My story with the F-word

It started way before I jumped on that plane to Singapore…

It probably started when I was five or six…

My parents were divorced, I lived with my mother. She was a dentist, working 7 to 11 AM in the public hospital and 1pm-whenever-the-last-patient-would-show-up in her private practice. She was very very present during my childhood, but she could not stay with me all day - she had to work, so I used to stay with my grandmother. Grandma would cook lunch for me after school, I would stay in her house the whole afternoon and she would take me to ballet classes, swimming classes, you name it. I have always been and always will be extremely proud of her; besides being the best cook in the world, she was the only active driver among all my school friends' grandmothers :)

I guess the way I lived my childhood created a very strong sense of what the F-word means to me. And yes, if you still have not gotten it, I am talking about Feminism. And please do not get me wrong here: I also had amazing male role models in my life - my father is a loving, creative, brave entrepreneur, my grandfather is 80 and still the best tax accountant I know, but I had strong women as role models, so I never thought of any scenario in which I would not be a strong woman as well. It just never occurred to me.

Time went by and I kept living my life, never ever thinking about the F-word. I joined Bain & Company, which runs an amazing women's programme, Women at Bain, and I would go to all events, always thinking: "this is nice, but I do not really see why it should be a priority".

One day, a friend gave me a book, because she said I need "encouragement to be the woman I was born to be" - whatever that meant. It was Lean In.

I hate psychology books and I did not have high expectations, but I had a long flight the next week, so I took it with me and thought: "why not?" My reaction was the following:

  • This looks like me!
  • Yep, I have done that!
  • But why on earth would I apply for a job if I didn't have enough qualifications? (HP study)
  • Oh, but this Heidi lady really sounds bossy… (Heidi/Howard case)

Yes, that was me - all the stereotypical behaviors, all the biases, everything I thought I was immune from…

Then I thought I should just watch a movie to get my head over it and, without reading the synopses, I randomly chose "The Post" - story of a widow that had to build her leadership style to run her family newspaper. By the end of the movie, I was literally crying my eyes out.

That flight changed my attitude towards Feminism. I had always sympathised with the cause, but that day I saw myself in the mirror, so I became vocal about it. It became my priority (or one of my priorities -  I am as much the stereotype of a multitasking women as can be :) ).

The reason why I am telling this story is because not all women are lucky to have a friend who is as perceptive as mine, plus a flight the next week. More than that, not everyone (both men and women) wants to read a book about gender issues and that is OK. Actually, you do not have to. There are many different ways to discuss the topic. Around four weeks ago, I felt proud to be part of the LIMITLESS conference, here at INSEAD's Singapore campus.


We had strong women sharing their stories as keynote speakers and as panelists.

I was really amazed to see how universal the topic can be and how many different approaches we can take to be LIMITLESS in our professional and personal lives. Christine chose to build amazing NGOs to empower women; Chng Sok Hui is not afraid of voicing her opinions, even when controversial; Sapna leads a workshop to help more junior women be more confident negotiating salaries and taking their place on the table; Chio is brave enough to choose her own priorities, not what paradigms imposed to her.

As if that was not enough, we also had workshops that helped us break the limits within our own selves. There were workshops in Entrepreneurship, Unconscious Bias and Storytelling. I took the latter.

We shared a little about our story and learned not to feel sorry about any parts of it (not even in the back of our minds, people see through that ;) ). We also did some vocal exercises and had a great amount of laugh.

I am extremely happy to have been a part of this conference at INSEAD. I believe that, to educate future leaders, there is much more to teach than calculations and cases. Future leaders have to be able to understand the society's issues and to articulate their beliefs in a mature and professional way. I believe this conference, together with many other initiatives (IWiB, PLDP, etc), help us build that confidence.

Personally,  I feel confident to tell my story and I like to be vocal about my views on gender issues. I hope to have more and more of these productive discussions in the periods to come at INSEAD and in my professional life afterwards. :)