Lai See

Is it possible to be a good CEO and a good mother?

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 04 March, 2014, 5:09am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 04 March, 2014, 5:09am

With the approach of International Women's Day on Saturday, there is a frenzy of women's events this week, propelled mainly by the indefatigable Su-Mei Thompson, chief executive of The Women's Foundation.

But last night was the turn of Intelligence Squared, the organisation that provides a forum for political, economic and cultural debate. Last night's debate was a cracker with an all female cast speaking to the motion "The Hand That Rocks the Cradle Cannot Rock the Boardroom". In other words, does a good mother have time to be a good chief executive?

Speaking for the motion were Debora Spar, author of Wonder Women: Sex, Power, and the Quest for Perfection, and Allison Pearson, an award-winning journalist and the author of the global bestseller I Don't Know How She Does It. Against the motion were Helena Morrissey, chief executive of Newton Investment Management, founder of the 30% Club and, amazingly, mother of nine children, and Zhang Xin, co-founder and chief executive of Soho China. The debate was moderated by BBC World News presenter Zeinab Badawi and indeed the BBC is to broadcast the debate, which gave it an added frisson.

The debate was won by those speaking for the motion, with 51 per cent of the votes, compared with 48 per cent against and 1 per cent who said they didn't know. Those for the motion argued there just weren't enough hours in the days to do both jobs properly, while those against who were both chief executives of their respective companies with 13 children between them argued they were living evidence that they could. There were some lively discussions and edgy exchanges as to whether they could be good mothers.

Pearson had some that drew the most laughs and good one-liners about men who thought toilet paper was replaced by the toilet paper fairy. More seriously, she noted that women in the West were beginning to die of stress-related diseases just like men, "a tough price to pay for equality". "Women have made the world, men can run it."

Interestingly, about 85 per cent of the audience were women, and as one said: "Where were all the men? They're the ones that should be listening to this."


The liquor board fights back

We were interested to note that a high-level government delegation treated themselves to an extended bar crawl around some night spots in Central recently. It was all in the line of duty, of course. The delegation was headed by Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, who, together with Liquor Licensing Board chairman Yau How-boa, visited "a number of premises with liquor licences", a government statement tells us. The aim of this nocturnal hijinx, it continued, was to learn about the operation of different kinds of bars and the enforcement actions by the police.

The police and representatives from the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department were also part of this night on the town to advise on how liquor licence applications were assessed and other issues relating to regulation, crowd control, traffic flow and law and order, and of course noise problems. Swelling the numbers on this jaunt were Secretary for Security Lai Tung-kwok, Secretary for Food and Health Ko Wing-man, Permanent Secretary for Food and Health (Food) Marion Lai, Acting Director of Food and Environmental Hygiene Laurie Lo and other members of the liquor board.

So why did the government stage such a high-profile visit? These matters do not normally attract such interest from senior officials. We wonder if it is related to the comments by Mr Justice Kevin Zervos in the High Court when, in a hearing over costs contested between the Coast bar and the liquor board, he observed that "the applicants have been back and forth before the Liquor Licensing Board and appeals board in relation to the liquor licensing conditions, and, I must say, in circumstances that, in my view, have acted unfairly and [unreasonably] on the applicants".

So maybe the big night out with the board surrounded by government bigwigs in the Central bar area was supposed to show support for the board. Perhaps there was a degree of displeasure at the courts' power to review judicially the exercise of statutory powers by government agencies and "quangos", such as the board.


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