For career woman Chong Aik Kean, it’s important for women to set their own scorecard in life, and even more so when they have to balance a career as well as family responsibilities as a mother.
Chong, who is in her 50s, is the general manager for system integration and manufacturing services in assembly test manufacturing at Intel Corporation. She is in charge of one of the company’s four advanced assembly test manufacturing factories in Malaysia.
She is also a full-time working mother with two children. Her husband is in the oil-and-gas industry and usually away from home, so she has to handle much of the family responsibilities on her own.
Although her children are now older (19 and early 20s), Chong admits that when they were young, it wasn’t always easy.
“Women who are working mothers need to set their own scorecard in life and decide what are the most important things that they want to do personally – and things that they enjoy – and spend time on them with focus, ” she says.
For Chong, it means focusing on taking care of her children while they were growing up to ensure they have a healthy lifestyle and helping them with their studies. It also means relying on her mother to take care of family meals and supervise the maid who does the housework and keeps the house in order.
Many women bear the bulk of the household responsibilities, even though they may have their own careers outside the home, and this has increased during the pandemic. Whether they work from home or in the office, it can be a heavy responsibility to see to children’s education, keeping the house in order, as well as their own career, Chong notes.
But she believes in seeing things in a positive light.
“The pandemic has brought us closer together as a family since we’ve all been at home since the movement control order. This is the best time to bond with the kids by spending time with them, ” she says.
While this may be challenging to do when one has to work at the same time, Chong is a strong advocate of scheduling.
“It’s key to have a schedule or timetable for the children, which they will settle into quickly. You’ll also need to schedule natural breaks in your workday to handle the kids from time to time. But this can be a good thing so that you won’t be in front of the computer screen for a prolonged period of time which is unhealthy, ” she says.
With the technology that is available today, it’s also easier to integrate work and life, which Chong says helps her to be more flexible in managing her work schedule.
But she does highlight that being disciplined is very necessary.
“Managing a huge organisation already requires 100% effort, what more being a working and full-time mother. So being very disciplined with my schedule is vital, ” she says.
Chong reveals that many workplaces recognise these “pandemic challenges” that female workers go through, having additional obligations (such as caring for children, meal preparations, housework) during normal working hours at this time.
“Our company offers parents access to online learning resources, work schedule flexibility, and more, ” she says.
“Never be afraid to ask for help when you need to. Things can always come up unexpectedly at work that will require your attention, and especially if you’ve young kids, you’ll need your friends or relatives to help when you can’t split yourself into two or need to be away for work, ” she says.
While work-family life balance is important, Chong says there are many ways to handle this.
“I try to balance life not on a daily basis but over time. I may be very busy from Monday to Friday, so I try to allocate all my Saturdays and part of my Sundays to my family. I will also take a few holidays a year to spend time with my family, ” she says.
Chong also strongly believes in self-care and “me time” to stay healthy, physically, mentally and emotionally, and prevent burnout.
“The other part of my Sundays will be my personal time to rest, recuperate and just do what I like, ” she says.
Chong reveals that she has had health issues in the past and was asked to “slow down”.
“I’ve learnt not to over schedule my time and to pace myself. I always check my calendar ahead of time so that I don’t rush my work, and I try to be proactive, especially when I need to spend time with the kids, ” she says.
Chong likens leading an organisation with a workforce of over a thousand workers to “steering a big ship”.
An organisation has employees from different backgrounds, and with different views and needs, so it’s important to understand where they’re coming from and to have an inclusive organisation where their passions can be harnessed and realised, she says.
Chong believes that communication is the key and she makes it a point to try and create that right level of connection with all her employees so that there is that sense of belonging and they stay engaged.
“It’s an understatement to say it’s a huge responsibility since the decisions I make not only impact the direction of the organisation, but also our employees’ career paths, while keeping the business running smoothly, ” says the Kedah native, who graduated from the University Technologi Malaysia in electrical engineering and has been at Intel for almost 30 years, starting as out a product quality engineer in 1991.
For Chong, the most important quality that a person needs to have to be successful is “the ability to adapt to change”, and this is even more crucial during the pandemic.
“Now, it’s even more important than ever before to be resilient and able to adapt to changes, ” she says.
Chong says that her priority during the pandemic is to make the workplace safe and comfortable for her employees.
“It is challenging but it is also an opportunity to establish a greater trust and connection with the people I work with, ” she says.
“When the pandemic hit, there were lots of restrictions and difficulties in continuing with production. But the team pulled through and managed to fulfill the orders. Many showed up despite all the fear and their team spirit really inspires me, ” she says.
During her free time, Chong enjoys gardening and spends half an hour watering her plants every day, and one to two hours during weekends. She enjoys gardening because it calms her down after a hectic day, and she also likens her love for gardening to what motivates her at work.
“The positive energy flows both ways. Just as one who loves gardening finds joy in seeing a new flower or shoot sprout, seeing the people around me grow, flourish and succeed motivates me, ” she says.
When asked what she loves most about her job, Chong says: “I love to solve logical problems: when you run a manufacturing company, there are lots of challenges to solve with your team and seeing the results that come afterwards is very satisfying and makes me feel so accomplished.”
Chong emphasises the importance of having a good mentor, especially for women who wish to grow in their career.
“Male mentors can help broaden your view with a different perspective while female mentors can help encourage you based on your shared experiences as women and mothers, ” she concludes.