The Women, the Myth, the Legends: Working Moms - Interview with Mashal Qasim
These days, Mashal Qasim occupies the role of a mother as well as that of a Senior Brand Manager at a prestigious organization. For most of her adult life, she has been balancing heavy workloads along with pressing family obligations. Her drive and impressive organizational skills made her the perfect person to have this series' first interview with. Here we have an opportunity to catch a glimpse at the demanding physical and mental pressures on society's most underrated heroes: working moms.
On a scale of 1-10, how demanding is your workload? Do you feel like this accompanied with your domestic responsibilities affects your physical or mental health?
"Assuming 10 to be most strenuous, I would rate my work around 8. There are days at 10 and then a few at 2 too, but overall, my routine is pretty demanding. I think this combination of work/home/parenting responsibilities requires me to be extremely regimented. My workday is pretty compartmentalized with schedule for all sorts of things, but if I miss one then there isn’t any chance to get it back. For example, to exercise I try to wake up early before my kid wakes up to do a bit of yoga at home. But sometimes if my kid is up or there is a project due then bye-bye me-time."
As a working mother, do you ever feel that you do not get enough time at home?
Have you faced any backlash or judgment from society for your decision to continue working after becoming a mother?
"Not overtly. I am sure some people do; I have definitely come across them. But my immediate network of friends and family are supportive. I am not sure if supportive is the right word since it is more of a non-issue for them – as it should be. While I am grateful for that, I do come across people now and then who wonder why I have adopted this lifestyle. However, in my perspective that is a result of their lack of understanding so it does not particularly bother me if they think that way."
What expectations did you have regarding career and family life while you were growing up? Were you encouraged to prioritize one over the other?
"I have had great female role models in my family with a lot of working mothers. My own mother is a doctor and managed career and family magnificently. So, when I would ever think of a career for myself - or women in general - it wasn’t whether it was a choice to have one rather, what it would be. However, I do think my mother had to make choices. And the choice was between family and work. I think this was a common concern for women of my mother’s generation. They believed that a career is an indulgence and their first duty is to family. What I see changing now is that women are trying to lose that concept and demand that equal contribution at home by both partners is required."
Do you feel that your partner experiences the same pressures and concerns as you if they are also a working parent?
"The men in our society need to come a long way. I find husbands to be oblivious to what goes on in a woman’s or a mother’s world. And you see that in detergent ads and such where once you walk in a mother’s shoes you really get an idea of all that they do. But I don’t entirely blame men for it. For years, the only behavior that is modeled is that of father being plan B - in some cases plan C, D or E - where grandmothers and caretakers take a superior role in child care. And we all expect this sort of ‘plan B’ to relax because they know that Plan A will take care of everything. The disheartening thing about this analogy is Plan B only kicks in when Plan A fails. Failure isn’t a good feeling."
Have you ever felt like your role as a mother has hindered your professional development due to workplace discrimination or preoccupation at home?
"Hindered? No, not for me. Probably because I have been lucky to work with a team which is supportive - and supportive is the right word here. The organization enforces the same rules for working parents regardless of gender, but the team makes a difference. However, I would be completely tone deaf to say that all women in my organization have the same luck. Workplace discrimination is still rampant; women are not hired at entry level because they would ‘get married’ in a year or two, critical resources can’t be women because what would happen when they avail their maternity, let’s keep them away from negotiations because they might get too emotional - and the list goes on."
What recommendations would you give to workplaces to accommodate working mothers in South Asia?
"From an organization’s point of view: it’s not just about working mothers; it’s about working parents. We talk about organizations and working mothers because currently the mother is associated with the child. For hands-on father and as more fathers start taking more responsibility, the same would be required for fathers too. The idea is to understand that children are part of the family system; when two pieces of the family are at the workplace then why not at home too? If this pandemic has taught us anything, it is that we can function at about the same productivity level with our kids too."
Mashal Qasim is the mother of a four-year-old and has been working for over ten years. Currently she is a Senior Brand Manager at a prestigious organization in Pakistan.
The interview was conducted by Perspective Magazine's News Editor, Arooba Mansoor. She is currently a third year student at LUMS where she is pursuing Law and History.