Need for an enabling ecosystem to support women


There has been much discussion at large about enabling professional women in the workforce. I was thrilled to read about the Talent Wanita collaboration between the Department of Women Development of Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development and Talent Corporation that offers to connect professional women to job opportunities with companies that provide flexible work arrangements and support facilities.

There is also the tax deduction incentive to encourage companies to re-hire women on career breaks. Don’t forget also the numerous development initiatives to enable women to break the glass ceiling in the corporate world. Women are acknowledged for their excellent multi-tasking abilities, nurturing qualities which can be refined to make them firm yet people-centric leaders in corporate organisations. With these in place, women should be able to juggle a successful career without compromising their “mother-nurture” role at home. All these are great initiatives, but with the effectiveness yet to be seen.

Before everyone starts to spend money on implementing these, let me throw a wet towel on it. How does this help improve the quality of life for professional women? How sustainable are these measures for both the employer and the female employees? Are we really supporting the role of women in society or are we merely raising the expectations of what success should look like for women?

Let’s get the first point right. The definition of workforce refers to employees, personnel, or crew employed by a company on a specific project or job. Generally, people tend to forget workforce also refers to “all people available to work in a nation” which does not exclusively mean being in permanent employment with any company. These are people who still contribute to the business ecosystem and are subjected to income tax.

I am one who falls within this category. My last ten years of permanent employment was with a multinational organisation that kept me energized with interesting and innovative work. It was one of the early adopters of flexible work arrangement concepts. Unfortunately, there are still very few organisations that subscribe to it here. The concept itself helps professionals become more effective through time management and prioritization. However, it will not be sustainable for both employer and employee if they are abused. Guidelines and policies should be made mandatory and spelled out for both parties on implementation of these flexible work arrangements ranging from sabbatical leave, work-from-home, flexi-working hours, job sharing, etc. They should also be made available to, yes, men, to encourage their role in family-building. Perhaps then, families can take control of how they want to improve the quality of their lives together.

Since leaving permanent employment two years ago, I connected with women of boundless energy and multiple talents. These women worked in multinational corporations as sales, marketing and HR directors at senior management level. They left high-ranking positions, five-figure salaries, and the ability to don an everyday wardrobe of fancy heels, LV bags and branded colour-coordinated tailored suits. Women who pursued higher education and a career that gave them the lifestyle that they had always dreamed of.

Yet, at some point in their life, working women find themselves at the crossroads when they have to make a conscious choice that will possibly change their career path. The factors driving this could be because they find themselves as the “sandwich” generation, i.e. becoming the primary care-giver for their young children and their elderly parents, or they simply discover their values and beliefs were being challenged. The women I met, and I myself, made the conscious choice to leave employment because we wanted to improve the quality of our lives and the lives of the family we are responsible for.

Takes tremendous energy and sanity to balance the roles

Being true to myself, I admit that even with my supposedly “multi-tasking abilities”, it takes tremendous energy and sanity to be able to pursue a fulfilling career and still be the ever-smiling mother/wife at home. This takes a stab at my values and beliefs and I run the risk of disappointing myself for not living up to the expectations that society so firmly expects.

Staying true to the values my parents brought me up with actually helped direct my choice of taking charge of my own career. I believe that success is not staying employed in a well-respected job. It is about being able to continuously improve my skills and contribute to the ecosystem of nation building. It is the bigger picture of things that drives that belief because my ultimate priority is to ensure my children, hence the next generation, get their entitlement of an enriched life.

Jasmine*, formerly a regional sales lead in a European telecommunications company, was inspired to learn more about visual spatial learning to address the needs of children who have learning difficulties. She is now the consultant and master licensee of a successful learning programme for that purpose.  Susan*, a successful director at a well-known advertising agency, is now an independent brand consultant who helps companies improve their competitive edge in business.

Ann*, Lily* and Nur* are all professionals who left permanent employment to pursue a second career by utilizing their individual skills to help address the needs in corporate talent development.

All these women, including myself, fell into our second careers almost immediately. There is still the pressure of deliverables and performance for the client. There are still committed hours and the familiar conference call meetings in the equation. The difference is we attain gratification by seeing the direct impact we have on our clients and the individuals we serve.

My conclusion is that women will be more successful as contributors to the workforce if they are satisfied by the impact they make with their skills.  If all women were true to themselves, they would agree that what we need is not merely a desirable employer that will provide crèches and flexi-hour arrangements. We need an ecosystem that supports women who take charge of their own careers and attain the gratification that equates to success on their terms, based on their values.

The views expressed here are the personal opinion of the columnist.

Photo credit: Flickr users d_cloud07

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