The woman you’re about to be acquainted with is an incredible individual, and the award she’s won is a huge deal. Ready for a bracing dose of inspiration?
Speaking at a press conference announcing the winner on October 17, Ms Jennie Chua, chairperson of the judging committee, says the panel appraises the shortlisted candidates on qualities which are “universal and timeless, just to use two rather cliched words”.
When all is said and done, the Her World Woman of the Year award is accorded to a woman who is a go-getter and ahead of the game; whose achievements in her work and public lives have made a mark on society; who’s basically a steward of Singapore – challenging criteria, to say the least!
So yes, raise a glass to – drumroll, please – Rachel Eng, Her World Woman of the Year 2014:
RACHEL ENG, HER WORLD WOMAN OF THE YEAR 2014: MANAGING PARTNER, MOTHER, MULTI-TASKER
Rachel Eng’s a trailblazer in the truest, most triumphant sense of the word. In 2010, at just 42, she became the first woman to assume the helm of one of the so-called Big Four, the term being parlance in local legal circles for the four largest law firms in Singapore.
The following year, Rachel also became the first woman to be named Managing Partner of the Year at the closely watched Asian Legal Business South East Asia Law Awards 2011. Clinching the award again in 2013 means she’ll also go down in the books for being the first person ever to have won the title twice. Pretty impressive stuff.
But that’s just the suited up, business side of things. Rachel’s also incredibly involved in backing family-friendly practices in a profession that’s notorious for its dismal work-life balance: Flexi-work options, for instance, which allow working Mums and Dads in her firm to juggle career and family commitments.
Appearing visibly moved, Rachel, who’s a mother of three herself, related an anecdote at the press conference that’s simultaneously revealing of her humility and honest-to-goodness devotion to her family: “When I first received the call from one of the judges, I was slightly hesitant in accepting this personal award. In my mind, what I have achieved in my firm was all through teamwork, and not something I could have done alone. I shared my thoughts with my daughter, Rae, who is 10 and she said, ‘Mummy, you should take it and then tell everyone how great WongPartnership and your colleagues are!’” Cue laughter from the floor.
Then there’s how Rachel’s a mentor at the Young Women’s Leadership Connection and one of the key drivers of Board Agender, a non-profit organisation that champions gender balance in the boardroom. To give you an idea of just what that means in practice, the ratio of female to male partners at WongPartnership is 55:43 – and this in an industry that’s still lamentably male-dominated.
“TORN BY GUILT”
At this point, you’ll be forgiven for throwing up your hands and pegging Rachel as a superhuman outlier. Not so. Rachel concedes to feeling flashes of very human, very relatable guilt: “On a day-to-day basis, women, whether single or married, are often torn by guilt; that we don’t spend enough time with our parents, husband, children, colleagues, friends, or clients.”
“All I can say is that it is normal to feel guilty; you are not the only one. Over time, it should get better.” Cheers to that, and cheers to Rachel’s nuanced, thoughtful take on the myth of the woman who “has it all” – there is no such thing.
Here’s Rachel’s very Instagram-friendly #QOTD on the punitive pressures placed on working women today: “Debate has been rife about whether women can have it all. As a career woman in a demanding profession, I know that it would not be possible for me to also aim to be a perfect wife, a perfect mum, a perfect cook, and a perfect home tutor all at the same time. I accept that I will need to bear with some trade-offs on the home front.”
“After reflecting, I think that there is ultimately no one definition of what ‘having it all’ means. I believe that each woman can decide what that means to her and, for me, quoting from a song by John Legend, I have learnt to love the perfect imperfections.”
“WOMEN UNDERSELL THEMSELVES”
For someone who has pulled off so much in so little time – Rachel’s just 46! – it was fitting that she rounded off her speech with a rallying cry for office ladies riven by self-doubt: “Women generally undersell themselves. To be honest, at various stages of my career when a promotion was being contemplated, I’ve told my seniors that I have young children; I can’t entertain every night like the guys; I can’t play golf on weekends like the guys.”
‘And what [my seniors] told me was, ‘But we are ambitious for you.’ I was lucky to have had the support of my senior colleagues; I would encourage everyone to seize any opportunity when it lands on you.” So yes, the carpe diem thing does work, guys and girls!
Find out who’s the deserving champ of the Her World Young Woman Achiever 2014, and be sure to pick up the November issue of Her World Magazine for the full story!