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“Have a ‘never say die’ attitude”

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Insurance Board of Sri Lanka Chairperson Indrani Sugathadasa Weeratunga entered the work force in 1997 when she joined the Sri Lanka Administrative Service and her career trajectory over the years has been nothing short of impressive. She has held several senior positions, including as the Permanent Secretary to the Ministry of Child Development and Women’s Affairs and Ministry of Plantation Industries, and was also the Chairperson of the Securities and Exchange Commission of Sri Lanka (SEC). Blessed with “enormous support” from her family and by planning her day meticulously, prioritising the demands of work and the family, she says she was able to avoid most issues faced by working mothers and asserts the most important positive reaction to her being a career woman has been from her children, who are proud of her and what she has achieved. “I look at everything positively. I have immense self-confidence, which is my biggest strength. My inspiration is derived from two things: the results of my contributions to my work and family, and what my two children have become in life. At the end of the day, I know I have succeeded as a career woman and a mother. This is what has driven me thus far,” she affirms, in an interview with the Daily FT. Following are excerpts: Q: Why did you choose to be a working mother? A: When I passed out from the university, my next dream was to find a suitable job (in fact, to get into the Civil Service). Thus, the work came first and I became a mother a few years later. After having my children, I did not face the usual issues faced by working mothers as I was fortunate to have enormous support from my extended family. Q: How did you balance the demands of working and raising children? A: It was not an easy task, especially when the children were kids. But when you plan your day (24 hours) meticulously, prioritising the demands of work and the family, you can balance both. That’s what I did. I have never neglected my children’s needs and was available whenever they needed my presence. For example, I tried my best to attend all of my children’s sports meets, parents’ days, dramas, etc. Similarly, I have always performed at my best at work and therefore had no complaints from the superiors. I left no room for complaints. Q: Could you describe a day in your life today? A: My day starts at 5:30 a.m. and usually ends at around 11 p.m., if we don’t have a social event to attend till late at night, which happens quite often. In the morning, I never miss to read the newspaper headlines or watch the same on TV whilst having a cup of tea with my husband. Then the usual routine is making breakfast and preparing and packing lunch for both of us and leaving for work. After work I usually come home around 5 p.m. My evening routine involves a walk/workout for one hour, watching TV, reading the papers and discussing the day’s happenings with my husband. After having dinner, at times I do a Sudoku before going to bed. Q: How was your decision to work after having children accepted by your family and those around you? A: I never had any pressure or request from anyone to leave my
 Indrani Sugathadasa Weeratunga and family
  job. I must say that I have a very understanding family. Even when they were very small, my children never wanted me to stay at home. I think they liked the fact that their mother was a working mother. Q: What are the positive and negative reactions you have encountered along the way? A: The most important positive reaction came from my children. They are proud of me and what I have achieved as a career woman. The negative reactions have been many, especially at times when the children were sick and I still had to go to work, and also during the school holidays. There have been instances where I wished I could have spent more time with my kids. There was one instance in particular; the day my daughter became the best student in her section at Musaeus. I could not attend that prize giving as I had to travel abroad on an official matter. Even though my husband attended, I know, for her, she wanted me there as it was an important day for her. Q: Looking back, what would you do differently? A: I don’t think I would do anything differently. I believe in living my life with no regrets. Everything happens for the best. Q: Are you satisfied with the level of recognition for women, their voice in national issues? A: Absolutely not. In our society, women play multiple roles as mother, wife and income earner. Their contribution to national GDP is enormous but is not accounted for and recognised adequately. We are yet to achieve a level playing field for men and women in whatever sector they are employed. Most of the time, when it comes to national issues, there is very little ‘women’s voice’. Other than a handful of women politicians and women activists who try to make a point, the majority of women do not get the opportunity nor do they create a space for themselves to be ‘heard’ and make a difference. Q: What new roles should women/mothers play in the future? A: The women/mothers should move beyond the conventional role of raising children and looking after the husband and household chores. They must be more aware of what is happening in the country in legal, political, social and religious arenas. I would personally like to see more women getting involved in national level policy making and at decision-making levels in both the public and private sectors. Q: In terms of policy, what changes would you like to see that would assist working mothers? A: Today a dire need of working mothers is lack of good quality day care centres. If there is a policy to have day care centres in all work places (public or private), that would be a great relief to working mothers.   Q: Your advice to aspiring career women who intend to continue after they have children? A: Nothing is impossible. Life is full of choices. If you choose to continue work, then first ensure that you either have a good support system at home to take care of the children or find other solutions such as day care. As I said earlier, one should always live their life with no regrets. I would also strongly recommend that aspiring career women start their own business. We need more women entrepreneurs in our country. This has many benefits, where one of the most significant is being able to balance your work and family life effectively. Q: Any tips you can share with working moms? A: Have a ‘never say die’ attitude. If you have the will, there’s always a way. Never consider your responsibilities towards the children and family as a burden. When you have children, the role of the mother becomes the most important. Plan your day carefully. When the children are small, be prepared to make sacrifices. At the same time, organise yourself so that you fulfil the job responsibilities as well. Raise your children to understand why you are a working mother. Understanding and considerate children will be your biggest strength when you’re faced with dilemmas concerning your work and family life. Q: How do you stay inspired and continue on your chosen path? A: Whatever I do, I do with a lot of passion. Doing what I love is inspiration itself. When you enjoy what you do, you don’t need any other external inspiration or motivation. I do not compare myself with anyone, hence I always have satisfaction and I am content. I look at everything positively. I have immense self-confidence, which is my biggest strength. My inspiration is derived from two things: the results of my contributions to my work and family, and what my two children have become in life. At the end of the day, I know I have succeeded as a career woman and a mother. This is what has driven me thus far.

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