East Ventures’ Venture Partner, Avina Sugiarto; Mindtera’s Co-Founder and CEO, Tita Ardiati; and Nusantics’ Co-Founder and CEO, Sharlini Eriza Putri

Being working moms: balancing motherhood and career

March 8, 2022

The first session of East Ventures’ initial Women with Impact Forum on 16 February 2022, invited East Ventures’ Venture Partner, Avina Sugiarto; Mindtera’s Co-Founder and CEO, Tita Ardiati; and Nusantics’ Co-Founder and CEO, Sharlini Eriza Putri. It is moderated by East Ventures’ Senior Investment Associate, Stacy Oentoro.

The speakers shared their ups and downs of having different roles in life, such as mothers, wives, entrepreneurs, CEOs, and investors. 

Working moms can learn from several key takeaways from the session:

  • It is OK to ask for help when you need it. Working in a supportive company and having a support system can be helpful too.
  • Amid your busy schedule, it is necessary to set boundaries to maintain your well-being.
  • Always negotiate. When life only gives you two options, you need to fight for the third, fourth, and fifth options. 

The transcript has been edited for brevity and clarity.

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Stacy Oentoro: Can you share your experiences in venture and finance so far? Has there anything changed since you became a mom? What unique proposition do you think women bring to the table when investing?

Avina Sugiarto: There are a lot of movements to close the gender gap and get women, not only in the workplace but also in the decision-making and more senior leadership roles. We see  a lot of women drop off in the middle [of their] career whether it is by choice, or there is a glass ceiling, unfortunately. We want to try to break through the conversations and initiatives that we do.

In terms of my experience in the investment world, there are a lot of times when I would be the only woman in a meeting. It was quite unfortunate because I think women can put different perspectives in decision-making and contribute to the companies. 

As a venture partner’s perspective, we want to improve diversity and inclusion. At East Ventures, more than 50% of our team members are women, I think the partners have been very supportive. As a society and as a company, we would like to do more in terms of improving gender diversity for our founders as well as you mentioned earlier in terms of bringing more capital to female-led businesses.

Stacy Oentoro: As a working mom, there is a lot to juggle and balance in the duality of these roles. Can you share some of the obstacles, stereotypes, or assumptions about you, that you have learned to overcome in your entrepreneurship journey?

Sharlini Eriza Putri: Referring to a personal experience, it is true that there is a stereotype that women cannot have a nice career in terms of technology. But, in fact, I was still breastfeeding when I pitched the idea of Nusantics to the investor. The idea of Nusantics itself was inspired by real problems that are linked to microbial-related businesses.

It turns out, this kind of problem also means a huge opportunity. This kind of opportunity can be seen clearly from the perspective of a woman compared to a man. We are facing real problems, environmental and health problems, which we can only solve by learning the dynamics of life, and we as women have a kind of spectrum to understand it better than the dynamics of living space. 

Tita Ardiati: When I first built Mindtera, I found it difficult because my background was not from tech. I spent my life as a statistician, as a data scientist. The problem was coming from my own experience. Prior to Mindtera, I was a leader in the region and found it very difficult to juggle my family and my job.

I felt I was not smart enough, [although], I had it all in terms of education and knowledge. But I found it difficult to pick myself up. 

I tried to find out what happened to me. When in doubt – most of us keep it to ourselves. We are not used to talking to someone and asking for help. That is one of the problems that I have found.

Then, I surrendered and said to myself, “OK I think it is time, I need to look for help”, and I found a lot of options out there on how to maintain my emotion, thoughts, and view. People always think that women are emotional creatures. They deal with a lot of hormones. We do, but this is manageable. This kind of stereotype that a woman is an emotional creature, becomes the barrier to being an entrepreneur. 

Stacy Oentoro: Who are some of the key people that you have asked for help with? What kind of support have they given to you to move your career forward and make you a better mom? 

Sharlini Eriza Putri: Problems exist every day, especially for moms. What keeps me going every day is I have a very strong support system. My support system is very solid. They understand the vision of Nusantics, why and what I do, and they support me all the way. 

Sharing difficulties is a very natural thing to do because when we do, as a mom to our co-founders, with a good intention, we will be able to discuss the best solution. In the end, being a leader in tech startups does not have to be an alpha female. It is more like being a very good negotiator, so we have to be able to express ourselves, discuss the problem to find the best solution, be open, and train ourselves to be better negotiators every day.

Avina Sugiarto: First and foremost, my husband has been very supportive in my career. I have to thank my husband for being super supportive on the journey.

Having family as a support system has been helpful in my journey and my children’s journey.

Do not be afraid to ask for help. When someone lends a hand, do not refuse the offer, because people who come to you have good intentions. I think a support system is a key to balancing and juggling between work and family.

Stacy Oentoro: There are preconceived notions and myths in the venture that the VC world is more suited for men. Avina, can you share any pieces of advice for women who are eager to enter into this industry and talk about that stereotype or that just outdated myth?

Avina Sugiarto: I think women bring different perspectives to the table, given the diversity, compared to men. In reality, 70-80% or more of the decision-making power in our consumers’ households is made by women. Being an investor, you need to understand what your customers want. If 90% of that decision-making on investments are made by men, there is a lack of different perspectives coming from women who are making the 70-80% decision power on purchases.

In terms of biases, throughout the journey I have gone through – we have teams who are supportive towards women, we have two female partners, including Irene, at the firm as well. Joining a company that is supportive of women’s career development will also make it a lot easier in terms of your journey in the VC and investment world.

Stacy Oentoro: Tita, when you built Mindtera, you provide support for both working moms and working dads at work. What has been a common pinpoint that you have seen and some tips that you have extended to those moms and dads in some cases to address these stressors that we inevitably will feel just as a working adult?

Tita Ardiati: At Mindtera, we are focusing on multiple intelligence aside from IQ itself. It is another option from mental health providers out there as sometimes the pinpoint of these working people is the ability to recognize their stress level.

Why does Mindtera give this emotional intelligence program in bite-size? We want to provide knowledge to people on how they read their movements. Everyone will experience stress but what differs is the level of the stress, and how we can manage it so that it will not cause burnout, and later affects our body, behavior, and impulsivity.

Stacy Oentoro: Avina, do you have any practices that you maintain as a working mom? One of your sons is now five, any sort of practices or boundaries that you kept secret so you can maintain this balance?

Avina Sugiarto: Spend more time with the kids. I try to do it during dinner time, and at night when they are asleep, I catch up with some work and continue in the morning before the kids wake up.

In terms of life principles, the family and the kids are like a crystal ball. I make sure that every time they need me, especially for important matters, I will always catch it because when the crystal ball falls, then it will break. It will be difficult to mend things there. While the other balls will always bounce back in a way. That has been my life principle and priority.

Working in a company that understands flexible working arrangements. Some companies have nursery rooms and education training for career advancement. That is important when choosing where you work and how to create a workplace that suits working moms as well.

Stacy Oentoro: Sharlini, as a super mom and also the super CEO in biotech, how do you set the boundaries throughout the organization? 

Sharlini Eriza Putri: I have four different scorecards or metrics for myself.

The first scorecard is about my health and well-being, the second one is about my baby. The third one is about my husband, and the fourth one is about my business, Nusantics.

I do not have a dedicated schedule. The schedule is always moving when you are working in the biotech and health sector in Indonesia. 

I have some key metrics that I have to maintain at least monthly. I do some research regarding the child development goals. I know when I should raise some flags and bring my baby to the doctor if he is showing some symptoms of developmental lagging, for example. I also make time for a deep talk with my husband to understand what he is doing and how he feels about my busy activities at Nusantics.

In terms of the professional, the scorecard is clear, like target. But my first principle is that I cannot give something that I do not have. That is why my well-being always comes first. First thing in the morning, I always make time for myself for reading books, running, or swimming because I have to keep my mind and my body in perfect condition so I can give more to my family as well as my business.

Stacy Oentoro: Tita, do you have some practical tips for self-loving or quality time activities for moms and everybody? 

Tita Ardiati: For working parents, one of the most frequent worries is they do not have enough time for their kids or their family. Spending 5 or 15 minutes of quality time, when we are fully focused on our attention and our energy to the children or our family, is more powerful than 24 hours with them but our mind is everywhere.

That is one of my tips. I always spend 5-15 minutes with my kids before I work or before they go to sleep. It is not like I spend hours with them, but that makes them grow an attachment with me – once the connection is built, they are more understanding towards whatever we are doing out there. No need for 24 hours.

Stacy Oentoro: As a working woman and as a mom, have you ever faced some kind of dilemma between – choosing between family and your business or workload? How have you solved this kind of dilemma? 

Sharlini Eriza Putri: This kind of dilemma will always exist because at the end of the day we will doubt ourselves whether chasing our career or raising our child’s development. Last year, my boy was diagnosed on the autistic spectrum because he was having difficulties expressing himself. Many people, including myself, asked whether it was the right thing to do to continue a career in Nusantics. When you are having such a problem, you may think, “OK, maybe my child needs his mom almost every day.” But, I fought it and I fulfilled my personal life first. One of my ways to have a fulfilling life is to have a fulfilling career and I have found that energy in Nusantics. 

I chose not to be in denial. I chose to learn more about what is an autistic spectrum, how I deal with that, are there any examples of a successful autistic entrepreneur. I found out that this autistic spectrum is not like a terminal diagnostic. It means that my child is maybe lagging in a certain development – for instance, is lagging in verbal development. But he excels in another spectrum.

That kind of dilemma always exists, it is time for us to understand ourselves, our values, and to convince ourselves whether the career will be fulfilling. It is about a greater purpose, something you will not regret. 

Avina Sugiarto: I think the dilemmas will always be there. The more you think about it, the more dilemmas come to mind. It never ends. At the end of the day, if you can think about it pragmatically, about prioritization, time management, you can think about what is important for that particular day.

When you are happy and positive, your family and your child will see it. They will get that happiness as well from you, I think that helps in terms of family relationships.

In terms of prioritization, one example from my personal experience was when I was traveling to Singapore for work a couple of years ago. Yet, my first son had a stage three seizure. My husband called me when I just landed. At that time, the family came first. I joined one meeting and then took a flight back right after it. I canceled the other meetings in Singapore. I think you are the only one who knows in terms of priorities.

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You can watch the rerun of Women with Impact Forum 2022 by clicking the video below.