Saturday, 8 November 2008
I am Woman!
We were given a thick file with notes, Her World Magazine and Daughters of Asia, a book written by my friend Dawn Tan. She's another amazingly courageous lady who overcame many adversities in life. She writes so beautifully about some of the most inspiring women leaders in Southeast Asia when she herself is an inspiration.
Yesterday I attended a full day symposium - I am Woman (Women Leadership Forum 2008) - and walked out feeling more of a woman and less of a leader.
We had a line up of impressive women leaders, from members and ex-members of the parliament to successful corporate women. There were so many Drs amongst us, one can't help but feel inspired and in awe. I learned so much in one day, it was a Saturday well spent.
I went alone and walked into a foyer full of women in all shapes and sizes. Up to now, I still feel uncomfortable in social events like this. I'm not really a social butterfly you see. With 40 minutes to spare, I grabbed a cup of ice water and looked around for a seat.
A lady dressed in dark suit came up to me smiling. She's a representative of SIM, one of the organisers of this event. While she was friendly, I just couldn't click with her. Our conversation was unnatural and contrived. I quickly excused myself saying that I had to run to the loo and ventured to another part of the foyer.
Just as this nice looking lady was about to pop a chocolate muffin into her yawning mouth, I gestured if I could share the same bench with her. I just committed a gaffe. I had caught her at her most undignified moment, leaving her feeling somewhat embarrassed. I should have waited for her to finish the muffin.
Anyway, being a nice lady, she forgave me and we started chatting. As it turns out, she's from New Zealand and works for one of the world's best ad agencies with accounts like Standard Chartered Bank and Singapore Airlines under their belt.
We got into the theatre together and I was sandwiched between her and an elegant lady dressed to the nines. Suddenly I felt shabby in my jeans and indian cotton kaftan (but hey, I was dressing comfortably for the weekend).
Since Ms Elegant was alone, I tried to be friendly and asked if she came by herself. She said she was invited by the president of the women association. Oops, gaffe no 2. Don't go round making assumptions. You never know who you're talking to.
Anyway I enjoyed the panel discussion, "Characteristics of a woman leader" helmed by Prof Aline Wong, Dr Jennifer Lee and Ms Chong Phit Lian and moderated by Dr Sarah Mavrinac, thoroughly and gleaned so much wisdom from these women leaders.
The two ladies sitting next to me brought up some really intelligent and interesting points when the mike was passed around, I began to shrivel in my seat.
To be honest, I dread tea breaks and lunch sessions the most. During tea break, I sat in the corner, nursing my coffee. A young lady half my age came and joined me. Ah, I love talking to impressionable young people because there are no barriers. She was the first to admit that she felt intimidated in social situations like this. I amazed myself by spouting words of wisdom. I told her there is nothing to fear. We chatted easily. She's a fresh graduate who was sent by her company to attend the event. It was her first. She seemed very happy to have met me and complimented on my confidence. Me, confident? LOL
I particularly enjoyed the session on "Optimising your business potential" by Ms Jocelyn Chng, the MD of a sauce manufacturing company. She had personally won many business awards and I think she deserves every single one. She took over a tiny sauce manufacturing business from her dad when she was 20 when her ailing dad was too sick to run the business. She was still in her midst of university education and juggled between studies and the business. Her dad died soon after and being the oldest in the family of 7 siblings, she took over the responsilibilty of breadwinner. With her vision and leadership, they now have more than 30 companies globally.
Sadly her husband who helped her in the business died 5 years ago. She is today a single mother to her 3 sons. No matter how busy she is with work, she makes it a point to be there for her kids. Even after 4 hours of sleep at night, she would insist on driving them to school in the morning so that they have time to chat in the car.
I was very moved by her story and filled with admiration. I went up to her after the talk to shake the hands of this very beautiful and confident lady and I blurted out "I can so relate to you because I'm so in your shoes..." Of course, I can't fit into her shoes yet because she's 300 times more successful, but yah, I fumbled. Make that gaffe no. 3.
At the afternoon tea break, Dr Ann Tan, the charming president of the Singapore Council of Women's Organisation came and introduced herself. I rummaged through my bag for ages to find my cardholder. Where is the darn thing when you need it? But here's the last gaffe for the day. I looked at her card, Dr Ann Tan of Women & Fetal Centre, and blurted out "Thank goodness my child bearing days are over!"
My, what was I thinking? She looked at me, baffled, mumbled something and walked away. She was simply too polite to roll her eyes.