Sugandhi is a risk and compliance professional who oversees the Compliance program of a Cryptocurrency firm. Prior to this, she has worked in financial institutions and an Oil and Gas company in the areas of risk, compliance, and internal audit. Sugandhi moved to Singapore about 10 years ago with her husband and two daughters, now 16 and 10 years old. Apart from being a hands-on mom, Sugandhi is a trained Indian Classical dancer in Bharatnatyam. When she gets the chance, she still loves to shake a leg with some Bollywood dancing together with her daughters.
Sugandhi sat down with us to share how motherhood or moving abroad should not limit one’s career. She tells us how having a strong sense of self, purpose and achievement has helped her to embrace the significant changes that led her to discover her potential.
Becoming a mother is a very special moment for a woman. When you become a mother you realise that your heart will walk outside your body throughout your life. Such complete responsibility of another life (or two!) can both be intimidating and exhilarating all at once. Children begin influencing us even before they are born, and we accept all the changes without batting an eyelid or even realising how motherhood takes over our schedules, our habits, our priorities, and our lives.
It can be quite overwhelming at the start. With all the tenderness and love, another strong emotion that I experienced was that I became more cautious and protective in my outlook. Now that I think of it deeply, while this is a maternal instinct, it does impact all aspects of our life and tends to reflect in our professional behaviour as well.
When we moved to Singapore about 10 years ago, I was a trailing spouse, following my husband who had secured an exciting job opportunity in Singapore. My second daughter had just been born. I had to resign from a very sought-after secure job in India. People around me questioned my decision to leave such a coveted family-oriented job that left me with fears and doubts, true to my cautious nature at the time.
After coming to Singapore, trying to break into the job market was a tough experience. I had to come out of my comfort zone to try things that I had never done before, reaching out to complete strangers to introduce myself, network on LinkedIn and try out different kinds of roles which were not exactly aligned to what I wanted to do. With two growing up girls at home who needed my constant attention, becoming a stay-at-home mum would probably have been an obvious choice at that point. But the thought did not really resonate with me. I was sure that I would be a far better mother when I am pursuing my goals/ambition rather than being a resentful mum who grudgingly gave up the working life to raise her kids. Having that sense of self, purpose and achievement was vital to me.
Now in hindsight, giving up that job in India is the best thing that could have happened to me. It has pushed me to discover my potential, gave me a sense of achievement and reinforced my faith in embracing change. It has opened multiple doors of constant learning and new experiences that I will forever be grateful for.
Working mothers mostly end up facing a maternal bias where the colleagues or the bosses will choose male counterparts to do the more important assignments thinking that mothers won’t be as competent or committed to the tasks. Certain roles are not offered to women because they involve traveling and it is presumed that mothers will not be ok to travel. This has a long-term impact on their growth opportunities and salaries. This bias exists not only in the mind of the bosses/male counterparts but the women themselves who feel that they do not deserve that salary raise or promotion because they were on maternity leave.
To counter this, I always tend to share less about my children and family at the workplace. Ever since my kids were born, I took extra care to ensure that my duties as a mom never interfered with my work. I would go the extra mile to compensate for any time that I had to devote to my kids in case of any doctors’ appointments or school visits. I also realised that my own stereotypes about what I can/cannot do or what I do/do not deserve becomes a self-limiting prophecy in achieving my potential. Over the years, I have learnt to challenge my own insecurities and speak up for myself.
Women are different from men because they can procreate, and this should be factored into their professional career and growth. Motherhood needs to be accepted by employers as part and parcel of the working life of a mother and supported throughout to facilitate a smooth journey at the workplace.
Both my daughters were born in India when I was working for one of the largest public sector companies of India. The company had progressive employee policies that supported working mothers at various stages of their motherhood. Six months of maternity leave gave me time to enjoy the joys of newfound motherhood and recover mentally and physically to take on the challenges of a working mother.
Later the company also introduced a 2-year childcare sabbatical leave policy that could be taken piecemeal as required till the child turned 18. This gave working mothers a lot of flexibility to take care of their kids without giving up on their jobs and financial independence. Only when you experience the benefits of paid leave do you realise how critical they are to tide over various personal situations in life including childbirth. I will always be grateful to the company for such forward looking policies.
I have received a lot of support from my family/social network that I am grateful for as a working mom. My parents will be on the top of that list who instilled in me the values of working hard, nurturing relationships, being financially independent and aiming high. They have relentlessly supported me. My dad’s remarkable ‘never give up’ attitude is a constant reminder to me to have faith and be resilient in challenging times.
My husband has been my confidence booster and someone who has had more faith in me than myself. He has urged me to try new things and push my boundaries. He is also my constant sounding board. A lot of what I have achieved till date can be attributed to the encouragement and unwavering support of my dear hubby.
Also, I am blessed to have phenomenal female role models in my life such as my mother, mother-in-law, sister-in-law, sister, cousins, and friends. All of them are incredible, accomplished women who have made a mark in their chosen fields while continually breaking the conventional stereotypes of working women.
To be honest for a working mom, balancing career and family life is a constant act of juggling that can be managed only with the support of your partner and family. My husband is really the cornerstone of my achieving this balance in life. We are partners in crime for everything and manage both work and family as equals. Depending on whose work is more demanding, the other takes on more responsibility around the house and with kids. While kids can be demanding, both my daughters understand when I am stressed at work and will give me the space and time required to tide over.
In this day and age of ‘work from home’, while we get a lot of flexibility to manage work and personal life, it also leads to work spilling a lot into our family time. It does take a lot of restraint to set boundaries and make sure I disconnect. Over the years I have learnt to make time for myself and focus on my wellbeing. We owe this to ourselves! It’s the energy we need to continue being the supermoms we all are!
I make sure I make time for Yoga/exercise at least 4-5 times a week and once a month indulge myself with a hair spa. Time spent with girlfriends is energising and I try to catch up regularly with some amazing friends who are my much needed ‘mood boosters’!
Being a full time professional and a full-time mom does not leave much time to think about dressing and style. When I first entered motherhood, for a long time it was pretty much the practical work dressing – crease-free black/blue trousers with shirts/tops that are safe and standard, look professional and don’t need much preparation or thought.
However, over time working in CBD has inspired me to experiment with more colour and style and added more variety to my office wardrobe. I like simple classic styles which are well fitted and comfortable. Having young growing daughters does help as they are always eager to style me and encourage me to buy trendy clothes.
To sum it up, I like my work clothes to be comfortable and fabrics to be breathable and easy on my skin and if all of that can be achieved with some style – that is the perfect icing on the cake!
Believe in yourself: As per a research report I read, a woman often won’t apply to a job unless she feels she meets 100 percent of the described qualifications. In contrast, for men, this number is 60 percent. We want to dot our i’s and cross our t’s and do some more before we put ourselves out there. Believe in yourself and your potential.
Take that plunge that you have always wanted to take, be it changing jobs, applying for a senior position, or quitting a job to follow your passion. Everything that is worrying you about the impending change, as a mother and a working professional, will sort itself out once you decide to believe! I have slowly but surely applied this principle in my life and it has either been very rewarding or a great learning experience.
Speak up: Women generally work with a mindset that if we do our best and deliver results, someone will notice. While results do matter, we need to learn to genuinely advocate ourselves and speak up against biases/stereotypes we face.
We must ‘come out of the curtain’, or rather be more visible so that people can see the good work we are doing. It’s about taking initiative to solve problems and in the process being visible.
Be a lifelong learner: An avid reader, I particularly enjoy reading autobiographies, and they have inspired me over the years. It is striking to note that each of these personalities were curious/lifelong learners, willing to step out of their comfort zone and ready to jump in to do more when the opportunity presented itself. I recently read the biography of Indra Nooyi: My life in full. It is incredible to see her tenacity and relentless focus towards learning as she worked across an vastly diverse range of industries, roles and ranks reaching the helm of PepsiCo.
During the course of my career, I have changed domains/industries, applied myself to learn new skills including technical areas such as oil & gas and now cryptocurrency. This has added to my confidence of being able to learn diverse subjects when I apply myself and has broadened my outlook and perspective. It gives you a great sense of accomplishment and adds to your skills which can lead to better opportunities.
Get rid of ‘mother’s guilt’: Working mother’s go through the ‘mother’s guilt’ of pursuing professional ambitions at the cost of their time with the kids. I grew up idolising my mom who is a doctor and did an amazing job of balancing her work and family. While I don’t remember feeling resentful about her not being home when many of my friends had stay at home moms, I do remember the pride I felt in her being a doctor and hoping I could follow her path too.
Children of working women do equally well at school, are more independent and see their mothers as valuable role models. The pride that I see in my 16-year-old daughter’s eyes when she is talking about me and my work is all the validation I need.
This series is part of our International Women’s Month where we catch up with amazing women who live, as intended. With many amazing women in our community, As Intended will be celebrating an entire month to feature amazing women to #breakthebias of Working Mothers.
As part of this celebration, As Intended will be donating 10% of proceeds from purchases made in the month of March to Daughters of Tomorrow (DOT), to help raise funds for low-income working women in need of child minding support.
Daughters of Tomorrow is a registered charity organization with IPC status in Singapore whose mission is to facilitate livelihood opportunities for underprivileged women, and support them in achieving financial independence and social mobility for their families.
The lack of childminding support can be one of the biggest factors preventing a woman from being gainfully employed. Singapore Tote Board will match dollar for dollar for donations made and Tax Deduction Receipts (TDR) will also be issued for donations above $10. You may like to learn more, and choose to donate directly to: https://www.giving.sg/campaigns/as-intended