Thursday, June 30, 2011

Supremely hard juggling act from the New Straits Times.

Supremely hard juggling act
By Chok Suat Ling

Successful leaders like (clockwise, from left) Toh Puan Uma Sambanthan, Tun Dr
Siti Hasmah Mohd Ali, Tun Dr Fatimah Hashim, F.R. Bhupalan and Tan Sri P.G. Lim
have shown the way to progress and development to other women in Malaysia.
GENERATION X, Y and Z probably can't recall the times when girls did not go to
school. But, yes, in those days -- no, not during the Mesolithic Age -- girls
were not accorded that privilege.

Many other things were also off limits. If women worked at all, it was in menial
positions, to clear the sump in the bowels of an organisation.

Several formidable women broke through the barriers. In Malaysia, several names
immediately come to mind: Tun Dr Fatimah Hashim, Tan Sri P.G. Lim, Toh Puan Uma
Sambanthan, Tun Dr Siti Hasmah Mohd Ali and F.R. Bhupalan, to name just a few.
They helped open the doors for others and brought about progress and

Among others, the National Policy on Women was formulated; a special chapter on
Women and Development was incorporated into the Sixth Malaysia Plan; and the
Women, Family and Community Development Ministry was established.

Indeed, much has been done to uplift the welfare of the daughters of Eve. On
Monday, they received another boon. A new government policy was announced --
corporate Malaysia was given five years to ensure 30 per cent of boardroom
members comprise women.

Three days later, the mood remains celebratory. Women around the country
jubilated over the recognition. After all, they have always known that they are
often far more efficient and meticulous than their male counterparts; are
natural multitaskers; and can face up to greater challenges. And pain.

They are not only capable of taking care of the roost and its demanding
occupants, but also ministries, constituencies, corporations and entire
galaxies, if that were possible.

Girls outperform boys in school and public examinations. Two-thirds of the
student population at public universities are also female. Girls also have a
thicker corpus callosum -- they are "wired" differently and are thus better in
many respects. (So, why do we need men again?)

There is no doubt, therefore, that women deserve more.

But everything that is good and all the progress that has been achieved come
with a price. Is it too high to pay?

Women now juggle careers and family. It is difficult, if not impossible, one or
the other will inevitably fall, no matter how skilled the juggler.

A high-flying chief executive officer once admitted, off-the-record, during an
interview that she hadn't been there through much of her children's growing-up
years. She would return home when they were already asleep on most days, and
left their care largely to the maid. She endeavoured to spend quality time with
them during the school holidays, but could usually only accommodate a five-day
break abroad at most.

She was grateful that they had "turned out well" despite it, and were now
pursuing their studies in prestigious universities abroad.

But not everyone is as lucky. Not many can have their cake and eat it, too.
Boorish, indisciplined children, rising numbers of adolescents seeking
psychiatric help and all manner of decadent behaviour among pre-pubescents
previously only seen in horror movies, attest to this.

Many other high-ranking career women share the same story. One related how she
is on the verge of collapse on most days, shuttling between meetings,
video-conferencing sessions and attending to clients, staff and family. On top
of that, she has to find time to "alleviate engorgement" or in other words,
express milk for her 9-month-old baby and rush home before he falls asleep.
Usually, she doesn't make it and is wracked with guilt.

It's not just those in top posts that experience this. Some also bail out of
promising careers because they simply can't cope. The thinning hair and
persistent stress-related outbreak of rashes are just not worth it.

And then, there are those who choose not to get married or have children to
focus on their careers.

"No point bringing kids into the world if I can't give them my all.

Society still expects us to play the main role in child rearing and we can't do
both without compromising one, or both. I choose career," a senior marketing
manager told me matter of factly.

Flexi-hours, telecommuting and the setting up of creches at workplaces may
alleviate the burden to a certain extent. But it remains that it is difficult to
follow in the footsteps of high-achieving women. Not impossible, but very tough.

Something always has to give in the end. The question is, which is it?

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