updated 24 Dec 2010, 06:47
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Fri, Dec 24, 2010
The New Paper
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It's no walk in the park, but who says women can't have both family and a career?

SingTel CEO: Mums, don't forget careers

WOMEN can have it all.

They can have babies and careers and should not feel guilty about taking time away from work to take care of their tots.

That's the view of SingTel's group chief executive, Ms Chua Sock Koong.

She said the careers of women who take time off to look after their children should not be affected in the long run.

Ms Chua, 52, was speaking at a dialogue attended by 650 business leaders at the Singapore Human Capital Summit on Thursday.

"You're talking about 40 years of working life. What is two or three years when you work at half-pace? That's not going to change your career," she said.

But she stressed that companies need to have gender-neutral policies on appointment and promotion, and flexible work arrangements.

In 2004, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) started the Work-Life Works! (WoW!) fund to help companies with measures like flexible work arrangements and the building of nursing, family or daycare rooms at the workplace.

The fund has grown in popularity and now helps more than 730 companies.

About nine in 10 such firms are small- and medium-sized enterprises. They get up to $20,000 each.

However, the reality is that not all women can have it all. It's still an uphill task and a work in progress, experts in the field said.

Two human resource experts The New Paper spoke to said organisations can do more.

Ms Cheryl Liew-Chng, who runs Lifeworkz management consultancy, said: "They need to understand that women are an essential element of our workforce, regardless of their other commitments."

Mr Marc Howard, 31, a recruitment consultant with human resource firm Kelly Selection, added that while he has seen more employers in Singapore promoting flexible work arrangements for employees in recent years, the process has been very slow.

Mrs Helen Lim-Yang, 45, a senior partner at OTi-SDC Consulting:

Supportive office a godsend when daughter was in bus accident

IT'S a phone call no one would want to receive - one telling you that your child has been in a serious accident.

But when that happened to Mrs Helen Lim-Yang, 45, a senior partner at OTi-SDC Consulting, she could at least drop her work commitments at once and attend to her 17-year-old daughter Sara.

On July 16, Sara was seriously injured when a 5m-long crane mounted on a lorry smashed through the left side of the upper deck of the bus she was on.

The accident killed a 50-year-old man on the bus.

Sara, a junior college student, sustained fractures on her skull and arm and underwent several operations.

Through it all, Mrs Lim-Yang was by her side, although she holds a senior position in her company and had major deadlines to meet and reports to write.

She said: "I literally stopped working for three weeks. I was there talking to doctors and making sure all was done for her.

"Without my company's support, it would not have been possible."

Sara has now almost fully recovered.

Said Mrs Lim-Yang: "This is the benefit of working flexibly. When I'm out of the office and when we are waiting to see the doctor, I am on the phone and have my laptop with me. I can catch up on my paperwork in the evenings.

"I can be a parent and be successful in my job as well. It just took slight adjustments."

Mrs Lim-Yang has two other daughters, aged 14 and 15. Her husband, Yang Sheau Jou, 46, works as a tax consultant.

It was Mrs Lim-Yang herself who started the flexible working arrangements nine years ago, when she was a senior manager at the firm.

The organisation development and human resource consultancy has a staff strength of 50.

She has received five promotions since her children were born.

But like many working mothers, she found it hard to juggle her work and motherhood.

She said: "I was working more than 12 hours on most days. I wanted to walk my daughters to kindergarten and I couldn't even do that.

"I had a helper, but I didn't want her to replace my role. I am their mother, after all."

Mrs Lim-Yang spoke to her then-supervisor to see if she could come in an hour later at 9.30am so she could walk her two younger daughters to kindergarten.

As time went by, other things got adjusted and she would work from home more often.

Mrs Lim-Yang, who doesn't have a maid at home now, works about eight hours a day on average. Other staff in the firm have also started to benefit from flexible work arrangements, like being able to work from home.

In Mrs Lim-Yang's team, the staff have to follow two guidelines: They have to be in the office twice a week so that they can attend meetings, and they have to remain contactable during office hours.

Said Mrs Lim-Yang: "We are open to flexible work arrangements for staff, but it is understood that everyone must still maintain their productivity.

"Monthly meetings are held so that staff can report their performance."

Mrs Lim-Yang appreciates being able to have her career and be an involved mother as well.

She said: "I still treasure taking my daughters to school."

Sure, most of the time, they are half-asleep in the car. But I can hold their hands and they know I'm there."

Madam Lee, 32, Teacher at West View Primary:

Home by 4pm instead of at 7

WHEN she was six months pregnant with her son, primary school teacher Lee Lee Cheng knew she couldn't pull the 12-hour days she used to.

Madam Lee, 32, who teaches at West View Primary, said: "I wanted to fully breastfeed my son for a year, so I had to make some major adjustments."

So in April this year, when she returned from maternity leave, she made use of the Part-Time Teaching Scheme (PTTS) introduced in 2000 by the Ministry of Education (MOE).

It lets teachers perform half, two-thirds or three-quarters of the workload of a full-time teacher, said an MOE spokesman.

Salaries and benefits, including bonuses, are pro-rated.

As of August 2010, there were more than 600 female teachers and 50male teachers on the PTTS.

That is about 2 per cent of MOE's entire teaching workforce.

Under the scheme, Madam Lee's working hours were cut from more than 50 a week to just over 30.

She said: "If I didn't make the change, I'd be home only at 7pm. I would have been able only to bathe him and put him to bed."

Now, she starts work at 11am and is home by 4pm on most days.

The most important thing is she doesn't miss her son's first milestones.

"I was there when he first crawled and when he started to eat solids," she said.

When she is at work, her sister and helper look after the 10-month old boy.

Her husband is a manager with the Land Transport Authority.

Madam Lee, the level head for maths at her school, doesn't take on extra duties like handling co-curricular activities.

She plans to resume full-time work in January, explaining: "I have trained my helper and I think can trust her to manage things."

Her principal, Madam Rashidah Abdul Rasip, 50, said that going on a part-time scheme doesn't disadvantage teachers .

"It shouldn't affect a teacher's promotion, (which) depends on work performance," she said.

Madam Eliza Chua, 33, does marketing and communications at consulting firm Accenture Singapore:

I can work on kids' routines fully now

WHEN you have four children, things can become a little messy.

No one knows this better than Madam Eliza Chua, 33, who has a boy, 6, a girl, 4, and eight-month-old identical twin girls.

To spend more time with them, Madam Chua quit her full-time job as a trade marketing manager at Ferrero Singapore, and took up a part-time position in marketing and communications at consulting firm Accenture Singapore three years ago.

She took a 30 per cent pay cut when she made the transition, but doesn't regret it one bit.

She said: "I needed more time with my kids. And when my twins came, I needed to create more time with them. This was the most sensible solution for our family."

Madam Chua now works from home most of the time and goes to the office only about once a month to clear paperwork and attend meetings.

Working flexibly allows her the time to oversee her children's routines thoroughly.

She said: "I want to make sure I train my children to sleep properly. I don't want to leave it to my maid or my mother.

"This is because they might rely on the pacifiers or other methods to put the twins to bed. This becomes a nightmare when we travel as they can sleep only in a certain way.

"Being at home allows me the flexibility to do all this."

She added that working from home also allows her the pleasure of planning the children's menus and organising play groups for them.

She works about 20 hours a week.

Although she gets CPF, she is not eligible for most benefits like medical and annual leave.

When she's at work, her maid and her mother take care of her children.

The family lives in a semi-detached house in the western part of Singapore.

Financially, her family has no problem coping, she said.

She said: "Even with the pay cut, we can manage fine. We sold our flat and moved in with my mother this year and that has helped as well."

And she hopes to do more at work.

"My job is fulfilling and challenging... That keeps me on my toes and keeps me motivated."

Declining to give figures, Ms Charlotte Chiew, human resource manager at Accenture Singapore, said a number of their employees are on a variety of flexible work arrangements.


This article was first published in The New Paper.

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