Jessica Sonju: “Women should be able to have careers without feeling guilty or selfish”

This May, we celebrate working women who are mothers by interviewing female Encorians from around the world. In our first interview of this series, we talk with Jessica Sonju, Senior Manager, People & Culture, who has been working at Encora since October 2009. Jessica is based in Scottsdale, Arizona where she lives with her husband and their three children; Brandon (23), Kayla (22), and Ella (16).

Jessica, please introduce yourself and tell us about your family?

Jessica Sonju

My husband and I got together when I was in college, he already had two children from a previous marriage who were 5 and 4 years old at the time. I finished my associates degree and was planning to continue with my bachelor's. It was a busy time for me; I worked during the day, went to night school, and was also raising two young children―we didn’t make use of any daycare facilities. I decided to take a hiatus from college, but didn’t go back. I adopted our two beautiful children, and in 2005, my husband and I had our daughter Ella; then our family was complete.


Can you tell us a bit more about your background and current role?

I have been with Encora for 12 years. I started at an entry-level position in an admin role and was promoted throughout the years to my current position. When I first started working with Encora, we had a pretty small office with a total of just five people. Today, we are a team of 14. I had a supporting role in finance, and quickly became the go-to person for all questions related to insurance, healthcare, etcetera. Due to my interests and skills, I naturally transitioned into a People Team role. The management was very supportive—they sent me to training to enhance my knowledge. These days, I manage the staff, I deal with immigration visas, and well, I guess you could say that I’m the mother hen of our office!

As Senior Manager, People & Culture, what is the best thing about your job?

I thoroughly enjoy the interactions I have with employees from different regions, cultures, and backgrounds. We have a very team-focused culture and collegial atmosphere, even now that we’re all working from home. While our remote team meetings can’t beat our in-person meetings, they are a fun and productive way to catch up over coffee and hear how everyone is doing. Every day, my colleagues make me smile, challenge me, and make me want to come back to work the next day.

What were the biggest challenges you faced going back into the workplace after having children?

Dealing with mom guilt is a serious burden that many mothers carry. Back in the day, our children would be done with school at 3:00 pm, but I wouldn’t be able to pick them up until 5:00 pm. I felt like I was missing out on precious moments with my children. Fortunately, I was able to change my schedule to start work early in the morning and be back home by the time the children finished school. Encora understood my needs, offered a solution that worked for my family, and we came to an agreement that both sides were happy with.

Do you have any tips for mothers regarding returning to work after maternity leave?

Many women today are still judged for having a career after starting a family, which is unfair. We should be able to grow in an economic environment and succeed the same way men do, without feeling guilty or selfish. My advice for other women is to never be scared to put yourself out there and to always aspire to be the best version of yourself. Children are happier when their parents are happy as well. If you are happier when you have a job, then working will make you a better mom. Your children will see your work ethic and learn from a young age that having a family does not mean sacrificing your dreams.

What are your favorite things about being a mother with a career?

I'm a mother but I'm also my own woman. My kids are important, but I'm important too, and I mean that in no self-centered way. Having a career matters to me because it gives me a sense of purpose outside of the home. Knowing that I add value not just to my family and friends, but to other people as well, helps me to be the best version of myself. Pursuing my career has allowed me to feel whole, not just as a mother but as a woman and as a person.

How has the pandemic affected your work and family life?

Jessica's Family

It took some adjusting at first, both for myself and my youngest daughter who was suddenly forced to take all classes from home. Since I couldn’t go anywhere, I threw myself into work; I was putting in too many hours and would work at odd times. But eventually, I found a good balance. These days I make sure that I take breaks, stop working at a set time, and ignore the urge to turn my computer back on in the evening. I also picked up gardening as a hobby; I’m growing tons of plants, tomatoes, jalapeños, strawberries, and bell peppers. Trust me, if it wasn't for the pandemic I would've never made time to get a garden started. Another positive outcome from the pandemic is that my family and I are spending more time together; from recording silly TikToks in the living room to heading up north with our trailer to go camping.

What is Encora doing to support parents who are now working from home?

Encora has always been very accommodating to parents, even long before the pandemic. Whenever an employee needs time off or an adjusted schedule to deal with family responsibilities or other personal issues, the company is flexible and understanding. This past year, many families had to adjust to working from home and having their children at home all day. I believe that it’s a relief for many Encorians to know that it doesn't matter when work gets done, as long as it gets done.

What do you think other companies could do to support working parents?

In addition to giving parents the flexibility they need to take care of their children, companies could introduce Employee Assistance Programs (EAP) that offer resources and benefits to help them succeed. Encora’s employees are supported 24/7 with an EAP that provides unlimited consultation and referrals on family matters including childcare, eldercare, pet care, vacation planning, moving, car buying, college planning, and more.

What would you like your daughters to know about entering the workforce?

I want them to know that women can be as competent, powerful, and successful as men. As long as they are willing to work hard and put in the time, they can do anything that they put their mind to. Don’t expect any handouts, carve your own way and make your own success. If you are curious about a specific role, take the interview even when you think that you're not fully qualified. Also, don’t ever be afraid to ask questions or seek help.

If you had the power to change one thing in the business market for employed mothers, what would you change?

I would normalize mothers who have a career or run their own business. Just because someone becomes a mother doesn't mean that they give up on being themselves. Instead, I like to think of becoming a mother as adding a new title to your resume. You can be both a professional, a volunteer, a spouse, a daughter, and a mother. Being a mother is a part of you that adds to who you are as a person, it doesn't take away anything. It's one more title to add to your list―and a cool one too! If we could take away the stigma of working women abandoning their children, and focus on empowering them instead, the whole economy would benefit.

What question would you like to ask the next woman we interview?

It would be interesting to hear if employed mothers feel judged in their respective countries. In the US it is widely accepted for mothers to return to work after giving birth, yet we are still dealing with slight judgment. I’m curious to learn how women in other countries experience returning to work after childbirth.

Did you enjoy what you read? The next interview of our Mother’s Day series will be with Suyen Rojas, one of our Software Engineers in Costa Rica. Keep an eye out for more interviews by following Encora on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Are you ready to create the future you want with us? Encora is hiring! We have open vacancies for people who are just as excited about tech as we are. Let’s talk! Visit Women Hackers for more information.

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