Lorna Patajo-Kapunan: The Secrets of Successful Women

Lorna Patajo-Kapunan (Global FWN100™ '16), Senior Partner, Kapunan Garcia & Castillo Law Offices delivered her leadership keynote "The Secrets of Successful Women" during the Global FWN100™ 2016 Dinner and Awards Ceremony on August 23, 2016 at Shangri-La Mactan in Cebu, Philippines 

Lorna Patajo-Kapunan (Global FWN100™ '16), Senior Partner, Kapunan Garcia & Castillo Law Offices delivered her leadership keynote "The Secrets of Successful Women" during the Global FWN100™ 2016 Dinner and Awards Ceremony on August 23, 2016 at Shangri-La Mactan in Cebu, Philippines 

Lorna Patajo-Kapunan (Global FWN100™ '16) delivered her leadership keynote at the Global FWN100™ 2016 Gala Dinner and Awards Ceremony during the #FWNSummit2016 in Cebu, Philippines on Tuesday, August 23, 2016. Below is the full text of her keynote speech.

It’s a fact. We’ve entered the era of the successful woman the high flyers & high earners. Yet the remarkable progress of these successful women has been surprisingly low profile. Why? In large part because until recently they didn’t exist. “It is only in the last two decades that women have had [substantial] personal earnings from their own activities,” their own talent competence and resources. The woman CFO/COO—is no longer Child of Owner (or wife).

But successful women are still a minority. Fewer than 20 percent of six-figure earners are female. Most women remain sorely underpaid. In virtually every field, women make 50 to 80 percent of what men make.

Do successful women have to work absurdly long hours, forfeit their femininity, forgo their happiness, give up all semblance of a personal life? Do their marriages hold up? Do their children suffer? Do they bear lasting scars from breaking glass ceilings or battling gender bias? Is it possible for women to become high earners?

Some of us believe the myth that managing money is clearly a man's job.  This was what was pounded on us when we were young.  The man is the breadwinner.  The women takes care of house and children.  Ang babae ay pang Kusina or pang Kama lang. Some of you don’t even cook—or have sex.

For far too many women, their financial limits have become a fact of life.  The thought of making more is like climbing Mount Everest, a colossal, if not impossible, task.  They may have the desire, but they lack the hope or belief in themselves to meet the challenge.

Numerous psychologists have told me that the amount people earn indicates how they feel about themselves, like a mirror reflecting back their level of self-worth.  But in my dealings with successful women, I wasn't clear which came first.  Did people make more because they felt good about themselves, or did they feel good about themselves because they were paid more?

If there's one hallmark for successful women, it's that they're exceptionally hard workers and some are slave to their jobs.  But hard work has many faces and like success itself, means different things to different people.  I believe that the critical factor is not the number of hours women work as much as the intensity of focus. Working hard has a negative connotation. What is important is loving what you do. In some cases, women do not know where their work stopped and their personal life began.

These are superwomen probably most of you here, who are on steroids who have no clue on how many hours they worked; they just know how few hours they slept.  These women will break down.  They may have once loved their job but their passion had turned to obsession, their work had become an addiction, their long hours felt more like hard labor, and their generous salaries were but golden shackles.

But money isn't the only reason successful women have lopsided lives.  Overwork has become an occupational hazard for ambitious women trying to make it in a man's world.  It is often said that "women have to make disproportionate sacrifice to compete equally in the work world."  Women have to work twice as hard as the men just to keep up.  It's an easy, perhaps inevitable, trap to fall into, but the successful women get out of this trap before it's too late.

Lorna Patajo-Kapunan Global FWN100 2016

Working Hard Doesn't Mean Working All the Time

"Overwork is a self-inflicted punishment.  I don't do that anymore."  This theme of working less and making more is especially true among the entrepreneurs.  Not so much in their early years of doing business, but eventually many of them came to the same conclusion.

It was the intensity of focus on their work, not the number of hours they spent doing it that factored so heavily into these women's financial success.


Money is not the motivator- it is what money represents. Successful women are driven more by what they hope to achieve than what they aspire to earn. Each woman has her own definition of what the money symbolizes and what achievement means.

Focus on Fulfilling Your Values Rather Than Financial Gain.

Successful women have a vision for their lives based on cherished values like recognition, security, challenge, or independence. This intangible goals, more than hard cash, provide the fuel for their financial success. Money became the by-product of their value-based ambition and, simultaneously, gave them more opportunities to live out their authentic values.

If making money is the goal, you’ll never make enough to be happy. You’ll always want more. A lot of people fall into this trap and never find happiness because they’re always chasing money.”


What’s important, is to follow your heart.

Successful women love what they do for a living. This passion for work plays a much more significant role in women’s success than any impressive credential or high-flying career.

Loving what You Do Is Much More Important Than What You Do.

“If you’re not passionate, you shouldn’t be doing it.” “I think passion is more important than what field you’re in, more important than hard work.”

I believe, no matter how impossible it seems, once you decide to do what you love and be excellent at it, the money will come.


“You have to believe in yourself, that you can do anything you set your mind to.”  That catchphrase---I can do anything---emerged as a recurring mantra for successful women.

Belief in yourself doesn’t mean the absence of self-doubt.

Every woman admits to grappling with feelings of inadequacy, incompetence, and fear.  Fear of failure, fear of rejections, fear of criticism lay like fault line just below the surface.  But successful women look and act confident even when they don’t feel it.  “It’s like being a duck.  Calm and unruffled on the surface, but paddling like hell underneath.”

“There are times I’ve sat in our board of directors meeting looking as if I’m reading a complicated report and I don’t know what the hell I’m looking at .  But I put on a good show.  I’m somehow able to pull it off.”

A woman CEO told me-- “I know, I worry people will see I’m not that smart. A therapist told me it’s called the Imposter Syndrome.   “I’m so afraid people will discover how dumb I am. I wrestle with this all the time.”

Some reference to the Imposter Syndrome ran through so many of these women’s stories. Beneath their confident exteriors lurked layers of insecurity. Yet despite their qualms, these women, managed to become incredibly successful, professionally and financially. How did they do it?

Feel the Fear, Have the Doubts. Go for It Anyway.

Feeling like a fish out of water was a common theme among aspiring women I have met who made dramatic career changes into more lucrative (often male-dominated) fields. But the biggest challenge for nearly everyone was simply trying to stay afloat in a sea of endless obligation.


The whole notion of trying to achieve success on the job and enjoy a life outside of it is an ongoing struggle for practically every working woman.

It’s no surprise that balancing work and personal life is the most mentioned, most taxing quandary successful women encounter, particularly as they try to merge their desire for marriage and family with their aspirations for financial success. It is something men rarely have to deal with. “I’ve yet to hear a man ask for advice on how to combine marriage and a career,” women’s advocate Gloria Steinem once observed. But we hear it incessantly from women.

The struggle for balance is even more apparent in the life of the single mom.

Few people know that I am a single Mom.  I lost my husband to Colon Cancer in 2001, I thought this was the end of the world—until in 2003, I lost the youngest of my sons (he was 8 years old then).  That really was the end of the world for me, and I cursed my God “nag quota na ako Lord why me.”  But I had to bounce back-- had 4 sons to take care of, my own law firm, a reputation of being a fighter.  So I fought hard to keep body & soul together.  The rest is History--- and God has been good to me!

“For a single working mom it’s always terrible balancing act. You’re never at work enough and never with the kids enough. You’ve got to make hard choices about your time. Sometimes you have to skip being home because you have to be at a business event. And then you’ll feel terrible that you’re not with your kids. It’s constant choices, and you never know if you’re making the right ones.”

Even with a husband at your side, mothering while working is still a herculean task.

The work/family dilemma is an intricate web of complex issues—issues of identity, autonomy, and a maternal instinct that exerts a fiercer pull than the force of gravity.

Successful women finally settled on a workable equilibrium. That seems to be what happens. Over time majority of high-earning women established their own brand of precarious balance. They each found, usually through trial and error, viable solutions for preserving their mental health while managing their multiple roles. Those solutions came from taking a hard look at their personal priorities, what they cherished most in life, and then discerning between what they thought they should do and how they really wanted to live their lives.

Think in Terms of Trade-offs, Not Sacrifices, to Find a Workable Equilibrium.

This battle for balance, to get overinvested in work but still do what it takes to advance, is ongoing for virtually every successful high earner.


There’s another battle that may be even more painful than juggling too many hats: contending with gender bias and sexual harassment. Not all successful women have to confront these problems. For those who do, however, it can be the most frustrating and distressing challenge of all.

Discrimination has always been a workplace threat from aspiring women, and these days, the higher a women climbs, the more acute this problem seems to become.

Corporate women complain of being excluded from social occasions, passed over for promotions, or ignored for tough assignments. Entrepreneurs resent not receiving the same referrals, networking opportunities, or start-up capital as their male colleages.

“I wish we were all treated equally, but it just isn’t the case,” an investment banker, told me. “The guys will get asked by the people that run the firm to go golfing, but they won’t ask me because I’m a woman. So my peers are hanging out with the decision makers on weekends and I am not invited.”

The solution—recognition, not resignation--- is how most successful women deal with gender bias and other injustices.  

The point is to accept the fact of it, get angry enough to do something about it, but not blame or become a victim.

Many successful women also find strength in a sense of humor.

“My sense of humor is shock absorber”

These successful women figured out a key secret for dealing with prejudicial treatment without losing their temper, their footing, or their perspective:

Sometimes You Just Have To Shrug It Off and Have a Good Laugh.


One thing is for sure:  There’s plenty of stress in the success lanes. Coping with multiple roles, a challenging workload, and their minority status is no piece of cake for Successful Women. Yet despite the ubiquitous pressures, I found another frequentlyrepeated, and very surprising, theme.  As a whole, successful women are a very happy bunch.  Successful women learn from other successful women/mentors. None of us are successful on our own.  

Successful women always count their blessings.

Appreciate Abundance.

We might want to rethink that old saying that money can’t buy happiness.   [“But a] better predictor of happiness is a person’s satisfaction with his or her income. According to studies, the most highly compensated women receive less than 3 percent of what the best compensated men make.   But instead of focusing on the disparity, or becoming disheartened by its implications, the women I spoke to recognized and appreciated that they were making more than most certainly more than most women, andin many cases, more than they had even dreamed they would.  While everybody’s been fixated on doors that were closing, feeling cynical and resigned about what struggles might lay ahead, high earners were consistently finding, and opening windows of opportunity.

But financial success is not what successful women should be all about. We are blessed because we are meant to share our blessings with others.

I am known as a celebrity lawyer.   A fighter with balls (I often want to retort—“why do you have a vagina?—but I do have cases not written about by media-- the 18 month old daughter raped by the father on drugs, the 13 year old student gang raped by policemen, the battered wife with 8 children refused support by the husband, the victims of domestic violence, oil spill case in Barangay Bangkal 87 families and a whole Barangay lost their homes, cases for World Wildlife Fund (WWF), Red Cross, Ballet Philippines, PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals), PAL Flight Attendants on their gender discrimination issues and many other pro bono cases.  These are the cases that made me who I am today.  My Mantra-- those who have less in life should have more in law.  I come from a family of lawyers-- my father Justice Line M. Patajo was former Justice of the Supreme Court, my first cousin in law Justice Santiago Kapunan was also Justice of the Supreme Court, my husband was RTC Judge,  my uncle was Executive Judge of Antipolo, my uncle-in-law was the prosecutor in Nalundasan case that sent Marcos to Jail—my 2 sons are now lawyers.

I stand by the belief that the law is a noble profession—regardless of the horror stories we hear on hoodlumsin robes.  And so, let be leave you with this thought--- that we are successful because were are meant to be successful to help others help themselves. 

Womenare great story tellers.  Let me end with this story.

“UBUNTU” – A very nice story from Africa…

The motivation behind the Ubuntu Culture in Africa— An anthropologist proposed a game to the African tribal children. He placed a basket of sweets near a tree and made the children stand 100 meters away. Then he announced that whoever reaches the tree first would get all the sweets in the basket. When he said “ready steady go!”

Do you know what these Children did?

They all held each other’s hand, ran together towards the tree divided the sweets equally among themselves, ate the sweets and enjoyed it.   When the anthropologist asked them why they did so—They answered UBUNTU which meant “How can one be happy when the others are sad?  UBUNTU in their language means “I AM BECAUSE WE ARE”

A strong message for all generations—Let us always have this attitude and SPREAD HAPPINESS WHEREVER WE GO.

Mabuhay!  I am—BECAUSE WE ARE!


Remember that you are still a woman.  
Success does not mean you have to think, look, feel like a man.  
While you strive, you still must be receptive.  
While you are strong, you are allowed to cry.
While you wear power suits, you can still wear high heels and be flirty.
While you are in control, you can still be gracious.
Let us celebrate our “Womanity!”

Lorna Patajo-Kapunan (Global FWN100™ '16) pictured with FWN CEO & Founder Marily Mondejar and FWN President Susie Quesada.

Lorna Patajo-Kapunan (Global FWN100™ '16) pictured with FWN CEO & Founder Marily Mondejar and FWN President Susie Quesada.

About Lorna Patajo-Kapunan

Atty. Lorna Patajo-Kapunan is an advocate for Women’s and Children’s Rights as well as the Environment and Animal rights.  She has the distinction of being the first to have obtained a Writ of Kalikasan from the Supreme Court for her West Tower/Barangay Bangkal Oil Spill Case.

Atty. Kapunan also vigorously fought for the preservation of the Arroceros Forest Park when the local government officials of Manila ordered the construction of the City Schools Division Office within the forest premises which prompted the killing of 187-fully grown trees. She also joined the clarion call to free the old and ailing elephant Mali from its pen in the Manila Zoo, among others.

On the economic front, Atty. Kapunan is the Legal Counsel of Kilusang Makabansang Ekonomiya (KME) which advocates economic nationalism and champions the fight against poverty and corruption in all branches of the Government. 

Atty. Kapunan also is an advocate for the protection of equity/royalty rights of artists, performers, broadcasters – which has gained her the reputation of being a “lawyer for the celebrities.”