Co-Founder and CEO of zMessenger Jayomi Lokuliyana firmly believes that life’s just too short to play small with your talents and potential and her conviction that she could greater things and make a mark led her to becoming an entrepreneur while raising her children, seeing the opportunity both presented to “fulfil a greater purpose in life”.
“I have always believed capacity is a state of mind. In other words, how much we can do depends on how much we think we can do. When you believe you can do more, our mind gets conditioned to look and think creatively on how we can achieve it,” she asserts, in
an interview with the Daily FT.
Following are excerpts:
Q: Why did you choose to be a working mother?
I would rather say I didn’t perceive parenting and being an
Jayomi Lokuliyana and family
entrepreneur as two pathways where I had to make a choice. Instead I saw the opportunity both presented to fulfil a greater purpose in life. I guess life’s just too short to play small with your talents and potential. I felt I could achieve greater things and make a mark. So that’s the reason which altered my perception.
Q: How do you balance the demands of working and raising children?
I have always believed capacity is a state of mind. In other words, how much we can do depends on how much we think we can do. When you believe you can do more, our mind gets conditioned to look and think creatively on how we can achieve it.
I focus on where I need to spend my time on such as children’s education; parents’ meetings, school events, sports and also not missing out on family outings and good play times. Other stuff (chores) I always tend to delegate or even get help from my family. I have also taught my kids to attend to their own work – not an easy task though – and simple tasks and be independent as much as they can by pointing out how we all could save time to do the things we love.
Another privilege I currently enjoy is flexibility. Although I work full time, I still enjoy the liberty to go and pick my kids, watch a swimming lesson or even some days work from home. I guess that’s one of the advantages entrepreneurship offers, especially for women.
Q: Could you describe a day in your life?
I am very much a morning person; I wake up at 5 a.m. or sometimes even little earlier and spend about 30 to 45 minutes reading. I love to read self-help, management, biographies or any other interesting topics from technology to philosophy. After sending the kids to school I head straight to the gym or go for a walk. When I am back at home, I make sure they’ve done their homework and sometimes I even watch a movie briefly with them. Most nights we never forget to play a round of card games after dinner. Before bedtime I still read to both of my kids (one is now 11 years and he still wants me to read a chapter even from a book he had read several times) and my weekends are totally dedicated for family time.
Q: How has your decision to work after having children been accepted by your family and those around you?
My husband is also a co-founder of zMessenger and he has been supporting me throughout. Although my parents initially didn’t like the idea of me starting a business, once they realised how serious we were, they simply offered their help. They now think it’s the best decision I’ve ever made. I feel very lucky that my parents continue to offer their help in every way they can to support me and kids. Mostly, I am so grateful to have partner with whom I share a complementary relationship and the biggest contribution to my career is his emotional support.
Q: What are the positive and negative reactions you have encountered along the way?
Many positives, I would say. Many of my peers and even those who are in my family circle really appreciate the decision I have taken and how I’ve been managing it so far. I was even happier when a couple of my friends told me that they were inspired to start a business after seeing what I have achieved so far. I would say the most rewarding thing for me is to learn how I have inspired others, especially women, to shed their fears and take bold steps in life.
I wouldn’t say that I have had negative reactions but there were several instances where I had to contend with cultural expectations of mothering. There were a couple of instances in my community and relations circle where I had to provide some sort of a justification for my decision. However, I no longer go to the extent of justifying my decision to others as I understand everyone has their opinion and what matters is not to convince but to inspire.
Q: Looking back, what would you do differently?
I believe there are no bad or good experiences; all are life’s learnings regardless of whether we perceive them as good or bad. In that view, I can’t say I would want to change anything I have done as who I am now is the result of what I did in the past. However, I wish I had prior knowledge on entrepreneurship and even management for that matter; I wouldn’t have wasted my time trying to become a veterinary surgeon. I guess nowadays students are exposed to more new career options than the conventionally-accepted few which have enabled them to make smart decisions.
Q: Are you satisfied with the level of recognition for women, their voice in national issues?
I think integrating leadership into a woman’s core identity is particularly challenging in a culture that is still deeply conflicted about whether, how and when women should exercise authority. Many still hold the view that women are simply not cut out to be leaders. Hence I feel there is subtle gender bias that persists in organisations and society still, which has held female leaders back.
Q: What new roles should women/mothers play in the future?
More women need to take front-seat positions in society and not be confined to ‘feminine’ roles and positions. Simply I would think women should get into leadership positions and society and organisations need to have policies and practices not only for skill and competency acquisition but to support the ‘fundamental identity shift’ involved in becoming a leader.
Q: In terms of policy, what changes would you like to see that would assist working mothers?
Managing family and professional life requires a strong network of behind-the-scene supporters. Just as support from home, having support structures at work is equally important. Having access to emotional support groups at work, advice, etc. can make a big difference
Policy level support in terms of flexible schedules, options of virtual work or work from home have helped working mothers, I would say. I have even seen certain companies having day-care facilities and practices, which enable working mothers to continue their ambitions guilt free.
Q: Your advice to aspiring career women who intend to continue after they have children?
My advice is, first define what success is to you in both professional and personal aspects. Once you do that, you will need to make deliberate planning and take decisions on choices about what opportunity you will pursue and what you would decline rather than simply reacting for the moment. In this way, you will feel you are vigilantly managing your own human capital and giving due care to work and home.
Q: Any tips you can share with working moms?
Get your routines right. If you can work on getting your routine right, you can start to focus on the worthy things and seek assistance for things which are more tactical.
You need to be strategic and diplomatic, especially in building support networks around you. From practical help to emotional help and also support at work through trusted colleagues, as they serve as valuable sounding boards, especially when life occasionally sends you one of life’s curves. For example, in a family crisis, not having the compassion of bosses and co-workers may derail your career.
Collaborate with your partner. Having a complementary relationship with your partner is very important and having common goals help you and your partner hold together.
Q: How do you stay inspired and continue on your chosen path?
I would say my life’s mission is the key for my inspiration. I have constructed my life’s purpose statement, which I look at daily, and also the goals I have set for the year. Each morning when I read them, I get the willpower to keep holding on to the decision to which I have committed myself. My partner has been a sounding board and an honest critic who has always helped me to stay focussed.