C-Suite ladies

It is said that a suc­cess­ful ca­reer woman’s biggest chal­lenge lies not in the board­room, but in find­ing that per­fect bal­ance be­tween work and fam­ily.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - FASHION - By REENA GUR­BAKSH

It is said that a suc­cess­ful ca­reer woman’s biggest chal­lenge lies not in the board­room, but in find­ing that per­fect bal­ance be­tween work and fam­ily.

WHEN she sits down for this in­ter­view, Rhenu Bhuller is at the gym catch­ing a quick work­out af­ter a two-day biotech­nol­ogy con­fer­ence in Kuala Lumpur at which she was a speaker. She has just got­ten off the phone with her hus­band, Tej, who called from Singapore to say that their daugh­ter’s pre­sen­ta­tion at a big school ex­hi­bi­tion that day went well.

Dad be­ing left in charge of the off­spring is not a par­tic­u­larly un­usual turn of events in the Bhuller house­hold. As global vice pres­i­dent of Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals and Biotech­nol­ogy at Frost & Sul­li­van, Rhenu’s job re­quires her to be on the go very of­ten, which means that Tej is left to hold fort.

De­spite the dif­fi­cult work-fam­ily trade-offs, Rhenu is an ex­am­ple of an in­creas­ing num­ber of women in the C-suite (a term coined to re­fer to the “corner suite’’, usu­ally re­served for top man­age­ment) who are prov­ing that it is pos­si­ble to com­bine moth­er­hood and a suc­cess­ful ca­reer.

A re­cent re­port in the Wall Street Jour­nal: The Corner Of­fice and a Fam­ily, showed that most women CEOs of top US com­pa­nies are moth­ers. Many of these highly suc­cess­ful moth­ers, how­ever, en­joy ex­ten­sive sup­port from their hus­bands, some of whom de­cide to skip a ca­reer in the fast track to fo­cus on the chil­dren.

“Hav­ing a sup­port­ive part­ner is ab­so­lutely cru­cial for any woman aim­ing to get to the top,’’ Rhenu says. “He must un­der­stand how im­por­tant his wife’s ca­reer is and be will­ing to see you as an equal part­ner in all re­spects,’’ she says.

Ac­cord­ing to her, Tej has never felt threat­ened by her am­bi­tion in the slight­est, but the clear­est in­di­ca­tor of how much he was will­ing to sup­port her ca­reer came in 2002 when she was asked to set up of­fice in Syd­ney for the com­pany.

Be­fore mak­ing that big move, the cou­ple were both based in Kuala Lumpur. From Aus­tralia, they moved to Singapore in 2007 when she took up the po­si­tion of global vice pres­i­dent.

“Tej was a stock­bro­ker when we lived in KL, but he was will­ing to give it up his job be­cause he took into ac­count the long term fu­ture of my ca­reer and that of the fam­ily,’’ Rhenu says. “If he hadn’t sup­ported the move 100%, it would have been hard to take that step.’’

Mov­ing to Syd­ney was a real eye­opener, even for her usu­ally sup­port­ive hus­band.

“In Kuala Lumpur, we had a maid and fam­ily sup­port, but all that changed. I spent up to 80% the time n Some peo­ple con­tend that there are many bar­ri­ers that block women’s ac­cess to top po­si­tions in the work­place and that choices are se­verely con­strained. Rhenu Bhuller is a prime ex­am­ple that all it takes is a change in mind­set to help women achieve their goals and en­rich their lives. The Women’s Sum­mit 2010 car­ries the theme Chal­leng­ingMind­sets– Trans­form­ingLives and will be held on Dec 8 and 9 at the Sime Darby Con­ven­tion Cen­tre, Kuala Lumpur, or­gan­ised by the Women, Fam­ily and So­cial Devel­op­ment Min­istry.

Apart from in­ter­est­ing speak­ers like Jen Dalitz from Sheo Sphinxx, a so­cial en­ter­prise com­mit­ted to ad­vanc­ing women as lead­ers, and Avi­vah Wit­ten­berg-Cox, CEO of lead­ing gen­der con­sul­tancy 20-First, there will also be a de­bate en­ti­tled There’sNoth­ingS­top­pingWomen, which will pro­vide a plat­form for speak­ers and par­tic­i­pants to have a deeper dis­cus­sion about is­sues that stand in women’s way. En­trance is free. For reg­is­tra­tion, log on to the­wom­enssum­mit.org or call % 03-7954 7030. work­ing, so he had to take charge at home.

“It is only in this part of the world that men like that are called wimps or slaves to their wives. In Aus­tralia, men do an equal amount of chores and ferry the kids to school. Tej had to take out the trash for the first time in his life, and help with bathing and feed­ing the chil­dren, and he did it will­ingly,” adds Rhenu.

When they moved back to Singapore, her hus­band con­tin­ued to play the sup­port­ing role at home – in fact, the cou­ple still refuse to em­ploy house help – and Tej works his busi­ness sched­ule around the chil­dren’s ac­tiv­i­ties when­ever he has to.

“Know­ing that the chil­dren are with him gives me the peace of mind to get on with my work,’’ the mother of a nine and 10-year old says mat­ter-of-factly. “That’s the best gift a work­ing mother can ask for.’’

She does feel guilty about not be­ing home as much as she would like and missing out on “im­por­tant mo­ments’’ like her daugh­ter’s pre­sen­ta­tion, but she does try and make up for lost time when she’s home.

“I helped Pooja pre­pare be­fore I left,’’ she says, “And I try to make up in other ways ... I plan my longer trips to co­in­cide with hol­i­days so that the whole fam­ily can tag along. They’ve al­ready been with me to Shang­hai this year and we’ll be go­ing to the United States at the end of the year’’.

Rhenu be­lieves that child­care poses the biggest stum­bling block to a woman’s rise to the top. Even though many com­pa­nies are will­ing to make ad­just­ments to ac­com­mo­date its work­ing moth­ers, “no em­ployer will give too many con­ces­sions for a fe­male em­ployee with chil­dren.’’

“Women need to show that they can get the job done just as well and ef­fi­ciently. My daugh­ter was born the day be­fore a big re­port was due and I re­mem­ber call­ing my boss in the United States to tell him not to worry and that he’d still have it in the morn­ing,’’ she quips.

Does she con­sider her­self lucky to have her hus­band as a pil­lar of sup­port?

“I have seen too many promis­ing women leave their jobs be­cause their hus­bands be­lieved it was their ‘duty’ to look af­ter the chil­dren. The ex­pec­ta­tion in Asia is that the wife takes on that role – so, yes, I con­sider my­self ab­so­lutely lucky,’’ she con­cludes.

Hav­ing it all: Rhenu Bhuller, Frost & Sul­li­van’s global vice pres­i­dent of Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals and Biotech­nol­ogy, and her fam­ily.

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