Working from home made us both realize how important it is to learn from each others’ experiences and how hard it has become to seek advice remotely. We met by chance on a plane ride, and in that moment quickly realized just how much we had in common—and how much we felt we were missing.
In noticing a gap in the available networking opportunities due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we launched the interview series, Women@Work. Our goal is to interview remarkable women in the fields of real estate, workplace strategy, and architecture—providing a space for the knowledge sharing and relationship building we need and crave.
Women@Work: What inspired you to get into architecture and workplace strategy?
Jessica: I don't think anybody knows where they are going to end up. When I left high school I went into architecture, then interior design, and finally workplace strategy. For me, the work I enjoy the most is really about trying to get closer to how you affect people.
Today, I am in Workplace Experience. Workplace strategists often go into workplace experience—which will likely bleed into organizational development. I often end up in roles or on projects where I don't have a path that was necessarily being forged before me. I struggle in that as much as I love it. This work is part of a very autonomous kind of role and you have to be comfortable with ambiguity.
Women@Work: What has been your best professional decision?
Jessica: Taking opportunities when they are presented. All of my biggest decisions are made with a gut feeling—I don’t do big pros and cons lists. I am the kind of person who likes to go after adventure and experiences. When you jump into the deep end with both feet, you need to have good tools in your toolkit to deal with anxiety or those overwhelming feelings that can come with change.
Before each of my career opportunities unfolded, I showed up as myself—full of energy and just being who I am. Before I moved from Australia to Singapore, everyone told me I was courageous. But it wasn’t courage, it was excitement. When you are so certain that something is the next thing for you, you don't need courage. You just say, “when can I pack my bags and get on the plane?”
Women@Work: If and when a woman wants to start a family, her career often takes a hit. Do you know or have ideas of positive measures that companies or governments have implemented to support women returning to work?
Jessica: It's a much bigger issue than a company simply providing nurture rooms. I once participated in a Women in Leadership course and one comment really struck me. They said, “In order to reach the top, the hours are long, and the work is hard.”
If a woman wants to get to the top there are two things she can do—either push through and don't go home to see her kids or switch off at 5 p.m., spend time with the kids, and then put in additional hours after the kids go to bed. I mean, what? If this is the only way to get to the top, women will continue to leave the workforce in droves.
With the opportunity to make money freelancing or launching a small business, women can set their own schedule rather than be forced to make the decision between work and family to keep their job. If the corporate world isn’t going to make room for what people need, they will move on.
In my opinion, bringing women back to work—and supporting them before, during, and after—is about providing the facilities, time, compensation, and flexibility that will allow them to establish a comfortable work-life balance.
Women@Work: Why do you think it is important to have a mentor?
Jessica: Building genuine relationships with people has been the catalyst for literally all the opportunities that have come my way. My executive sponsor at my previous company believed in me, even when I was unsure of myself. He sat me down and said, “you will be fine, you've got the gray matter for this.” I needed that. We all need people in our lives who can push us, be honest with us, and inspire us to be the best we can be.
Women@Work: How do you find a mentor?
Jessica: Relationships are built with communication and shared experience. You can't just sit in a corner behind your computer screen and expect genuine relationships to come to you. It’s that old saying, “interesting people are interested.” If you show that you are interested in other people, they will become interested in you.
Most organizations provide leadership programs. I recommend that you ask HR how to get involved. In the meantime, be a doer. Show up to that corporate social responsibility day, volunteer for an extra assignment, or speak up and offer an idea to enhance a project. Initiate conversations and don’t be afraid—senior leaders are just people. When you make yourself visible, decision makers notice you and the value you bring to the organization.
Women@Work: What advice would you give to your younger and future self?
Jessica: My advice to my younger self is to chill out and have a lot more fun. Honestly, I was so worried about trying to do a good job—and about what people would think about me—that I was striving for success and driving myself mad. Have more fun, laugh just because, and build solid relationships—because that is how things move in the world.
I’ve learned that experience grows exponentially—it's not linear. You can drop out of the workforce for travel or maternity leave, and then you can choose to go back to the same job or take a sideways step.
We only have this one life. If you want to spend a month backpacking across Europe, you should do it. And if you are a parent, remember those children are only little for a short while. If you want to embrace all of those early years, know that your career can wait should you choose. In the interim you can always upskill—take micro-courses you are interested in, read career related books, or take on freelance projects and side jobs to continue to enhance your skillset as you focus on family.
For my older self, my advice is to hang out with young people. We often get stuck spending time with people like us—execs connect with other execs, moms connect with other moms, and so on. Young people are full of wisdom and life lessons.
Whether it's personally or in a career, I think it's vital to engage with people who have different experiences and perspectives from our own.
Women@Work: What advice do you have for someone starting out in the industry?
Jessica: Seek out and work for the companies that believe in diversity and inclusion. They have the tools, policies, and people in place best equipped to support the challenges a young woman faces in the career world. Look for diversity in leadership, in teams, and in clientele. Know that an organization without a strong DEI focus may not provide you the same level of support and opportunities for advancement.
There you have it—our first Women@Work interview. We are honored to be able to share our findings with you and hope you were as inspired by Jessica as we are. If you know of any other women with interesting journeys in the fields of real estate, workplace strategy, or architecture at any stage of their career, connect with Adithi Khandadi and Nishtha Bali on LinkedIn.