This May, we celebrate working women who are mothers by interviewing female Encorians from around the world. In our third interview of this series, we talk with Kristine Mae Vergara, Assistant Manager of Talent Acquisition, who has been working at Encora since January 2013. Kristine is based in Malaysia where she lives with her husband Jake and their two children; Jayden (9) and Amaery (5).
Kristine, please introduce yourself and tell us about your background and current role?
My husband and I got married when I was 23 years old, a year later we welcomed our first child. While most of my friends and colleagues were still enjoying their youth, I was juggling work responsibilities, being a mother, and a wife. It wasn’t always easy, especially because I had a 2-3 hour commute every day. There were many times that I felt exhausted and eventually that led me to quit my job. Just days later, I was hired by Encora as a Technical Recruiter. When I first joined the company, I was the only woman on my team. I expected it to be awkward, but Encora made me feel right at home and I have never felt like I didn’t belong. In 2016, I gave birth to my daughter and we became a family of four. I’m the breadwinner in our household. My husband quit his job to become a stay-at-home dad and takes care of our children.
As Assistant Manager of Talent Acquisition at Encora, what is the best thing about your job?
My job brings me a lot of satisfaction. I enjoy helping people find a new career that excites them and that will be good for their resumes. It feels good to make a positive change in the lives of others and become part of their hopes, dreams, and ambitions.
What were the biggest challenges you faced going back into the workplace after giving birth?
Probably the same as for many other mothers out there―having to leave my children in the care of someone else, and the realization that I might be missing out on pivotal parts of their childhood. Finding the right balance between work and family life is challenging, but essential. When I feel drained or stressed, I remind myself that even though I can’t be with my children all the time, I am still a loving, dedicated, and committed mother to them.
Do you have any tips for mothers regarding returning to work after maternity leave?
Allow yourself to be kind to yourself. Be patient with yourself while embracing your new role as a mother. Both your mind and your body need time to adjust. You will feel stressed, overwhelmed, and exhausted at some point. But you are not in any way harming your child by working. And remember, returning to work to provide for yourself and your family isn’t a selfish act―it's actually quite the opposite.
What are your favorite things about being a mother with a career?
The combination of working and parenting makes me feel complete and productive. To me, the best way to be a role model to my children is to have fun with my career. My career is something that I have worked hard for and that I’m proud of. I hope that my children look at me and see that success follows hard work. Even with all of its trials and lessons, being a mom with a paid job makes me feel that I have it all; a supportive husband, two loving kids, and a job that gives me purpose outside of being a wife and mom.
How has the pandemic affected your work and family life?
Of course, the pandemic has been incredibly difficult for most of us. But I like to think of the positive impacts it has had on my family. When I started working from home, I wasn't sure how it would work out, but it has actually brought us closer together. My husband understands me better now that he’s seeing firsthand how hard I work, how I’m pushing myself to be better, and how disciplined I am about my job. I no longer need to commute every day, which means I can prepare and enjoy breakfast with my family in the mornings. I’m using this extra time for my family and self-development. My children are both at home and they had to adjust as well. It took them some time to get used to having me at home yet not being available to them. Now they understand that I am working and can't give them constant attention. As a family, we’ve found a new routine.
What is Encora doing to support parents who are working from home?
Even before the pandemic, they have been supportive and considerate of our needs. Whenever there is a special occasion or family emergency, they will let me take time off. When my children are sick, they show empathy and compassion. Since I started working from home, there have been occasions when one of my children would jump in front of the webcam during a business meeting or pick up my phone and dial one of my coworkers. My colleagues understand that these things can happen and we laugh about it. Having that friendly and relaxed atmosphere in my work environment is a pleasure to experience.
What do you think other companies could do to support working parents?
Flexibility in work schedules is so important, especially now that many parents are working remotely and have their children at home with them. Companies need to realize that not all employees can rely on their parents or inlaws for full support, and not everyone has the luxury to be able to afford nannies or daycare. While setting clear expectations, companies should allow parents to take breaks to deal with things that may come up during the day. When employees are given that trust, they will use it wisely and appropriately.
What would you like your daughter to know about entering the workforce?
It is very important to me to show her that women can be every bit as tough, smart, and ambitious as men. I would want Amaery to know that she is capable of doing great things, as long as she knows what she wants and works hard to obtain it. I want her to grow up knowing that women can absolutely be leaders - and good ones at that.
And what would you like your son to know about entering the workforce?
Naturally, I want both of my children to know that they can be whatever they want as long as they work hard towards reaching their goals. But growing up as the oldest child, Jayden has become somewhat of a natural leader to his younger sister. I want him to know that he can be strong and brave yet at the same time be sensitive and kind. I hope he grows up knowing that women and men are equal, that everyone deserves an equal amount of respect, and that men can be caregivers and women can be the breadwinners of the family.
If you had the power to change one thing in the business market for employed mothers, what would you change?
I would change the way that mothers are treated. Unfortunately, there are still companies out there that won’t hire women because we're too “risky.” They feel women won’t be as committed to the job, or as integrated into the team because they have children or might get pregnant in the future. But how do you assess a candidates’ skills if you don't give them a chance? Instead of judging women for combining their career ambitions with family responsibilities, I would want to see society empower them. Why does our society make women feel the need to apologize for pregnancy? I would want to normalize pregnancy, normalize motherhood, normalize parental leave, and normalize mothers who have paid jobs.
For our first interview in this series, we spoke with Jessica Sonju whom we asked to come up with a question for you. She wanted to ask you if women in Malaysia are being judged when they return to work after having given birth?
Yes, unfortunately, this is still the case. Mothers are judged for going back to work or going back too soon. I think we should remember that different parents have different resources and opportunities available to them. What works for one parent, or parenting couple, may not work for another. I also know stay-at-home mothers who feel judged for not always having their house in order or failing to whip up a homecooked meal from scratch every single day, which makes one question what society really views as the “correct” way for women to be mothers.
During the 2nd interview in this series, we spoke with Suyen Rojas. She wanted to ask you, what you would want to say to men who still believe that women can’t reach top positions or are unable to excel in STEM fields?
I would tell them to open their eyes to the fact that women are doing incredible things in the science, technology, and engineering sectors. Stereotypically, women are caring and communal. But look a bit closer and you will see that women are also talented, driven, and committed. We possess a lot of positive attributes that make us natural leaders. Don’t depend on gender stereotypes. It's 2021, after all.
For our next interview, we will talk with one of our male Encorians who is a parent. What question would you like to ask him?
It would be interesting to hear a father's perspective on the ups and downs of combining work and family life. I struggled quite a bit with that myself and I would like to hear from fathers how it feels for them to try and find that balance.