Managing Director of Hemas Transportation Sector and Fellow of The Chartered Institute of Management Accountants, Kasturi C. Wilson always wanted to be a career woman. While she stepped back and chose part-time work when she became a mum for the first time, becoming a single mother was big turning point, at which she chose to get into full-time work in order to provide a better life for her two sons.
“Women in general have a great ability to multitask and compartmentalise their lives. I was blessed to have great employers right throughout my career who understood that my priority was my kids, but appreciated the value I brought to the table,” asserts Kasturi, in an interview with the Daily FT.
Following are excerpts:
Q: Why did you choose to be a working mother?
Being the daughter of a working mum and growing up with an
Kasturi Chellaraja Wilson and family
ambition to qualify and having a career was always a part of me. Even though I always wanted to become an engineer, I ended up becoming an accountant. I commenced working at the age of 18, straight out of school into an audit firm. The attraction was to play A div netball. However, I chose part-time work when I became a mum for the first time, since I was not willing to compromise on the joys of motherhood.
My job allowed me to have the best of both worlds, where I kept my mind challenged and absorbed knowledge, whilst being a mum and enjoying the moments with my two sons. I would always give their evening baths, drop them off at Montessori, pick them up, etc. The big turning point was when I became a single mum. I made a choice to get into full-time work, the main drive being to be able to provide a better life for my two sons.
Being in Sri Lanka and being privileged to enjoy a culture of extended family, my parents stepped in to back me going back into full-time work. Hence the real reason for my choice would be to able to give a better future and provide for my sons.
Q: How did you balance the demands of working and raising children?
Women in general have a great ability to multitask and compartmentalise their lives. I was blessed to have great employers right throughout
my career who understood that my priority was my kids, but appreciated the value I brought to the table. Hence it was never an issue of not being there when they needed me most. However, I am sure I am no exception when as a working mum I have questioned my decision to build a full-time career and wondered if was lesser of a mum since I needed to juggle the two worlds. In hindsight, my kids are my greatest joy and have turned out to be wonderful human beings and I guess it worked out for us.
Q: Could you describe a day in your life?
Since both my sons are away in university, my typical day starts with me waking up to send them a message or talk to them before they leave to uni. I spend a few minutes with my mum everyday and plan out the key priorities for the day. I am an exercise fanatic and try to hit the gym at least four to five times a week. Evenings are generally at home, I would spend some time with my mum and simply relax with my dogs and read or watch a movie.
Q: How was your decision to work after having children accepted by your family and those around you?
Honestly my parents encouraged me to go into full-time work. They together with my employer felt I had a future and potential. Of course I had my share of negative comments thrown at me, in the context of my kids being neglected. As long as my kids knew they were loved and they
knew they meant everything to me, I was okay.
Q: What are the positive and negative reactions you have encountered along the way?
Positives is the appreciation for my work and the impact of what I did or brought to the table and having employers who understood the adjustments and flexibility required for working mums. Negatives mostly would be that where being an executive mum, there are instances where I simply choose not to socialise is the evening but go back home to my kids, where your peers maybe don’t understand.
Q: Looking back, what would you do differently?
Nothing I guess.
Q: Are you satisfied with the level of recognition for women, their voice in national issues?
I feel Sri Lanka is much more advanced compared to other countries in the region in giving recognition to women; we see a higher percentage of women who have joined the workforce. The younger generation husbands too are more accepting of the fact that working mums have a dual role and are willing to share part of the home responsibilities. Workplaces encourage women to pursue careers even after motherhood.
Q: What new roles should women/mothers play in the future?
Women in the workforce and women in senior executive positions have two different issues arising with their roles. With the rise in the number of women in senior executive positions, women will have to learn to adjust to sometimes taking work home along with you and working longer hours; women in senior positions would have to travel, have long business meetings, and need to adjust since this goes with the territory. Mums of young kids will still go through the same internal emotional conflicts my generation faced. I don’t think any women would compromise on motherhood and produce kids to outsource the bringing up to others.
Q: In terms of policy, what changes would you like to see that would assist working mothers?
Labour Law already gives maternity leave. Corporates too have evolved and adjusted to encourage women in the workforce, maybe to encourage working mums to take on senior executive positions. Allowing husbands to take paternity leave might be something we could think about.
Q: Your advice to aspiring career women who intend to continue after they have children?
It’s not about being a perfect mum or perfect career woman; enjoy the journey, motherhood is the best, but don’t take drastic decisions on your career before it’s time. There is a funny way if you make sure your good at your job, things fall into place. Don’t sell yourself short. Don’t hesitate to ask for help. Don’t apologise for being a mum and juggling a career. Somehow I have seen women having the inner strength to handle what’s thrown at them.
Q: Any tips you can share with working moms?
Kids adjust to your work schedule. What they don’t adjust to is if you have to rush off again during the time they demarcate as their time, especially after work.
Q: How do you stay inspired and continue on your chosen path?
I like to be a change agent and at least impact and touch a few lives along the way. It’s tough to stay inspired always; whenever I have been at crossroads I stop and contemplate on what makes me the happiest and the answer to that is my kids and that motivates me to keep going. I have come across people whose lives I have touched and feel that at least I have the opportunity to do that because of the path I have chosen.