4 Women Making The Workplace Better For New Mums

by Balvinder Sandhu  /   March 6, 2023

While government policies have helped working mums, these women know that companies need to do more. And they are paving the way

For this year’s International Women’s Day, The Singapore Women’s Weekly is taking a look at the roles mothers play in society, and what is needed to balance a fulfilling professional and personal life. In our first story, we look at how companies and the women in power can better support mums returning to work after maternity leave.

Going back to work after having a child is stressful for various reasons, from figuring out whether you can continue breastfeeding by pumping, to rallying after long nights awake with a young baby. Readjusting to a role in a company while still getting used to things at home can be difficult, in particular if employers are not sensitive to their needs. For this reason, many new mums often consider leaving the workforce.

But not all hope is lost, as women in positions of power are using their clout to introduce measures to help new mothers cope with the transition back to work. In addition to facilities and flexible work arrangements, what stands out amongst these women is their willingness to listen, empathise and then commit to changing things for the better. We spoke to four women who are championing working mothers in different ways.

Checking in on new mums who return to the workplace

Minjoo Lee, 34, head of marketing at Deliveroo Singapore, always tries to make sure her team members are settling in when they return to work after maternity leave. She feels it’s important to do so and regularly checks in on new mums, asking how they are, so she can be more understanding of their personal circumstances. 

“I always aim to create an environment that helps them balance their role as a mother and a working professional,” she says. “Another crucial aspect is (re)aligning with them on the expectations of their role and goals to help them reset their professional life and priorities, and ultimately supporting them when they return to work.”

Minjoo is not a mum but is proud to be working in an environment that supports women getting back to work after having children. Deliveroo has parental leave policies that offer female staff up to 52 weeks of enhanced maternity leave. There is also Rooparents, a programme currently being piloted within the company – with the first workshop held last year – as a means to support Deliveroo parents with work-life balance. The offices also have a nursing room dedicated to mothers that gives them a safe, comfortable and private space. 

Minjoo (right) with her family

Minjoo advocates a culture that allows flexibility for time management and work-from-home arrangements, as these are “key advantageous factors for working mothers to thrive in the workplace”. 

“It is also important for leaders to treat employees based on unbiased business performance expectations (i.e. not intentionally giving them fewer or ‘easier’ tasks) to ensure they are able to unleash their potential at work too,” she adds. “We need to continue creating working environments where working mothers need not feel pressured when they have to make necessary adjustments to their schedule,” she suggests. She hopes to see more empowering opportunities for working mothers to take on significant roles and senior positions traditionally held by males or other females.

Investing in technology to make work flexibility easier for mothers

Caroline Moreau, 47, general manager at Carlsberg Singapore, felt a contrast between the intensity and pace of herself and her colleagues after she returned to work from maternity leave at her previous company. As a mother of twins, she felt that she was constantly being assessed to see if her abilities and motivation were the same. After a few weeks, she decided to ask for a part-time arrangement and work four days a week, as she wanted both a fulfilling career and family life.

While working for Carlsberg, she had her third child. By then, she had a clearer idea of what she valued and what she could compromise on to make it work. “I was thankful to be in a company that was ready to listen,” she says. “I managed to have an open discussion and get them to trust me on this journey. I did six years of part-time work arrangement as a director, while being a mum to my three kids. And I am grateful for that.”

Caroline and her family

“As a mother, I feel that having a company that listens, trusts and works closely with you to ensure that you feel supported and valued is crucial,” she adds. With that in mind, Caroline led the initiative for flexible work arrangements and sabbatical leave, for mums who wanted to better cope with their work and home life.

Another aspect she prioritises is including employees’ families at work events, to create a strong sense of belonging and drive higher employee engagement. “I was delighted to have my family join me at the company’s Lunar New Year celebrations, which allowed me to spend time with my family in a work setting,” she shares. 

One suggestion Caroline makes to help mothers do their job effectively is to invest in technologies and automation processes that help working mothers to stay connected, agile and flexible. With these in place to facilitate remote working, work-related stress and anxiety caused by “unproductive” hours can be reduced.

Caroline applauds the government’s announcement in Budget 2023, in particular that government-paid paternity leave will increase from two to four weeks and each parent will receive six more days of unpaid infant care leave. However, “while government policies form the bedrock of how workplaces are structured, it’s important for companies to be genuinely empathetic about the struggles of working mothers in order to help them thrive,” she says. 

She hopes working mums will continue to push for changes in the workplace. “This is something I advocate for in my capacity as a woman in a leadership position and a mother,” she says, adding, “[Companies] will also benefit from retaining and attracting great female talents with an inclusive environment and culture.”

Breaking gender stereotypes when it comes to caregiving

When Koh Yan Ping, 41, CEO of Singapore Council of Women’s Organisations (SCWO), returned to her previous company after having children, she faced two main challenges: finding a reliable caregiver and the ability to continue breastfeeding her child. 

“Back then, there were not as many childcare centres that offered infant care services so finding the right centre that had good accessibility and affordability was quite a challenge,” she recalls. “There was less awareness of workplace support for breastfeeding mothers and a lack of private and clean spaces for mothers to express breastmilk at work.”

She is thankful that the early childhood sector has received a lot more support from the government and the availability and affordability of childcare has been ramped up to support more dual-income families. And the fact that we are seeing more organisations with nursing or lactation rooms that help working mothers with newborns cope with breastfeeding.

Koh Yan Ping and her family

Her organisation understands the constant struggle mothers face in juggling demands of work and family, and advocates for flexible work arrangements (FWAs) to be a workplace norm. Employees have access to various forms of FWAs, including part-time and hybrid work.

“FWAs is not a feature that only benefits mothers or women,” she cautions. “Allowing employees to tap on FWAs means fathers and men can share caregiving responsibilities with their wives and female family members. We need to normalise men as caregivers and break the gender stereotype.”

Yan Ping thinks it’s crucial that employers create a positive environment that supports women’s caregiving needs through progressive practices like enhanced leave for caregiving, FWAs, and support schemes such as lactation rooms and childcare subsidies to reduce the likelihood of mothers leaving the workforce entirely. 

SCWO is constantly seeking solutions to improve conditions for working mothers. Its engagement with the Tripartite Committee on Workplace Fairness (TCWF) resulted in a report highlighting 20 recommendations for the Workplace Fairness Legislation. This includes strengthening protections against workplace discrimination, ensuring fair outcomes for victims and more appropriate penalties for breaches. “We hope to see efforts dedicated to educating employers, including line managers on the unconscious bias against women – including working mothers – that can lead to microaggression,” she says. 

Leading by example with family-friendly initiatives

Mae Cheah, 54, managing director for Asia at TTC Tour Brands, believes that working mums need to have a peace of mind to perform at work and be present for their children at home. And because juggling work and kids is tough, she thinks employers should provide a conducive work environment that supports and develops working mums.

While not a mum herself, Mae is also sensitive to a new mum’s needs, from setting aside facilities for mums to express milk, providing flexible working hours, offering company-driven family bonding days like ‘Bring Your Kids to Work Day’ with early time-off or having practices that encourage working mums to be open and speak up when they feel overwhelmed. These are the initiatives that family-owned The Travel Corporation commits to for its employees. The company also offers a monetary baby bonus for employees with newborns (men or women), as an encouragement and to help out new parents.

Mae with her family

“Many working mums are afraid to go to their superiors for requests or support due to perceived stigma or fear of repercussions,” she explains. “I have an open-door policy for all my staff. I believe that there should not be any barriers between my employees and me. I also strongly encourage decision makers to remove barriers that prevent employees from speaking their minds, ask questions or to make requests because with improved communication comes greater productivity and trust.” With such policies implemented, she hopes that mothers will be able to prioritise self-care and mental health.