Women@Work came together in an exclusive session with a few Gamuda ladies on what it means to lead with grace and power. Here, we condensed some gems of thoughts from our conversation.
We began by looking back at where some of the ladies came from in their careers.
Alice shared, “I started as a trainee quantity surveyor with Gamuda under the apprenticeship programme in 2001. If I could go back, I’d say to my younger self, good job and well done!”
Alice’s motivation was simple: she wanted to give her family a better life. At one point, she took a two-year break from her career to pursue her Degree and ended up ‘working full-time and studying part-time’ as she took up multiple jobs to pay for her course.
Sira, who has been in the industry for 16 years, said she simply had ‘no time to look back’. It has always been her passion — to make sure people can go to work safe and get home safe.
Sira said, “It is very challenging because construction safety takes a lot of upfront investment while the results are only obvious at the end of the project. But in the end, it is truly rewarding to be industry leaders, seeing our initiatives being adopted as legal requirements, and setting the benchmark for industry best practices.”
When we asked what is the most acute ‘effect’ of motherhood on their careers, Alice, mother of two toddlers, and Isabella, also mother to a pair of twin boy toddlers agreed unanimously if anything, it had taught them the importance of being organised and focused on striving for success in both.
Isabella said, “Gone are the days when I could stay back till 2am at the site to witness testing works or spend weekends catching up on work. I have a time limit now and I need to manage my energy. You come home and it’s your next shift, spending time with your children.”
Alice stressed that it’s important, especially in this pandemic to raise an SOS if you ever need help, “If you’re a working woman and you want to perform well at work, you will need help.”
A common theme that arose from our discussion is the power of empathy at the workplace.
Queenie’s desire to put herself in the shoes of her tunnelling subcontractors, working long hours, getting down in the trenches and being fully immersed on the frontlines of mining works proved rewarding for her. She said it helped her identify better with them and broke the communication barriers as they saw her as a non-threatening and down-to-earth figure.
Alice said becoming a mother has made her a lot more sensitive towards the needs of her colleagues, “Everyone around us has problems. They may be caring for their elderly parent or their children, so we have to be aware of that when we manage our team.”
For Queenie, a tunnel engineer that at one time was in charge of supervising the tunnelling drives, we asked if her relatively young age, gender and petite size get in the way when dealing with her subcontractors.
Queenie shared, “At first yes, you might get bullied, especially as a fresh graduate then lacking technical experience. But with persistent humility and communication, I ended up learning even more from these same people who eventually were willing to share industry knowledge and experiences from other international projects.”
She added that towards the end of their tenure, many of those who were first sceptical about a woman doing tunnelling works ended up applauding her for proving that female tunnellers can kickass too!
Kavitha chipped in saying, “We have our ego too, and we can get defensive trying to protect it — but I’ve learned that most of the time our male counterparts are more alike than we think. They want to be heard, and want to have two-way communication too.”
But what happens if the ‘soft’ approach doesn’t work?
Kavitha said, “Everything is urgent in construction! So only play the ‘bossy’ card when absolutely necessary.”
Lastly, we had to address the elephant in the room, how has work been with the pandemic?
Isabella said, “During the first MCO, I sent my boys off to live with my mother as we were mining in full swing then. Never be afraid to ask for help. When a mother is stressed, it’s not only the mother’s life that is at stake, it is the children’s as well.”
Amanda shared, “You should see how things are like at the site. We stand six feet apart and shout over each other for discussions.”
Kavitha added, “Now thanks to the fortnightly PCR testing, we feel safer.”
Watch the video below to hear a word of encouragement from the ladies themselves.
Video by Joyce Shamimi