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It is not only in Sri Lanka but a global phenomenon according to statistics about a shortage of women in high-level leadership positions. However, there are plenty of women who have made it to the top. Today, – Hemas Holdings PLC MD Logistics, Maritime and Pharmaceuticals Kasturi Wilson shares her secret to success, about her journey, career path and advice she would like to give others in being at the top. “I get bored easily if the work is not challenging”, is what she says with regard to her work.

Kasturi joined Hemas Holdings PLC in 2002 as Finance Director of Hemtours. Her dedication and perfection at work got her to high positions where she delivered rapid growth in every Section she undertook . Today, as MD Logistic, Maritime and Pharmaceuticals she continues to work in her role with passion and dedication, helping co-workers to come up in their careers.

As a woman entrepreneur and a mother to her two sons, Kasturi believes in creating value in everything she does including the staff or fellow employees around her. She enjoys working at Hemas as much as working with her children and spending time with them.
What made you want to pursue a career of this nature?

I am an accountant by profession and I for one had a full time working mother, which made me grow up in a background where I believed that every woman should be financially independent and I was interested in being employed once I grew up. I began my career, working part time where I had plenty of time to spend with my children. My life turned a full circle, once I became a single mother at a young age. I had to work full time and for my good luck, senior staff members were of immense help and understood my position.

I believe that we women appreciate what others do for us, more than men and dedicate more time to do something better in return. As a woman living in a culture where many were under the impression that women are meant only to be homemakers, it was not an easy journey. But I like to mention that now our culture and society is evolving gradually and moving away from this notion.

I always questioned myself as to whether I was doing the right thing by my children and my worries were worse since I was a single mother. But this idea quickly faded away and soon I began thinking of my situation as being a phase in my life and I did my best in office as well as at home.

I was open about the fact that my children were first priority and expressed this to my employer. This brought in plenty of support from their end. They wanted my services and were ready to give me the required space to fulfill my endeavour. I am here today as MD which I never dreamt of in my early years. I never give a thought to the designation I hold but work as a dedicated and humble worker and serve my employer with utmost dedication.

How did having children change your career?

Becoming a mother changed my world, which made me want to spend more time with my kids. But I had a boss who seeing my talent and ability, advised me not to give up my job. It was such a huge motivation and I was able to balance home and office. After becoming a single mom I always wanted to be the best mom to my children and give the best to them. I would say I worked 110 percent after switching to full-time work and I was capable and happy to handle it, knowing full well that at the end of the day my children would be the beneficiaries and to keep them happy I pursued a career path . Being a mother gave me strength and courage.
What difficult decisions do you feel you have made regarding balancing career and motherhood?

There were not many such moments. When my kids were young there were a few incidents. For example, I avoided overseas training and trips but at the same time I was worried that it would have an impact on my career. But somehow it didn’t. There was another incident where I was supposed to attend the annual Board meeting and that was the time I had just taken over as MD for

transportation. This was the time my younger son has to go abroad for his university orientation and I didn’t want to send him alone. I explained my situation to the CEO and they agreed on my leave but I thought there will be chaos but for me, once I take a decision, consequences donot matter. I just take the challenge.

Many working mothers feel guilty at some time or another, does this happen to you and if so how did you handle those emotions?
We as mothers carry it all the time. For example when your child is sick and you are not around to check her fever every time. At these times we get the feeling that we are not doing our part for the child. Especially, being a single mom I felt my kids needed me more. I think the time we spend with them should be quality time then they will not feel left out or ignored during moments that you are compelled to stay away. Eventually, once they grow up they will understand the journey. Their love for us will never reduce and they will never feel bad about us staying away from them. My one regret though is not being there to assist them in their school work or coaching them because I had to outsource this aspect of their lives due to time constraints.

How do other people see you?
Different people see me differently. In office, people who work with me see me as a tough boss with a kind heart and also as a person who empowers and encourages people who work hard and that I will not tolerate dishonesty.

People who are close to me are the only ones who know how much I silently help people who need help. My children say I want perfection in everything and I would sacrifice anything for my children. My friends say I’m not open and love working for a cause where I could assist people to come up in life. This is the main reason I got involved with Women in Management. They selected me as being the best role model and I won the Award in 2013. Once I met them I realized how Women in Management impacts not only corporate personnel but people who are struggling to raise their heads.

Give three key words to describe yourself?

Straight, kind hearted and tough.
Are there any particular challenges that you face as a woman leader in
Sri Lanka?

I think women leaders should work hard initially to be in authority or to earn respect for the designation you hold. As a person who has worked in many different sectors, I did not find it difficult as a woman to handle my position. As a leader, you should define your space and what you can provide as a leader. If not it is difficult for us women to gain respect and in the long term, it will be difficult to get staff to give of their best.

Should the Government or employers give more assistance to women employees?

The first thing the Government could do is to make roads and public transportation safe for women. Unsafe night travel is the main reason why women are reluctant to work late hours in this country. What employers should know is no matter how much a woman is willing to work, still there are many external issues such as cultural barriers, society and even own family who pose a challenge. In most cases, families do not want to empower women. This is not an issue that an employer can sort out but understand the value of women staff and they should be more flexible. Employers should also support the working environment or culture to understand that certain female staff need flexibility. From our part, women should show what an asset they are by proving their commitment to the Institution.

Do you see a difference in leadership styles between men and women?

One thing women should understand is we cannot be men. They have a different way of being engaged in leadership as well as at Boardroom level which is very good. Women are more tolerant.

The difference is if a woman talks loud and is strict with staff, then she comes out as being aggressive whereas if a man does it, they would say he is a strong leader. Technically women have to figure out their space on how to be firm without being aggressive.
I believe women are stronger than men and when it comes to leadership they need to be true to who they really are.

Why do you think there aren’t many women at the top in Sri Lanka as well as in other countries?

There are a few major reasons behind this. Mostly it is choice. Women’s careers are affected by many factors such as children, marriage or even due to aged or sick parents.

Also, most of these employment based policies are not so women- friendly. These are not flexible enough for a woman to rise in her career. But I can see a slight improvement over time.

What are the strategies you have learned that could help women to achieve a prominent role in her organizations?

First of all, women should be clear about what makes them happy in their career. Then if you have multiple roles, always be open and talk openly about it. Make yourself valuable or unique to the organization. Then this will give you an identity.

What advice would you give young women aiming for leadership positions?

Don’t doubt yourself. Every woman has a leader within herself. So bring that out!

Source : – Ceylon Today-

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