Running between deadlines for a Autumn/Winter ready-to wear collection, a shopping to trip to London to spot the next season trends, preparing a restructuring plan for a board meeting, approving a social media marketing event for our newest brand campaign and attending a Fashion show at the Australian Embassy. Do you recognise this person behind the role? This “role” of a businesswoman is only one of the roles I have to execute on a daily basis. Of course, I also have the duties and responsibilities of a mother, a spouse, a housekeeper, an administrator, a daughter, a sister, an aunt, a mentor etc.
While I execute all the above mentioned work duties, I also call home to give instructions to the nanny, email the teacher about our child’s homework, app my spouse to ask about his meeting, texted my mum to see if she is recovered from her health issue….. How do I do that? Well that’s a good question. When I reflect on it, I realise it happens almost automatically.
Are we “programmed” as women? Do we learn it in our early years? From whom do we learn, at school or at home? One recent case popped into my head while writing these lines. It was during an exhausting long business meeting. I was involved in a large-scale strategic turnaround project for a luxury fashion brand. We had to present to the shareholders. I was one of the presenters and suddenly my mobile started beeping. Although as a leader, I insist to turn off mobile phones during internal meetings with my team, I somehow had forgotten my own rule. As I saw our youngest daughter’s number on the screen, I apologetically touched the screen and put the phone to my ear. Since she has a GPS watch phone for urgent matters I felt my heart beating faster. On the other side of the line, our 7 year old daughter asked “Mummy can I eat mushroom soup please?”
I guess children do make us feel “normal” again and bring us back to what is really important in life. Namely, eating mushroom soup! Kids are brilliant in teaching us when you need to put things in perspective. Personally, I always turn into a better mood when I engage with our daughter after returning from work. Especially if it was a very tough day. I love playing, listening or just sitting in her room and being in the moment. Nevertheless, as a woman, I do feel guilty sometimes if I have to take time off during work (even now when I am my own boss) to do errands around our children.
Talking about this topic with my husband, who is in the fashion industry too, I realise he does not always share the same dilemma. For him, it is simple. You are either at work or with your children. Black and white. Why feel guilty? During my upbringing, I had many challenges. One of them was, being from an immigrant family (my parents moved from Turkey to the Netherlands in the early 70s), we all had to work harder to get where we wanted to be. Since we were “disadvantaged” in areas like language and social status, we had to prove ourselves even more to show that we were the “same”.
At school, in social circles and later in our professional careers. So, because being the “same” has been extremely critical and being accepted as an equal, I do feel guilty if I act “different” then my men colleagues. Now, at this stage in my life where I have been living and working in many parts of the world as an expat, I see clearly the same behaviour with lots of other professional women across different countries or cultures. I am not alone…… No matter what social status, religion, culture, profession or education, we women do have a sense of guilt when juggling between work and family.
An extremely important factor, which helps me to cope with different roles and responsibilities, is the unconditional support of my husband. Since he is an executive himself in the global fashion industry for more than 30 years, he knows as no other, the ins and outs of the business. Therefore, I do not have to explain or justify any work related obligation. On the contrary, he will encourage and advise me. Living an expat life for almost 25 years myself, I can only emphasise the necessity of a supporting partner, as there is no extended family support structure from parents, in-laws or siblings. Yes, luckily enough we do have the household support from housekeepers, nannies and drivers available.
I am very grateful for it too. Although, you need to manage them like you manage your staff at work (which is an additional job/role) they can take the load of some daily issues in order to survive a household were both parents are working. I would like to make a statement here that raising our children is our responsibility as parents and can never be passed on to other members of the household. I do have the convenience of passing on an ironing job but it will be me who takes our children to swimming lesson or to the park. The fashion industry is tough, very tough. Lots of women, gossip, competition, envy and elbow work. Strangely enough, all the top jobs, positions and executives are mostly occupied by men (like in most other industries).
Yes, even in the fashion industry. Look at the world’s most famous designers or successful CEO’s. They are men… Karl Lagerfeld. Valentino, Polo Ralph Lauren, Michael Kors, Bernard Arnault etc. How is this possible? Is it the complicated lifestyle of women trying to juggle between their private lives and demands of a career? Is it men in decision-making positions who are prejudgmental about capabilities of working women? When I started my career in the fashion business in Paris, I had just switched from being the founder of a successful IT company to a traineeship position at Karl Lagerfeld. My boss was the commercial director, a man, who informed me that the owner of our company, Karl himself, had invited all his staff including me to the Christmas dinner. Well I was so excited and honoured that I couldn’t believe I was going to meet one of the greatest designers and personalities in the industry finally.
Just a few hours before the Christmas party, I got a phone call from my boss, who informed me with regret that our CEO (his boss, a lady), did not want the lowest rank in the company, namely the trainees to join the dinner. So, I did not attend….. Would a man CEO have handled it differently? Being in a leading position now, I want to be a good role model. Specifically for the younger generation and for women around the world. I am able to practice what I always believed in. I can break the barriers that held me back and many before me. I do support and give my extra time to women who need a mentor. I share my stories to as many as possible because I hope to inspire or encourage women to be both successful at work and at home.