On International Women’s Day, Business Forward explores modern-day obstacles to women leading successful businesses and happy, functioning families. Featuring Malaysian Parentpreneur, Educator, Coach & Designer, Coco Wong, this is the first in a series of articles spotlighting successful examples of women who have managed to do both.
Coco Wong // WEF
Interview by Tareq Selim // Conducted at the Women Economic Forum, hosted at the Nile Ritz-Carlton, Cairo, between March 4 and 9, 2020.
Can you explain your experience when it comes to balancing motherhood and entrepreneurship?
First of all, it’s crucial to work our ability to say no to things that are not that important, because as life goes on, a lot of opportunities get thrown our way, and especially as an entrepreneur you don’t want to miss out. But there is a need to strike a balance and say no to some of those opportunities and events. We also need to learn to say no to our children when we really don’t have the time for it, so again a balance is essential.
Secondly, ‘parentpreneurs’ have to build a trust circle so that these people are ones you can trust with your life. You can trust them with your kids and company. It makes life much easier, so that you can go on and do other things you need to do while having that trust circle backing you up.
To what extent do women have to choose one life or the other?
I don’t think we should ever have to choose between one or the other. I think we are women because we have the ability to be both, and I think it’s just the matter of finding the balance and believing we can do it. The fact that god have us the ability to give birth makes our connection with children a truly special one. It’s not that fathers aren’t important; it’s that those babies live inside of us for nine months; you can literally feel the life growing inside of you. That connection is so deep that, as a mum, you can’t walk away from it.
At the same time, when you’re building your own company, you’re also growing up in different ways. It’s like adopting a child. It’s still your child, and you still love it as much as if you would by giving birth to it, it’s just a different kind of love. We just have to look at it this way; it’s like having an extra child. You need to balance between all your children.
Look at your company as your own child, sometimes it’s this child’s time and sometimes it’s that child’s time. So you just need to balance it that way.
Do you believe there any structural obstacles to women’s ability to do both successfully?
Yes, because there’s never enough time to do everything we want. Also, as we grow older, health becomes another issue that we struggle with. When it comes to society, a lot of people, even in first world countries, still have this thought about women being at home. And as much as we love being at home, we should allow the dice to take on some rolls as well. I’m lucky that my husband doesn’t think this way, but there are some that are quite old-fashioned, so we need to keep educating the society and the world that it is important for women to have their roles outside their homes as well as inside. We can do both, but we need the support of our husbands, families and societies.
Is it feasible for one to be a fully available parent while running a successful business?
I believe I’m doing that. I have a great relationship with my two girls; I have been there at every single important event in their lives. So I made myself available whenever I can to them, but also to my company, because it’s very important to me as well. It’s a big part of my life; it gives me fulfillment and satisfaction. It’s important for me to go out and tell women how they can achieve this. I want more women to feel that fulfillment and success, because without that fulfillment in ourselves, we won’t be able to pass that along to our children. We need to show them that we can self-fulfill and that we can take care of ourselves. It’s all about planning, building your trust circles, saying no to things and saying yes to others, and making wise choices.
To what extent does privilege play a part in women’s ability to do both successfully?
That’s a difficult question. Obviously if you’re more privileged, it is easier. For examples, some women are privileged in that they have help, maids and drivers; that makes it so much easier. But in the same time, I believe in training your kids and your team to make you privileged. I taught my kids how to cook when they were two, so now that they’re 11 and 12, they can prepare all meals on their own. So that releases a lot of pressure off me having to cook every day for them. So now we share cooking together, but they can manage it themselves. I still drive them to school, but I make my car my office basically. Of course if there is a driver, it would make a difference, but I also enjoy the time when we’re in the car together.
So being privileged doesn’t translate to better because being able to have that time in the car with the kids to talk and sing together make for incredibly precious moments. So yes being privileged makes it easier in some sense, but not necessarily buy you all the time you can have with your kids, employees or clients.
What’s one advice you would like to give women who want to be entrepreneurs and mothers at the same time?
Take action, don’t sit on it. Other women just sit on the thought and life just goes by. Just be brave and take the action. It’s not going to go as planned, nothing ever goes as planned. It will change, but without taking that first step, you’ll never be on that journey. And it’s a wonderful journey, which could difficult at times, but whenever you’re faced with a difficulty, just know that the next thing is going to get better. Just take action and go for it.
Main photo: Alumnae Relations // Smith College