Skip links

International Women’s Day: Spotlight on Charmaine Koay

Amidst Covid-19 and this unprecedented situation, we at EAP missed out on significantly celebrating International Women’s Day which is celebrated annually on the 8th of March. This significant day is to commemorate the achievements of women across the globe. At EAP, we have so many women to celebrate especially as about 95% of our team are women! Not to mention the hundreds of resilient and committed mothers of children with autism we work with! 

To celebrate IWD, we selected a significant woman in our organisation, Charmaine Koay our Head of Clinical Operations, to speak to her about her inspirations, values, and life as a working mom. She has been a part of our EAP team for the last almost 8 years!

Can you tell us about a female role model who has inspired you?

There are many! Women like Oprah Winfrey, Michelle Obama, Eleanor Roosevelt, Maya Angelou and Indira Gandhi to name a few. One of my biggest inspirations, of course, is also my mother. We were not very well-off when I was younger; I watched her work full time, take night calls at the hospital, then head off to the morning wet market as soon as her shift ended. On top of all that, she’d still make the time to cook us meals as well as spend time with us at home. When we were younger, she’d hand make all our party bags and cook up a storm for our birthday parties. Growing up watching her has definitely shaped me.

What advice did you receive early in your career that has stayed with you?

I remember my mother often saying “Don’t go halfway.” That has always stuck with me. From my father, there are two pieces of advice that stand out—“Always understand what you do, study it and understand it well” and “Don’t let fear lead you.” When I was trained by mental health nurses in England, my then mentor, Jan Hunt would often remind me to do what is right even when it’s difficult. These are some pieces of advice I hold close.

What inspired your decision to work with individuals on the Autism Spectrum? What has been your driving force in persevering and persisting in the field of mental health for over 10 years? 

I worked in elderly mental health for about 6 years in England. When I returned, I worked for a brief period in a corporate organisation that provided private healthcare services. However, I missed the mental health field. I stumbled upon EAP Malaysia through a friend and it felt right. Of course, I did not have much experience and started out as a line therapist. 

Why have I remained so long in this field? I started out wanting to make a difference and that remains till today. That aside though, I do like the challenge. In general, I like being challenged and I particularly love doing challenging clinical work. It is very rewarding, needless to say. Some of the children have been with us since they were 3 or 4 years old and watching them progress is really priceless.

You are a mother to a 2-month-old and a 2-year-old as well as the Head of Clinical Operations at EAP. How do you strike a healthy work-life balance?

I think it’s interesting women get asked this question but not men. I would not say I am great at this; there are many days I come home tired and irritable.

I’ve definitely had to work hard to build my awareness and cultivate healthy habits so that I have enough of myself to give my kids. My coach Mervin Jayaseela has helped me a lot in this area and I am very grateful for him.

I do feel it is self-awareness. When I am driving back from work, I make a pledge to give my undivided attention to the kids. My girl especially enjoys spending quality time with me and she dislikes it when I am not focused on her. So I try to clear pending work before I enter the house, sometimes spending just half hour in the car tying up loose ends.

I also try and carve out time for myself; I particularly like reading as well as browsing recipes, so these really are “me times” to fill my tank.As a leader who has raised many of the leaders here at EAP, what are some values or principles that you live by?

Integrity, excellence and truth are some of the things I live by. I also feel that when you lead in an industry like this—an industry serving vulnerable groups with needs—a leader has a duty of care to uphold. Perhaps, it’s my days of training in England that have instilled in me a sense of significance in my duty of care to the children, their families, and those who serve our children because we are impacting lives, ultimately.

Why do you think it’s important to celebrate International Women’s Day?

Because it gives a platform for women’s voices to be heard and their roles to be acknowledged. I feel also there are so many little eyes and hearts waiting to be inspired. On a serious note, though, it is equally important to honour the men who walk alongside women as equals.

What advice would you give to young women who are just entering the workforce?

Be fearlessly you. Stand for something that is you—not what others may want you to be. There isn’t one “type of woman”, so don’t conform yourself to some societally imposed mould. Although, of course, this is easier said than done, let go of the guilt of failing, get back up, and just try.