Christina Mai is a Managing Director with Protiviti in our Shenzhen, China office. She is a co-leader of the Protiviti Parents Network, who works to connect and provide a place of support for working parents within the company globally. Below, Christina shares with us her story of blending parenthood with leadership.
My Protiviti Journey
I joined Protiviti in 2004 and have literally gone through my life journey from a single lady to a mommy at Protiviti.
I became a mother during the year I was promoted to Manager. I still remember the moment I first learned I was pregnant – nothing romantic, instead, I was extremely anxious and I cried immediately. I was supposed to play an important role for a project located in an underdeveloped province the following week, but I was experiencing poor health at the time.
I was worried and thought, “If I can’t go, who could replace my role and ensure project delivery as planned?” More importantly, I was about to be promoted to Manager in six months…if I failed to make this important project a success, would I miss this chance? These questions kept spinning in my head.
Taking the First Step
I decided to call my manager to let him know the situation and was going to apologize for bringing troubles to the project. To my surprise, my manager stopped my apology and congratulated me with kind words, telling me to worry about nothing because he would find a solution for the project arrangements.
The only thing he recommended to me was to feel happy about this new life and take care of myself. –That is absolutely one of the best moments I have had at Protiviti.
Blending Work and Life
At the time, managing projects was new to me, and parenting a child was even more challenging. At the beginning, I always seemed to have to choose between work and life. For example, I would need to take a two-weeks’ business trip to stay with my team on site, but that meant I would miss my son’s first vaccination; a rush for a proposal that was due before midnight, yet my son would cry for me at bedtime.
There were very few women parent leaders in our office at that time, and I didn’t have many channels to consult with during those years. I had even thought of resigning, but my job satisfaction surpassed the frustration of making hard choices.
After almost two years of struggling, I was able to identify several very supportive and reliable colleagues whom I strongly believed could handle most of the on-site delivery. I started to be less hands-on for those “routine” projects and saved some time from travelling. By continually transferring knowledge to my team, I was able to rely on a system of trust-based task reallocation. Sharing clearer delivery quality standards was a key factor in making this plan work. I was able to travel less and spare some time to think about client and solution development and more importantly, to spend more time with my lovely family.
Three years later, we had a new office leader who was a wonderful father himself. He proactively asked about how I was doing with the “balancing issue” and offered me options and advice whenever he thought it would be a tough choice for me if he were put into my shoes. Often, I would candidly tell him my concerns and offer my solutions of how to ensure a project’s success while keeping myself well connected to my family. To be honest, kindness and caring from the leader made me more committed to the company’s success.
I felt myself returning to being the master of my own time! Of course, the support from my family and extended family was critical to this, too.
Leading by Example
Now as a leader myself, I have been encouraging the younger generation of female consultants to build their career and I share my experience to show them the possibilities. It was not easy for me at the beginning; but I hope it will be easier for them, at least to reduce the number of hard choices in our working environment.
Through the years of figuring out my own way of blending work and life, I gained not only wrinkles, but a hugely broadened horizon of management skills:
- Embrace unexpected/challenging demands. We feel grateful for both the laughter and tears of our child, because they represent each step of growing up. When we look at our colleagues and clients, success and failures are precious experiences. Daring to fail and embracing changes are what makes us stronger.
- Be mindful while listening and have empathy. This skill significantly increases the number of friends and reduce the number of obstacles. The truth is, the more your child or your client wishes to share, the more trust is built. As my son enters his teen years, the frequency of conversations between us is lessening. I have been learning how to “translate” his verbal expression to “the voice of his mind” and that is definitely not easier than understanding a “VUCA client demand” LOL
- Inspire others. Take the responsibility of failure. Steadily, I have to admit that my son will be living his own life independently. As a parent, I will need the wisdom to change my role from a “steward” to his “coach”. And I hope he can explore the world as much as he can. I shall provide him with the courage to try, and also with the sense of safety to fail. Isn’t this similar to mentoring our young Protiviti team members, and developing new solutions?
Blending the art of being a better parent and a better leader is more fruitful than I have ever expected.
As the co-chair of Protiviti’s Parents Employee Network Group, I hope we can keep sharing with and inspiring each other through the network to make our working environment more friendly to parents. Our challenges may not be the same since we are in different cultures, societies, and backgrounds, but listening, caring, and understanding always help open new possibilities.
Let us grow our network and show our love and openness to Protiviti parents around the world!
Read more articles about our Employee Network Groups here.
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