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Gender bias is a sensitive topic and some people may not be comfortable to call themselves feminist. Regardless whether you are a feminist or not, you can always do your part to support gender equality in the workplace and at home, to strive for a diversified society, because diversity will always benefit you as an individual. If we had more women to join men in the race, more records will be broken and our collective performance would improve.

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This book “Lean In” by Sheryl Sandberg – COO of Facebook is a great source of motivation for me. In my grandmother and my mother’s generation, and especially in an Asian context, men are always valued above women. The male chauvinism is a popular thinking among both men and women in Asia. I grew up seeing my grandmother held the responsibility bearing the children, taking care of the household, and also supporting the family financially. My grandmother is illiterate, but she is very hard-working; she worked as a door to door peddler selling sweet potatoes and tapiocas. I rarely see my grandfather; he didn’t take care of the children or the household finance. Once in a while he would come back giving my grandmother a little sum of money and then would disappear again.

My grandmother has 7 children, 1 son and 6 daughters. She was not fortunate enough to receive an education, so she was also influenced by the male chauvinism. Although the family was poor, my uncle didn’t have to do anything, all of the housework will be shared among my aunts and my mother. My uncle received a full education, while all my aunts and my mother have to work to support their study. Many of my aunts would drop out from secondary school, while my mother persists to university. Upon graduation, she worked as a teacher and supports the family. When she married, she had to work and took care of the children and the household at the same time. It was tough being a woman during my grandmother and my mother’s time.

In my generation, boys and girls are given equal education. I had a strong interest in study and I studied hard. To me, education is the only way to change my life. I had a good result in primary and secondary school and was then admitted to Le Hong Phong High School – the top high school in Ho Chi Minh City. I had a dream to study overseas and took the admission test of NTU and NUS. I was then admitted to NUS (National University of Singapore), School of Real Estate, however I couldn’t go. At that time, my parents didn’t support me to go overseas, partially because of the lack of finance. Instead, they encouraged me to study at a local university. I was admitted to FTU (Free Trade University) – also the top business school in Vietnam. I studied for 1 year with a very good result; I was number second in the school’s end-semester examination. However, I still aspired to study overseas to change my life. I dropped out from FTU and work in various jobs to save for my study. I did private tuition for 3 different groups of students – teaching various subjects Maths, Chemistry, Physics, and English. I also worked at a fashion shop as a part-time sales assistant. I saved enough money, and studied SAT to apply to SMU (Singapore Management University), School of Business. In the end, my effort was paid off; I was admitted to SMU. Going to Singapore to study a degree was a big milestone for me. The education and opportunities helped me to find a job, and advance in my career. I also met my husband here, who is a great partner. He supports me in my career as well as shares the child rearing and the family household.

However, at times, I was still juggling about having children and establishing a career. As Sheryl mentioned in her book, sometimes as women we have to make a choice between our career and our family: “During the same years that our careers demanded maximum time investment, our biology demanded that we have children.” I found myself planning when I should have my first child and when I should have my second child. When I had my first child, I had to slow down on my career. When I was 3-month pregnant, I was called by a head-hunter for a very interesting job opportunity. I went to the interview without disclosing my pregnancy. When I was invited for the second round of interview, I told the head-hunter that I was currently pregnant; I was scared that it will affect my new job, so I turned down the interview. I was afraid of the external barriers and I made a choice to slow down and focus on my pregnancy and child bearing.

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Now I’m 30 and I wanted to study an MBA to go to the next level and take on a leadership role. My son is 2 so within the next 2 years, I’m planning to have a second child. But it’s difficult to do both an MBA and having a child at the same time, so I’m thinking very hard to decide on a good timing for each. As women, sometimes we sacrifice our career for the family. I know some of my friends, after they had children; they decided to take time off from work so that they could focus fully on raising the children. 1 year became 2 years, 2 years became 4 years. By the time they decided that they wanted to go back to join the workforce, they faced with external barriers erected by society. Their pay would be cut or they had to accept a job at a lower level than their previous position.

When I was pregnant, I was scared at time that someone will take over my job during my maternity leave. Sheryl shared in her book that: “Fear is at the root of so many of the barriers that women face. Fear of not being liked. Fear of making the wrong choice. Fear of drawing negative attention. Fear of overreaching. Fear of being judge. Fear of failure. And the holy trinity of fear: the fear of being a bad mother/wife/daughter.” When I finished my maternity leave and went back to work full-time, I felt guilty because I only could see my son 1 hour a day after I came back from work. I would be home at 7pm and he would go to sleep at 8pm. I felt guilty because I didn’t spend more time for him. At times, I felt jealous with the nanny because my son was closer to her. I told one of my colleagues and she told me that she went through the same thing as me. But there was no need for me to feel guilty because my son would soon realize that I am his mother, and the nanny is just temporary. He would learn that I love him and care for him, so I just try my best to spend time with him as much as I can in my capacity and accept that I can’t do it all. So I discussed with my husband; we made an effort to spend more time with our son. I would let him sleep 1 hour later, at 9pm, since now he’s a bit bigger. I would leave the office at 6pm so that I could be home at 6.30pm, then I will have about 2 – 2.5 hours to play with him. During the weekend, we will take him out. My son is much closer to me and my husband now and he would always ask to play with us when we are at home. My fear of being judged by other colleagues about leaving the office at 6 was also faded away, because I know that I work effectively and productively during the office hours. Sheryl continued: “Without fear, women can pursue professional success and personal fulfilment – and freely choose one, or the other, or both.”

After reading this book, I have decided that I will pursue my MBA. I don’t have to choose between work and family and I can do both. I will not hold back.

If you are a woman, below are the 3 things that you can do to support yourself and other women around you. If you are a man, below are the 3 things that you can do to support your wife, your girlfriend, your mother, your sister, your daughter, your female colleagues, and other women in your life.

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#1 – Read this book “Lean In” by Sheryl Sandberg – COO of Facebook and Take Risks

This book explains about the leadership ambition gap. “In addition to the external barriers erected by society, women are hindered by barriers that exist within us. We hold ourselves back in ways both big and small, by lacking self-confidence, by not raising our hands, and by pulling back when we should be leaning in. We internalize the negative messages we get throughout our lives – the messages that say it’s wrong to be outspoken, aggressive, more powerful than men. Getting rid of these internal barriers is critical to gaining power,” Sheryl shared.

It encourages women to build up confidence and believe in our own abilities: be ambitious, work hard, sit at the table, and keep our hand up. More women should aspire to senior roles, take risks, and do not hold ourselves back because “women will tear down the external barriers once we achieve leadership roles”. “Ask ourselves: what would I do if I weren’t afraid? Then go do it.” In short, women should lean in more to our career.

As a man, what you can do to support your partner is to lean in more to your family, be a real partner. As per Sheryl, “a truly equal world would be one where women ran half our countries and companies and men ran half our homes.”

As per statistics, of the 195 independent countries in the world, 23 or 11.8% are led by women (as of Oct 28, 2015) – Nepal is the 23th country to get first woman President on Oct 28, 2015. Twenty-three or 4.6% of the Fortune 500 CEOs in 2015 are women (as of Jun 29, 2015). To achieve 50% there is still a long way to go but there is progression year over year.

#2 – Join the Lean In Community at www.facebook.com/leaninorg and start or join a LeanInCircles at http://leanincircles.org/

Lean In Circles are small groups who meet regularly to learn and grow together, as well as to share the power of peer support.

You can also share your stories as I have shared mine here. Both men and women can share your stories as how you have become more aware about gender issues and how you can support women to build a better world.

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#3 – Read more tips for managers, men at work, men at home, and graduates, etc. on http://leanin.org/ to support women

For example, the below are the Tips for Managers to support your female colleagues and subordinates as well as close the gender leadership gap in your team and your organization so that everyone despite being men or women could develop their full talents.

Tips for Managers http://leanin.org/tips/managers/

  1. Challenge the “Likability penalty”
  2. Evaluate performance fairly
  3. Give women credit
  4. Get the most out of the meetings: “Encourage women to sit front and center at meetings. If a female colleague is interrupted, interject and say you’d like to hear her finish. Openly ask women to contribute to the conversation. Be aware of “stolen ideas” and look for opportunities to acknowledge the women who first proposed them.”
  5. Share office housework
  6. Make working environment work for parents
  7. Make negotiating a norm
  8. Support mentorship and sponsorship

Tips for Female Graduates http://leanin.org/graduates/#tips

  1. Adopt the mantra “Proceed and be bold”
  2. Shift from a “what do I get?” to a “what can I offer?” mindset
  3. Negotiate wisely
  4. Break long-term goals into short-term steps
  5. Sit at the table
  6. Listen to your inner voice
  7. Don’t ask “will you be my mentor?” – Shift your thinking from “if I get a mentor, I’ll excel” to “if I excel, I’ll get a mentor”
  8. Understand and challenge gender bias
  9. Make your partner a real part
  10. Don’t leave before your leave: “Without realizing it, many women start making career decisions based on family responsibilities they do not yet have. They turn down projects, don’t apply for promotions, or choose more flexible paths—all to make room for children they don’t yet have, in many cases with partners they’ve not yet met. Don’t fall into this trap. Keep as many options open until the moment you need to make a choice. Instead of slowing down for fear of what’s ahead, keep your foot on the gas pedal until you have to make a decision. If you go for it, odds are you’ll end up in a more fulfilling position with more flexibility. And if anyone, including that voice in your head, insists you must choose between work and family, remember that men routinely assume they can have both—and you should too.”

You can also find:

Tips for Men at Home http://leanin.org/tips/home/

Tips for The Workplace http://leanin.org/tips/work/

I would like to end by a quote from Sheryl Sandberg that I like a lot: “We need to be grateful for what we have but dissatisfied with the status quo. This satisfaction spurs the charge for change. We must keep going.”

Let’s #LeanInTogether

#leanin #womenempowerment #womeninleadership #womenforwomen

Published on my LinkedIn profile

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