Question Time with Mentor John – Mums at Work

Question Time with Mentor John – Mums at Work

This article first appeared in Business Times on 12 May 2018

Question Time with Mentor John – Mums at Work

There has been a growing number of women entering Singapore’s workforce. Not only is this great for gender equality, it helps families reduce reliance on a single breadwinner, while also providing increased job satisfaction. However, when children come along, many women struggle with the dilemma of being a dedicated mother, while also pulling their weight in the corporate world. With Mother’s Day around the corner, Mentor John answers some working mothers’ questions.

There have been highly-publicised examples of mothers returning to work just weeks after delivery. This is not helpful since I intend to take the full 16 weeks paid maternity leave. How do I explain this to my boss, who is asking me to shorten my leave?

Assert you position, which I happen to agree with. Even if I didn’t, you would be right to assert it. However, the way you do so will determine how much you progress at work. Ask you boss how committed he thinks you are to the business. Reassure him that you are 100% committed – as you are to you family. Tell him how important the first 16 weeks were to your mother when you were born and how her closeness then has contributed to making you the success you are. Smile and be pleasant with him – not aggressive, but firm. Do not compromise, this is not a negotiation. You have rights to 16 weeks maternity leave. Take it.
If he becomes difficult look for another employer – but only after the 16 weeks is up.

I want to request for flexi-time at my work. However, this has never been done before in my company. What is the best way for me to approach this? Should I talk to my boss or the HR department?

Essential to get your boss on side first. Ask him when you can have some time with him privately. Say you have a personal problem you would like to discuss with him, not with anyone else. If he tries to divert you to another person or to HR, say you really need his advice.

When you get your private time with him, ask him if you can be very frank about a personal matter. He will say yes. Tell him that your home life really requires you to have more flexibility in your working hours. If he asks why, look embarrassed and say you are sure he can understand why. Don’t lie but let him assume that things are a bit difficult at home and this will help to put them right. If he agrees, don’t exploit it, be grateful and play fair. If he says OK, but for a limited time, agree. You have a foot in the door, which is better than not.

As a young mum in a male-dominated industry, I sometimes hear snide remarks about them having to cover for me during childcare leave. What can I do to let my teammates know that I’m doing my fair share?

Don’t bother. Anything you say will sound defensive. Ignore the subject, be especially friendly with you teammates, smile a lot, show you care about them, too. Thank them for helping you when they do. Say how grateful you are. Ignore all snide remarks, about anything. They are the remark- makers problem, not yours. And stop feeling guilty all the time. If you are doing your work, you have nothing to be guilty about.

My children are now older and more independent, so I’ve been handling similar projects to those my male colleagues deal with, for several years. However, I’m not getting promoted. How can I break the glass ceiling?

Stop thinking about it as a glass ceiling for a start. It seems from your enquiry that you think that discrimination is the only cause of your being held back. It may be. First look in the mirror and ask yourself if there can possibly be any other reasons. If your honest answer is ‘no’, ask to see your boss (or your boss’s boss, if really necessary). Don’t complain or winge. Ask polite questions and follow the conversation flow. Ask him how he sees you – ambitious? A potential leader? Ask him what advice he has for you now that he knows you are keen to make progress. Smile politely. Your objective is to get your boss to think again about promoting you. If he doesn’t, and you are not able to get any progress from this meeting, I recommend working with a mentor. The problem could be that you need guidance on asking the right questions, highlighting your work achievements better, or on something completely different altogether.