Women play a variety of important roles throughout their lifetime. More than ever, we’re looking to take charge of our life, health and career as well as to achieve whatever we want in life. And AIA is looking to spread the same message with their recent #IAmIWantIWill campaign.
But in modern office environments where equality is being fought for and more women are taking up higher positions, there are many stereotypes that we have to overcome or subvert.
In a perfect world, successful and productive people would be applauded and praised, but it seems there are still many misconceptions when talking about successful women.
We approached 6 Malaysian women entrepreneurs, who have fought hard and taken the reins of their own life stories. We wanted to find out how they dealt with the most common stereotypes that women in the workforce face. Here’s what they said.
Stereotype 1: “Successful women are workaholics without a life, they don’t care about their family.”
The biggest argument here stems from the term ‘workaholic’.
Harmini Asokumar, founder of Deeper Than Fashion, saw no fault in the word ‘workaholic’ so long as it carries the positive meaning of being hardworking. Most successful women know how to prioritise and can enjoy what they do till it doesn’t come across like work.
Chin Xin-Ci, entrepreneur in residence at Quest Ventures, believes men are accused of this too but women sometimes have to make harder decisions because of this lifestyle. There are women who can juggle a full-time career while taking care of family but there also women who are unwilling to have kids because they know how difficult it can be.
Jesrina Arshad, CEO of PurelyB, sees successful women as realists. She personally doesn’t think it’s the right time for her to start a family yet but she knows of other women who are full time workers and manage to spend time with their family just fine.
“My COO is a mother with 2 kids and she manages to balance this whole entrepreneurial life very well. She was even pregnant while helping me handle our company! She’s a great example of doing it all so it’s not impossible,” said Jesrina.
Stereotype 2: “Successful women are crazy b*tches who dictate their workplace and are hard to please.”
We thought this was harsh, but in fact, most of the women agreed with this stereotype to a certain extent.
Angeline S Chin, founder of HerPortal, had personal experiences working with women like that; but her opinion is it’s not their personality—rather it’s them imitating their own superiors who probably were as harsh before.
“I am all about quality and dedication at work. I can be pretty observant and anal over small things like font size and words used. I usually explain my habits to my staffs to pre-empt them first so they won’t freak out during my crazy times!” said Angeline.
Jesrina believes real successful women are those who can be strong and aggressive when needed but also have the ability to nurture their team with compassion and empathy.
Stereotype 3: “Successful women have achieved success based on their looks.”
It’s undeniable the role looks can play but to what extent? Everyone agreed that it can be important but to say it’s the main reason behind success is wrong.
Harmini shared an incident when someone told her the only reason she got to where she is is because of her looks, which is unfair on her end as she takes pride in the art she creates and her hard work.
Stereotype 4: “Successful women are too emotional, they can’t make tough decisions.”
It’s scientifically proven that women can be more emotional than men but how that may hinder logical decisions is debatable.
As a mother, Angeline believes women naturally care more but she also believes most women can manage their emotions well and that if they’re successful, it’s because they make decisions based on priorities, no matter how hard it can be.
Jesmin Lua, co-founder of Recommend.my, thinks gender aside, tough decisions are tough because the pros and cons balance out so there is no “real right answer”.
“In situations like these, it is often gut-feel that can help someone pick the consequences that they are more willing to accept, so understanding one’s emotions does help making tough decisions,” said Jesmin.
Stereotype 5: “Successful women have to seem masculine to gain respect.”
Penny Choo, co-founder of BloomThis, chuckled hearing this; a colleague actually told her before that she spoke like a man. She never does this intentionally but her demeanour can become a little “masculine” when she’s presenting facts and information about her business.
“Rather than to gain respect, women can seem a little masculine when getting things done. We want to make our point clear and to get our message across, so that could be why it’s confused for earning respect,” said Penny.
Jesmin believes that the successful model in business for the past century is from more “masculine” traits such as confidence and being loud.
But the world is shifting and women are incorporating more of their “feminine” traits like being open to changes and motivating people based on values rather than hard goals.
Stereotype 6: “Successful women are too busy to keep their health in check and it affects their mood.”
Based on her observations, Jesrina disagrees with this as more women are prone to looking for healthy options compared to men. It’s because of their busy lifestyle that they want to make sure to stay energised throughout the day.
“Not just women, there are people in general who don’t take care of their health. But nowadays, there’s more awareness on what it means to be healthy and so many options available that being busy is not an excuse anymore. Hence why more women are actively looking out for these solutions,” said Jesrina.
And when it comes to mood, it can happen to anyone regardless of gender. Women are just always looking for solutions to keep them in a good state so that it’s not just about how they look on the outside, but how they feel on the inside too.
But in the end, stereotypes are just stereotypes.
They’re simply general statements thrown about that sometimes might carry truth, and sometimes not.
It’s already tricky for women to balance the struggles of leading a full-time career and making time for their own family, stereotypes like these do nothing but bring the wrong impression of what a successful woman should be.
But even with these stereotypes, we’re happy to see that women across Malaysia are still cutting out inspirational figures, whether they’re corporate leaders, mothers at home, or fighting for a good cause. They’re all beating the odds to find success in their own way, and this video below showcases women doing just that.
And to support and empower all women from all walks of life on whatever they’re focusing on—be it career, family, or both—AIA has curated a special insurance plan just for us.
The A-Life Lady360 plan covers women and our health in all stages of our lives, from marriage, pregnancy to the golden year of our lives. Now women can take their health and overall wellbeing into their own hands and be free to focus on what matters the most.
To find out more on the protection and rewards provided, you can check out their website here.
This article was written in collaboration with AIA.
Feature Image Credit: Compiled from Asian Entrepreneur, Jesrina Arshad’s Facebook & Harmini Asokumar’s Instagram