deal”. This can lead to less confrontational interactions. It doesn’t make us weak; it makes us effective.

Women need to stop making excuses for our differences, and start making them work for us.

Striding Forward in Stilettos

Gender equality has come very far.

The fact that the colour of Hillary’s pantsuits has not hogged the headlines, and that Theresa May does not feel the need to ape male business attire, are indicators of this progress.

That said, women should not expect anyone to level the playing field for us. And while men should remember Michelle Obama’s words, that “the measure of any society is how it treats its women and girls”, sometimes women have to take the problem in their own hands.

Or, to borrow someone’s memorable words and apply them to a more worthy endeavour:

“Grab them by the p*ssy. You can do anything”.


TSMP law corporation