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2021 International Women’s Day: #ChooseToChallenge

“A challenged world is an alert world”. 

#ChooseToChallenge, the theme for International Women’s Day 2021, calls out for everyone to choose to challenge gender bias and inequality, to choose to celebrate every woman, to choose to take the steps in creating an inclusive world (IWD, 2021). Here in EAP, we are proud of the fact that 95% of the team are women, who have consistently exhibited immense strength and capabilities, establishing the force that never fails in bringing EAP to new heights every year. We believe that women; when given the right opportunities and trust, have the potential to achieve not any lesser than men in similar circumstances.

Taking this opportunity as we celebrate women’s achievements today, we would like to feature two amazing role models of the EAP team, senior supervisor Yu Chen, and senior therapist Ili Irdina!

Chau Yu Chen

1. Can you tell us a little about yourself?

Hi everyone, I am Yu Chen, and am currently working as a senior supervisor in EAP Malaysia. I graduated with a Bachelor of Psychology from HELP University and am currently pursuing my Masters of Special and Inclusive Education from University of Nottingham

2. What inspired you to work with individuals with autism? What are the challenges you’ve encountered in your career and what kept you going?

I have always wanted to work with children and that led me to pursuing my Psychology degree. However, I would say what triggered the spark for me in working with individuals with autism happened when I first visited EAP as a 3rd year university student where I interviewed one of the supervisors to learn about the individuals on the spectrum. I was intrigued to see what I can learn while working with them. Fast forward to about a year later, I was able to dive into this experience. It has now been 5 years since I started, and it has been nothing short of a wonderful journey. Everyday is like a new day!

There are definitely ups and downs in this work, just like every other field is. One of the challenges that I faced when I started as a therapist was really learning to teach children on the spectrum in a fun and energetic way because it is so different from how I was taught since I was young. The nature of the job is also one that is very giving, so striking that balance to ensure that I am fueled is something that I learnt along the way. That being said, the progress of the kiddos will always put a smile on my face and it is one of the things that keep me going. From learning to greet for the first time, going to the toilet successfully and then going to school independently, it is absolutely rewarding to witness such progress on a day-to-day basis. Nevertheless, the bigger picture that has been keeping me on this path is really my dream to play a part in enriching the current education opportunities for individuals with autism so that they can be better included in schools and the community.

3. How have you found being a woman, working in this field?

If you don’t know already, there are many of us in this field who are women and if you look at EAP Malaysia itself, 95% of us are! Working in this field has allowed me to see that women can be empowered and driven to reach goals that are set. I am glad that there has also been a lot of support and guidance that comes from the women leaders in this field as well.

4. Working with individuals with autism can be both mentally and physically demanding, what do you do to fill your tank and ensure a healthy work-life balance?

This is such a good question because this is definitely one thing that I have learnt to be better at over the years. I used to always think that I need to just keep going and do what’s best for the children and clients. Taking a break is something that I used to feel guilty of, but now I know self care is one essential component in building resiliency. 

So, in times when I am not working, I like to spend time with my family, watch movies, listen to podcasts and also workout as well. Fun fact, I used to do a little kpop dance as well! These help refill me and ensure that I am ready to go!

5. As a senior supervisor in EAP Malaysia, what does your role entail? Is this role what you expected to be in when you started in the workforce? How did it change?

Currently, I oversee one of the supervisors on their caseloads to monitor the quality of clinical programmes for  the clients that she works with. Additionally, I also monitor the overall performance of our team. I am also privileged to be helping out in the non-profit arm of EAP, The Hope Project, so far I have been involved in training teachers from PDK, and currently we are conducting training for the NASOM’s teachers as well! 

I hadn’t thought about working as a senior supervisor until perhaps 3 years ago where I started my role as a supervisor. At first, I really enjoy working with the children, but over the years I have found joy in being able to coach and grow others as well, and that has driven me to pursue this role.

6. What advice would you give to other young women who are intending to start in this field?

Choose possibilities over predictability! I believe that this is one of the most powerful mindsets that I really have started to mindfully remind myself with and this is coming from someone like me who plans like nobody’s business haha! Oftentimes we coop ourselves within the boundaries that we set for ourselves, follow what is predictable and let the fear of uncertainty limit our potential and prevent us from achieving what is possible. I know it sounds scary, but there are just so many things that can be unlocked if you just give yourself the chance to embrace what is possible. Life is unpredictable, when you choose possibilities, it is limitless for what you can achieve.

7. Can you tell us about a role model that has inspired you?

I am truly blessed to be working with many strong women in the company who are really inspiring. There are so many practitioners who are working mums, and I definitely draw inspiration from them in juggling different roles in their lives. That being said, I would definitely say that my parents are my role models because they really have taught, guided and shaped me for who I am today. One of the most important things that I learnt from them is that when something takes a bad turn in life, you can either take it as an obstacle that stops you from moving forward or an opportunity that you may learn and grow from it. I believe that has really helped me keep my fighting spirit, and whatever that comes my way, I can just go, “Yup we have got this problem, so what can we do to overcome it?”. So big shout out to them for teaching me this and really help me live this life to the fullest!

8. What does International Women’s Day and its theme this year, #ChooseToChallenge, mean to you?

I think this is such an important day to remind us about the contribution that women have provided in improving the world throughout history and it is a great celebration as well for all the achievements that we have achieved as a team. That being said, it is important to acknowledge the effort from men who walk alongside women as equals. I really resonate with the theme this year and it’s really about challenging the status quo. This can be for yourself, or what society may have imposed on us with. So, choose to challenge yourself and be a better you. Choose to challenge the current societal expectation, and show what you can do!

9. Do you have a favourite quote that you hang on to or that has changed the way you look at things/ do things?

I think there are 2 quotes that I hold close to my heart. First one, is “begin with the end in mind” from Steven Covey. I believe that with a vision and goal in mind, I am then clear of where I am going, and it keeps me anchored during stretching seasons as well. The other one would be “the only constant in life is change” from Heraclictus, a quote that reminds me about just how change is just part and parcel of life, and when I accept that I can be at peace with what happened, and what may happen in the future as well. 

10. What are the changes you hope to see in the future to better support working women?

There are many things that I can go into, and to detail that it’s probably going to take a whole article, but I really do hope more platforms can be created to empower women and give them equal opportunities to play a part in bettering the world!

Ili Irdina Ruslan

1. Can you tell us a little about yourself?

I’m a 26-year-old expecting mother-to-be. I was born and raised in KL. I graduated in BSc (Hons.) Psychology from The University of Nottingham Malaysia in 2017 and started working at EAP Malaysia in 2018 as my first official job post graduation. I was born into a large family and had always gravitated towards working with children. Being raised with my dad’s mantra “don’t be a burden to anyone”, I have always known I want to be someone helpful to others and growing up watching criminal minds I went with the path of psychology which leads me here today.

2. What inspired you to work with individuals with autism? What are the challenges you’ve encountered in your career and what kept you going?

I would say like many of us, what nudged us into this direction at first was wanting to help others. That was my first reason to go into this field but eventually it starts to get more personal and closer to heart. Once you see the struggle upfront, it’s hard for you to not want to do more, the feeling of “if only I can teach this child this one particular skill it will help not only the child but the family so much” and that has kept me going for the past 2+ years. The most challenging thing for me to face is managing parent’s expectations and facing unsupportive parents, because for me to help the family is part of the motivation, when the family is unsupportive the motivation drops. When that happens I go back to my first motivation of helping the child, help the child better navigate themselves and improve their quality of living. 

3. How have you found being a woman, working in this field?

This field particularly where I would think this question might be a little funny, as most of the education related field is flooded with women! I think it’s the same for everyone, the only difference is when you’re suddenly pregnant hence it’s a bit more challenging in knowing your own limits but other than that everything else is able to be catered to your health needs. Infact, in some aspects it’s easier to be a woman, especially working in homes. Parents are more willing to have a female therapist coming in and out rather than a male therapist most of the time due to the nature of the job and the fact that most of the time there’s only a female guardian present in the house.

4. Working with individuals with autism can be both mentally and physically demanding, what do you do to fill your tank and ensure a healthy work-life balance?

That is indeed undeniable, there are many times where situations have arised that can really push you down the spiral road. Personally for me having a good support system, knowing your limits, and knowing when to ask for help are key to surviving either a work life, student life or even marriage. Having a good internal system of knowing your limit enables you to ask for help when you feel you are reaching your limit soon, and having a good support system to help you work through that just helps keeping a healthy balance. I am blessed to have such a supportive husband and family, they will sometimes help pack me lunch so I don’t have to rush in the morning or during lunch time. Or help me go buy items I need over the weekend when I’m too tired to leave the house. Other than that, I am also blessed to have such supportive and understanding supervisors that will do their best to help when you reach out and proactively check on you when you don’t reach out. It’s important to find your people, surround yourself with people that fuels you up.

5. As a senior therapist in EAP Malaysia, what does your role entail? Is this role what you expected to be in when you started in the workforce? How did it change?

When I first started, there was no such thing as a senior therapist role. We had therapists and we had core teams. As a new therapist the role of a core team at the time really seems so unreachable. But with time the company develops, and the role of experienced and senior therapist appears. The roles are more defined and the growth is more gradual. This is so great especially for new therapists so they don’t feel stagnant in terms of career growth. Each year there is always something more for you to achieve, it  is a good thing considering being an ABA therapist everything is repetition and routines it’s easy to fall into complacency. My role as a senior therapist was very well explained to me when I progressed into it. I go beyond day to day therapy to supporting new therapists, overlapping new therapists, having a buddy to guide through, and going into departments for the EAP outreach program which I have always shown interest in and my supervisors without fail nudged me in the right direction.

6. What advice would you give to other young women who are intending to start in this field?

Go for it! But I will definitely suggest to try out as an intern/volunteer first to have a peek into industry first. Even at EAP we have a 2 day work observation before you sign your contract to ensure you know what to expect on a day to day basis. Managing your expectation is very important before you enter any field really, it truly helps you transition into the role better.

7. Can you tell us about a role model that has inspired you?

I would say my grandmothers. I was among the lucky ones to grow up with strong women in the family. My Mak Tok was a strong woman that was not only known for her strength but also for her intelligence and gracefulness. She was born into wealth, she then married my grandfather, a man with no wealth but she adapted so well to a commoner lifestyle especially after the Japanese took over Penang. Most of their wealth was taken and she had to manage their finances and raise 9 children, compromising her gracefulness and strict british manners. My Nenek on the other hand led a different lifestyle, she, unlike my Mak Tok, was not born into wealth. She led a hard life as a rubber tapper and sometimes sold some nasi lemak by the road side. She was married 4 times but none lasted that long which resulted in her raising 7 children in total on her own and even owning pieces of land and a house on her own. These two strong women raised their children so well with so much struggle that I was lucky enough to be gifted with two amazing parents. A father that not only respects women but also supports and encourages us to go further, and a mother who had her fair share of sacrifices too, she was a working mother of 5, moving her way up confidently despite all the harassment she had to face as a beautiful young lady. She then decided to sacrifice her career to take care of her children and eventually become a stay at home mom with 7 kids. A huge sacrifice for a woman so used to having financial independence and we are thankful for that until today. These women shape me and challenge me to be better each day.

8. What does International Women’s Day and its theme this year, #ChooseToChallenge, mean to you?

First of all, I just wanted to say, what a brilliant theme! The perfect theme for the perfect time. This is the time where women empowerment is stronger than ever. As a child and grandchild of a strong woman, this means a lot to me. It means the fight my mother and grandmother did at their time actually meant something. It means that the future can be brighter for my child’s generation someday. We should all stand together and challenge the oppressing culture, the normalization and tolerance of sexual harassment in work places, the sexist “jokes” etc. We should not only expect our daughters but also our sons, nieces and nephews, to have a better mindset and continue to fight for what is right and challenge the system that doesn’t work. We made the systems, not the other way round, if it’s not working well for the people then it’s time for a change.

9. As a mum-to-be, what are you looking forward to in motherhood?

Well, definitely applying all my ABA knowledge and to see its effect on my own child! As someone who struggled to conceive for 4 years, I really want to do it right, but realistically there’s no way one can do everything perfectly. So all I can do is do the best to my capability with the knowledge I have. Really just nervously looking forward to seeing my child grow into hopefully a strong young woman someday.

10. What do you think are the challenges you may face as a working mother? What changes do you hope to see in the future to better support working mothers?

I’m quite nervous about this honestly. Breastfeeding. Honestly pumping while working and almost constantly moving is going to be a challenge. I am grateful for the hands free breast pump technology these days and all the advice I’ve gained from Fiza as the first person to be pumping while running sessions. Hopefully I can manage this well. I hope to see better medical benefits, longer maternity and paternity leaves, and as for those working in offices there should be compulsory pumping room and in house nursery for children under 18 months.


International Women’s Day. (2021). IWD 2021 campaign theme: #ChooseToChallenge. Retrieved March 04, 2021, from