Career or motherhood? Have it both

Stephanie Caunter (right) Stephanie Caunter (right)

Many women leave the workforce in their late 20s to mid 30s to take care of their growing families, aging parents or sick family members.

However, the biggest push for women to leave the workforce is the call of motherhood, as many new mothers find it challenging to balance the requirements of taking care of a young family while pursuing a career. In Malaysia, the drop off rate of women from the workforce can be seen as a form of brain drain; as at 2014, while 70% of our university graduates are women, they make up only 53.6% of the entire Malaysian labour force*.

In an effort to address the outflow of women talent, TalentCorp together with the Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development created flexWorkLife.my. This initiative, through its many supporting programmes, aims to create a network of employers and talent that encourages work-life integration in the workplace.

The rationale behind this is clear: with more companies in Malaysia adopting family-friendly policies with the objective of achieving work-life balance, more women may be encouraged to return and make a career comeback. At the same time, these policies will also encourage the retention of high-performing women who then are able to work towards becoming leaders in their own industries.

Recently, TalentCorp spoke to three women in different stages of their careers to find out about their experiences as working mothers in today’s workforce.

The challenges

Stephanie Caunter, who has been with PwC Malaysia for over eight years, is a mother to two young girls. While she has never left the workforce to go on a career break, she is familiar with the emotional challenges that many working mothers face.

“The one thing that a lot of women tend to feel is guilt. We're always guilty because we're working, we don't get to spend enough time with the kids or the husband," she admits.

Kala Govinthan (left) Kala Govinthan (left)

For Kala Govinthan, who had to resign from her previous job to take care of her third child, getting back on track was a challenge. Being away from the workplace for nine months had dulled her interview and resume writing skills. Under TalentCorp’s Career Comeback programme, she was coached in her resume writing and interview skills, and eventually secured her current position with Colgate-Palmolive.

Even then, she found that juggling a full-time desk job and a full-time role as a mother of three young children was not easy.

“As a working parent, time management is a challenge,” she said.

A mother of three who is attached with RHB Banking Group, Fatim Hamimi shares a similar view. "For working mums, the challenge would be to have that balance (between work and family). We have limited time to spend with the kids and family.”

Fatim Hamimi (second from left) Fatim Hamimi (second from left)

Being able to build one’s career while caring for the family has often been hard in the past and women have had to choose between the two. Societal and personal expectations do not make it easier for these ladies as mothers are seen to have to be able to juggle both family and career well.

As Stephanie shares candidly, “A mother's job is never done. So whether you're at work or you're out with your friends or on holiday, you're always a mum.”

Why come back to work

For these three women, the fine act of balancing a career and family is possible thanks to the encouragement from loved ones and structured support from their respective organisations. All three women also share the same passion and desire to grow their own professional careers.

Fatim, who took a two-year break to be a stay-at-home mother, is motivated because she still has a lot to contribute to the workforce.

Likewise, Kala is visibly excited about her comeback, and even goes ahead to encourage other women who have left the workforce to return back to work.

“It also gives (one) the strength to live life to the fullest!” she says.

Ultimately, these women know that being a working parent benefits everyone, including their spouse and children.

“Now that I have two girls, I want to be a role model. I want them to grow up knowing that you can have a career and you can have a family,” said Stephanie.

“It's possible these days. We may not have it all but we'll try to have as much as we can.”

Watch the full video below and discover what it’s like to be a working mother in today’s workforce.

* Data sourced from the Labour Force Survey, Department of Statistics, Malaysia and the Ministry of Education (2014).

TalentCorp's Career Comeback Programme aims to help professional women return to the workplace after a career break. To find out how you can be part of this programme, visit flexworklife.my. For other stories on talent and career opportunities in Malaysia, visit talentmatters.my.