09 May 2019 08:36:36 PM

We asked Mums how they would make workplaces better for mothers. Here’s what they said.

This Mother's Day, we ask Mums to share their stories and views about the workplace. Sharnila Pillai, our first Mum in this three-part series, had a unique working arrangement that enabled her to balance both work and family.

The pressure to do well at work and at home is immense – especially for women. Despite efforts to ensure a more gender-inclusive labour market, there are still a lot of less women in our workforce, standing at only 39% as compared to 61% men in 20171. Even though 62% of our public university graduates are women, a significant percentage drop off the workforce in their late 20s or early 30s due to family commitments.2

According to the TalentCorp-EY Life At Work Survey 2017, while 79% of women with children request for Work-Life Practices (WLPs), many companies do not offer the Flexible Work Arrangements (FWAs) that will help them balance family commitments and responsibilities at work.

As a result, many leave the workforce to focus on their families. But when women want to return to work, they find it a struggle as some employers hesitate to hire candidates who have gaps in their employment history.

How can the workplace change to retain and help these women return to the workforce?

This Mother’s Day, we speak to three mothers to learn about how they juggled work and family, and how they would like the workplace to evolve to enable mothers to manage both career and loved ones.

Sharnila and her sons.

Sharnila Pillai, 38, former software developer turned entrepreneur

For over a decade, Sharnila Pillai had a very, very short work commute – she just had to walk from her bedroom to her home office.

“My former boss offered me a wonderful opportunity to work remotely as a software developer for a Penang-based company. I did all my work from home, and co-ordinated with my team online,” said the 38-year-old mother of two boys.

With this FWA, Sharnila was able to schedule her work responsibilities around her fixed family duties. She would start work as early as 7am then take longer lunch breaks so she could pick up her children from school, then settle their meals and after-school routines. By 6pm, she would stop to focus on her family again, though at times she would work nights to meet deadlines.

“Working remotely allowed me to be around my kids in their early years. I did not have babysitter headaches,” she said.  

Unfortunately, the company underwent a restructuring and Shanila’s position was eliminated. At first, Sharnila thought about hunting for another job. In the end, both she and her husband decided against it.
“The obligation that evolves for working mothers, in particular, is a very precise one; the feeling that one ought to work as if one did not have children, while raising one’s children as if one did not have a job.” – Annabel Crabb
“We decided as a family to make it work on a single income, so that I can continue to be around with the kids. But I still needed to do something,” she said. 

With her skillsets, Sharnila set up Lovely Ever After Books, an online romance novel rental business. When she started receiving requests from customers to browse her book collection, she decided it was time to open up a physical store. 

Sharnila is much happier with her current arrangement as it affords her the flexibility to be with her family and still bring home income. 

“Based on my experience, flexible hours and remote working are a huge help. It is not just for mothers but for families in general, even those who are caregivers,” she said, adding that having a creche in workplaces would also be of aid.

However, Sharnila feels that the Malaysian work culture can be improved to enable women to balance work and family better.

“Having a boss or company culture that disapproves or punishes staff who need to spend more time for family is very disheartening,” she said. 

Read Part 2: How to create a better workplace for mums - according to mums
Read Part 3: Here's what Saffura's mother taught her about work


1 Demographics Statistics, Department of Statistics Malaysia, Nov 2017
2 Quick Facts 2017, Malaysia Educational Statistics; Ministry of Education, Malaysia, Jul 2017

We wish all mothers a very Happy Mother’s Day! 

If you are looking for opportunities to return to work, do register with our Career Comeback programme for updates on workshops and job openings: www.talentcorp.com.my/careercomeback

For employers who are looking to attract, nurture and retain their talent, come speak to us about how to implement Work-Life Practices and Flexible Work Arrangements at your workplace. Drop us an e-mail at worklifepractices@talentcorp.com.my.