Industry players share their thoughts on working mums and work-life balance

Advertising and marketing is a grueling business. It is filled with long hours in the office coupled with client meetings after, leaving very few people with the ability to master work life balance. For working mothers, the job gets harder still.

According to a study, many women leave agency life when they hit their prime childbearing and rearing years. Those moms who do stay found it a challenge. The US-based study added that women in advertising are less likely to have children either means that they are opting out of the workforce once they have children or purposefully prioritizing their career over motherhood. A+M speaks to industry players on how they achieve work-life balance and the steps they take to make the workplace conducive for other working mothers.

Angelina Villanueva, CMO, KFC Malaysia

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After trying to achieve work-life balance over the course of my 25 years at work, it finally dawned on me – work-life balance is a misnomer.

I believe if you enjoy the job and have enough quality time with your children, work-life balance is already achieved.

It’s not exactly 50-50. Sometimes 90-10 and other times 10-90. It’s about ensuring you have a balance in life, both work and pleasure, whether you are a mother or not.

You need to make the workplace conducive by trusting your staff members. Most often, it’s about offering your employees the flexibility at work as long as work gets done, is on time and of good quality. Examples of flexibility include allowing your employees to work from home and giving them time to pick up their children. At the end of the day, it’s about trust and it works both ways.

Lee Lim Meng, marketing director, Abbott Malaysia

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The term “work-life balance” has changed to “work-life integration”. If you are at a certain level, it’s not going to be easy to achieve the more traditional work-life balance.

What you can do is to ensure you do not deprioritise your family because many people tend to do that.

For me, it is important to prioritise a certain “sacred time”. If I have to be home at a certain time, I’ll prioritise my work and leave so I’ll have a solid two hours to spend with my family. I give my employees the flexibility and benefit of doubt by not imposing rules on them. I trust them to do work wherever they are. Also, leaders need to ensure there is a back up plan so one person does not have to shoulder all the work.

I have been in organisations where an individual has so much work on their plate that when they are not around, everything stops. This is something I absolutely discourage and I have put in place a system to always ensure someone else is able to step in as a back up. A lot of mothers are afraid that the higher they climb, the more responsibility they will have, but it’s just about creating a conducive ecosystem.

Schrene Goh, EVP, marketing, Pos Malaysia

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Being a mother of two, it’s definitely a challenge trying to juggle between a demanding job, quality time with loved ones, household errands and, not forgetting, finding some ‘me time’ for a pick-me-up or a boost in confidence.

Spend time organising and building a good support system. This is especially important if you have kids, so that everything flows smoothly while you’re at work, allowing you to focus your energy. If you’re not married, find a supportive life partner that’ll stand alongside you and be truly happy for your achievements.

As a mum myself, I can relate to other working mums especially first time mum returning from their maternity leave. I would normally try to work with them on their needs as a new parent, giving them some practical advice and have some mutual agreement to work around their schedule especially if they are still a lactating mum. However, I usually ensure the team members who are likely to be impacted to propose a workable and sustainable solution with these working mums.

One thing that they have to keep in mind is, flexibility does not equate to lower KPI targets or higher tolerances on deliverables.

At the end of the day, the company’s objective needs to be met.

Nizwani Shahar, co-chief executive, Ogilvy Malaysia

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In today’s professional world, work-life balance is not so binary anymore. In my life, I don’t work from 9-to-5, clock off and then do my own thing. What I strive for is work-life integration. It is fluid, flexible and I enjoy the ride.

I give so much more at Ogilvy knowing that there are flexibilities that empowers me to lead while being a mother of one. This means I am able to commit quality time to my daughter and myself.

I also want to be a role model to my daughter who sees me enjoy work and thrive in my career and be a hands on mum to her.

Apart from having the necessary support in place (crèche, nursing room and maternity leave options, among others), the most important “comfort” is the gift of empowerment for mums to thrive at the workplace. As working mums, we are constantly ridden with guilt – the underlying worry about compromising work or family.

An agency that celebrates and supports working mums are those that allow all women the flexibility to re-balance every so often, take time out for child care and allow periodic work from home arrangements. That sense of empowerment liberates any woman from the guilt of trying to balance family and career.

Audrey Chong, chief investment officer, Magna, IPG Mediabrands

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I try to achieve work-life balance through meticulous planning. My life consists of working out schedules and plans in advance. Where possible, I try to schedule some me time, be it catching up with friends and family, going to the gym or even just taking some time for pampering.

Being a mum myself helps me understand and empathise with the team. We all have those days when the kids are not well, or your daytime caregiver has an emergency so you need to run off to attend to the kids. It makes a big difference to be understanding when the mums in your team need to take the day off or work from home.

Family takes first priority, and if the rest of the team including myself can cover for the mum in need, there wouldn’t be any issue especially with responsible team members.  For new mum who are back from maternity, we do have rooms for them to express milk, with refrigerators for storage.

I also try not to schedule meetings late in the evening and it’s really optional for mums to attend any social events after work.

Chayenne Tan, director of growth marketing, consumer banking, CIMB

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For me, I set my work, personal and family goals up front so that I won’t hesitate to decide on prioritising one or the other when the time comes. For example, I make it a point to have two long vacations a year. Also, I remind myself not to be defined by my work or motherhood per se.

It is important that we find joy as an individual first so that we can spread joy.

We don’t always have to have it all. A different season may call for a different priority. Just go with the flow and give your best shot.