Datuk Rosaline Ganendra is one of the busiest and most highly regarded professionals in the country. In every right a captain of industry, she serves as Executive Director on the board of Minconsult Sdn Bhd, a leading regional construction and engineering consultancy that has won numerous accolades. Datuk Rosaline has personally managed and overseen some of Malaysia’s largest civil and structural engineering projects, playing an integral role in the country’s development.

As if she didn’t have enough on her plate already, Datuk Rosaline adopted two children and forever more became a paragon all single mothers in the country look up to.  She speaks to us exclusively, giving indispensable advice on parenting as well as explaining how on earth she juggles two incredibly important jobs – helping build the nation and raising her own family.

When is it hardest to get the work-life balance right as a single parent?

It’s always at the beginning. When you first have children, you think you can have it all. You think you can have the child, maintain the same pace of work and keep on track with your career. All this not to mention keeping up with your other activities, sports and social life. Everybody wants to be the ‘supermum’ but being a ‘supermum’ is not easy and raising a child throws a spanner in the works. In the beginning, they aren’t just children either, they are babies and they need you more than ever. Always it’s the beginning when you struggle. A shock factor both mentally and physically.

I remember when my son was four months, I was exhausted, working all day, every day, only to go home to spend nights staying awake with a crying baby. I remember lamenting to my mother, distressed, ‘how will I cope for much longer?’ Of course, I received no sympathy. It was my decision to adopt the child so it was my responsibility to raise him myself. I had to push though.

Is it a reality that the children of single working parents are disadvantaged?

I don’t think that the child is disadvantaged because they will hopefully receive the love and the care they need from the parent regardless if it’s just one or two. The disadvantaged on is the single parent who has one less person available to support them in providing that care. If you are single and working you need to establish a support system. Even with two parents, bringing up a child is a huge endeavour so you must be even more prepared if there is only one of you. Not only for the child but also for yourself. I remember a few months back, I came down with a terrible tummy bug and I was totally incapacitated. I was bed ridden and completely unable to look after the kids. So at that point you have got to think to yourself, ‘if I am unable to look after my child then who can?’ For me, my mother was my support system (and I also have 3 godmothers just in case! One was not enough!)

There are many support groups and programs now available through the government. Those who need that help should actively look online. But of course, always look to your family. I think that in Malaysia most single parents are lucky that we a very communal culture where we have big families and have close relationships with them. There is no greater blessing than having family who are willing to step in and who you trust to look after what is most important to you.

Can you suggest how organisations can better accommodate single parents?

Firstly, it is up to you as the single parent to take the initiative to better communicate your issues with your organisation. Communicate clearly to those around you, including your colleagues and your bosses, explaining the situation you are in. That is how you establish empathy. Then you have to work out and put down your priorities very clearly. What is your plan for the next coming years? What will your child’s need be over the years? Their needs and wants at 2 years of age will be drastically different from that of an 8 or 9-year-old. Being in daycare, kindergarten and school are wholly different stages of life. It will change your scheduling, as well as the type of support you might need for your child. Communicate that to your workplace so you can provide the necessary care and have the time to do it in.

Assuming you want to be the best at anything you do, as a single parent you have to accept that you may not be able to give the 120% at work that you were used to giving before. However, with good planning, you can make yourself more efficient and more effective within the time that you have allocated for work. Ask for varying work options that may make you more productive such as taking your work home, flexible working hours and have contingencies in place in case of an emergency so that you don’t disappoint anyone on both sides of the fence; be them your colleagues or your family.

Do you think corporate Malaysia has come a long way or not far enough to accommodate the needs of working mothers?

Malaysia has to think about doing more on retention policy for working women. We have to make the changes in our workplace so that women who are the primary caregivers, whether single or in a marriage, have adjusted expectations from their productivity but still give them the tools that allow them to develop professionally. As an employer, you have to make sure that single parents, especially are supported so that later when they are no longer caregiving, they are able to fully commit to your organisation just as effectively as anyone else and will feel appreciated for it.

How about women in the workplace in general? 

I think this is the year for women’s transformation. The corporate world is starting to recognise that 50% of the population needs consideration for work-life balance more than the other. The New Civil Engineer Magazine UK carried out an assessment and found that women employees were far better and more stable when they were able to give their 100% without hindrance. Ironically, on the flip side the majority of women in the same study felt that they were unappreciated, underpaid and incomparable to men in the workplace. It shows that even though the workplace is changing, many women still are far too self-deprecating and aren’t getting the proper feedback. This is why I cannot stress enough the importance of clear communication between employees and employers. One reason for this can be seen in how Asian women are far too humble in the workplace, for the most part. They are happy to sit behind the desk and meet their targets, expecting to get recognition. No! You have to actively socialise with your bosses, seek out those in the best projects and when you have done enough, demand your expected salary instead of hoping it will materialise.

Do you have any advice other for new mothers going back to work?

Retrain yourself. If you have stopped work for a while then retrain yourself, be prepared. Many women go back to the office after maternity leave, unprepared to be properly reintegrated. The government has even recognised this and offered incentives to companies who bring back working mothers. Most importantly just remember that whatever you do, plan. Even when going back to work, just plan. Start with a one month plan, a one year plan or even a 5-year plan! When you have children, everything you do is for them. Planning your work and schedule properly means you get to spend more quality time with them. Isn’t that what it’s all about?

Photography: Kim Mun, Studio 20Twelve
Hair: Ivan Tong, Senior Stylist at Number76
Makeup: Alvin Loh

Tengku Muzhaffar Petra
Watches and Culture Editor