By Michelle Ng
Last month, we sent the first team from Subang Jaya to Melaka to assist Ayer Keroh, where a good friend, Sdr Kerk Chee Yee is standing for elections. For the purposes of capacity building, I divided my team into two, where the team just sent has little to no election experience.
The other team who joined me in the Sabah state elections are still in Subang Jaya manning the service centre. This team will head down to Pengkalan Batu on the 19th, to volunteer as Polling and Counting Agents (PACAs) on the 20th.
None of our team members have experience as PACAs. There are many components that come with election campaigns – seat analysis, strategic deployment of resources, communication, fundraising, mobalising, compliance etc. Getting a team with little experience up to speed with all these in such a short span of time is definitely challenging.
Ordinarily, I would have liked to be present and oversee their experiences. But along with early-stage pregnancy comes morning sickness, which for me are only just beginning to be manageable but has not subsided entirely. Rides in cars, smells and certain foods become horrible triggers for nausea, painful bloating and restlessness. I am however convinced and quite determine to prove that pregnancy is not a problem, but an opportunity to prove that good leadership and management is still possible.
Part of why I have consciously decided to pen this journey is to contribute to literature out there about pregnant women in leadership. Much of the literatures I have come across are advice about how leaders should manage a pregnant team member. Little is said about the former – a space that should be filled, I think.
Yet I have to caution readers by saying that this is my first pregnancy, and my first time leading an organisation. It’s a journey that I am on and there will be mistakes made. So do not take my word as advice, but do journey with me. If you have nuggets of wisdom, I would be very happy to learn from you too!
From managing the team for the Melaka state elections during pregnancy, these are 5 things I have learnt:-
- Train in advance where possible. Cramming so much in a short span of time can be overwhelming for a team. If there are certain experiences that can be brought ahead through training, do it. In our case, I arranged for our team members to undergo a PACA training before heading down to Melaka. This will give them time to mull over some rather heavy material, and prepare themselves mentally.
- Create Structure. Have managers or second-in-line. In your absence, someone has to be a reference point for others, and you would also need a single contact point that your team can refer to obtain or confirm your instructions. This person needs to be someone who can think on his/her feet, is resourceful and whom you trust. The team member needs to know who this person is.
- Do not let disputes fester; manage them as openly and frankly as possible with team members. With so much happening in a short span of time, there are bound to be things said or done that would hurt. Our Asian culture hates confrontation, but I advocate otherwise. After emotions settle, sit and talk at the earliest opportunity. Success in delivery requires us to maintain camaraderie and trust in the team. Ill feelings get in the way. Some team members would find it difficult expressing themselves – that is okay, we are all on a journey. Be patient. Facilitate that growth for your team member. Being able to settle disputes is a source of growth – we learn to understand each other better as a team and grow closer.
- Be accessible, use technology to communicate as much as possible. Be ready to answer calls and texts from team members. You will have your off days, but always get back to them as soon as you can. The worst time for me was when I had to manage a threatened miscarriage upon stepping into the second month of my pregnancy – I immediately had to inform a few core team members (way to break the news, huh?), and arranged for them to step in for me while I recovered.
- Provide instructions, but do not spoon-feed. I have to keep reminding myself that I am teaching them to be independent, especially for when I have to undergo delivery and during confinement. Sometimes I intentionally do not provide an answer to a question, but ask another question or help them form a train of thought which they can apply later in other situations on their own.
Women in the workforce mean managing everything that comes with it. Gone are the days where what happens at home should not be part of work. Simple things like a fight at home, a nanny cancelling on day-care or an ill parent can affect an employee’s productivity in organisations and companies. Yet, we manage it. Pregnancy should not be any different. Rather than considering it a problem, look at it as an opportunity to be an example of what it can be. In doing so, I am confident that we will nurture loyal, productive employees.