Can tai tais be tycoons?

Can tai tais be tycoons?

Strong views in debate over whether women can be mothers and CEOs, YP cadetJoy Pamnani


Strong voices in the debate (from left): Debora Spar, Allison Pearson, Zeinab Badawi, Helena Morrissey and Zhang Xin.
Strong voices in the debate (from left): Debora Spar, Allison Pearson, Zeinab Badawi, Helena Morrissey and Zhang Xin.
Photo: Joy Pamnani


Morrissey (in orange) argues the negative side
Morrissey (in orange) argues the negative side
Photo: Joy Pamnani


Spar (left) and Pearson take the affirmative side
Spar (left) and Pearson take the affirmative side
Photo: Joy Pamnani

Tai tai or tycoon - should women really have to choose? That was the question four leading voices were invited to debate in celebration of International Women's Day. The event was organised by Intelligence Squared Asia, a forum for political, economic and cultural debate.

The motion, "The hand that rocks the cradle cannot rock the boardroom", explored whether women can be high-flying CEOs and caring mothers at the same time before a 400-strong audience at Asia Society on March 3.

An initial vote found a whopping 60 per cent of the audience were against the motion. Only 21 per cent supported the motion, while 19 per cent were undecided.

But the affirmative won the final vote, with 51 per cent for the motion, 48 per cent against, and just 1 per cent still unsure.

For the motion were Allison Pearson, award-winning journalist and author of global best seller I Don't Know How She Does It, and Debora Spar, president of Barnard College and author of Wonder Women: Sex, Power, and the Quest for Perfection.

Helena Morrissey, CEO of Newton Investment, founder of the 30 Per Cent Club and the mother of nine children, and Zhang Xin, CEO of property developer SOHO China, who was named by Forbes magazine as one of the world's top 10 self-made female billionaires, opposed the motion.

BBC World News Today presenter Zeinab Badawi moderated the debate, which will be broadcast on Saturday on the BBC.

Spar started the debate with some good-old maths, saying that women lack time to gain high-ranking positions.

"According to statistics, mothers in the US spend 33 hours on housework a week - they cannot afford to be CEOs, which requires 50-70 hours of work a week."

Morrissey began the opposition case using her own life story to illustrate how women who rock the cradle can most certainly rock the boardroom. As the founder of 30 Per Cent Club and mother of nine children, she said she firmly believes that women can do both if they set their mind to it.

She said the motion sent out a discouraging message. "Young girls should be told they can do well at home as well as in the workforce," she said.

Pearson, on the other hand, spoke about the pressure women are put under when they have to handle both office work and household chores. "Women run a country called home for which they serve as the heath minister, secretary for homework and are in charge of boyfriends. They are clearly going to be exhausted if they have to run the office as well."

Finally, Zhang spoke about how women have the ability to do both jobs physically, emotionally and intellectually. As an example, she cited the brilliant performances by female gold medallists at the recent Winter Olympic Games. She said this showed that women's physical ability is slowly overtaking that of men.

She also talked about how women are more intelligent and can control their emotions well.

"Women are trained at an emotional boot camp called home and they can adapt to the workplace environment after handling kids," she said.

Zhang even coined a professional term for women who can rock both the cradle and the boardroom; the PhD. "It's 'p' for poor, 'h' for hungry and 'd' for determined. As a woman, you [would] want to do both and tell yourself that you are capable of doing it."

Throughout the open debate, the affirmative side denounced Zhang's PhD definition, saying that women nowadays are too hungry.

"While being hungry is a good thing, young girls need to think about being realistic and not giving themselves too much pressure," they argued.

Moreover, a corporate culture hasn't yet evolved to allow women to be fully capable of becoming exceptional mothers and CEOs.

"While we wait for corporate culture to change, women need to lower their expectations and settle for what works best for their families," said the affirmative side.

At the end of the debate, the audience shared their views against the motion, telling stories of women's amazing abilities to handle both jobs.

But some admitted women have yet to show their talents at the top of the corporate world.

The wise words of moderator Badawi best summed up the situation.

"Everyone agrees the glass ceiling is being shattered a bit," she said. "But it needs to be destroyed, to truly prove the hand that rocks the cradle most certainly can rock the boardroom."

This article appeared in the Young Post print edition as
Can tai tais be tycoons?


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