Cover FedEx President, Asia Pacific, Middle East, and Africa (AMEA), in her Hong Kong office (Photo courtesy of Kawal Preet)

A 25-year veteran of FedEx, Kawal Preet is paying it forward by building a more inclusive workplace. She shares how she got this far and how she makes it work as a single mom

Kawal Preet was working in FedEx ground operations in Singapore when she faced a defining moment: an offer to become the managing director of planning and engineering in Hong Kong. As a single mom with a son who was then three, she thought long and hard before accepting.

Sixteen years later, Preet can look back with confidence that she made the right move—and appreciation for the support she received from colleagues and her mother remotely.

“Moving was a challenge; navigating how to excel at both the new role and raising my young son was another one,” says Preet, now FedEx President, Asia Pacific, Middle East, and Africa (AMEA). “During that time, I made small adjustments every day and really took it as a personal growth opportunity.”

That kind of growth mindset has stayed with Preet, and she encourages it in her own teams. She describes wanting to build a culture that is inclusive and enables every member to thrive. “Just like how I was nurtured and mentored, I catch up with my teams to listen to their views and make sure they feel heard and supported,” she says.

Women still face hurdles in traditionally male-dominated industries like delivery and logistics services—and particularly in the AMEA region, the most diverse region in the FedEx network and where attitudes towards gender equality vary greatly.

Preet sees dismantling those hurdles as part of her job description. She conducted an internal gender audit to identify the areas that need addressing and created a forum called the Real Talk Series for executives to receive coaching on how to approach uncomfortable conversations.

“One thing I’m particularly proud of last year was signing the CEO statement of support on behalf of the FedEx AMEA team for the United Nation Women’s Empowerment Principles (UNWEPs) – Equality Means Business,” adds Preet. “The commitment we promised under UNWEP will help to push us further on the path of advancing gender equality and empower women in the workplace.”

In her own words below, Preet shares more about her motivations, routines, and why she dislikes the language of work-life balance for our How I Work It series.  

BEGINNING THE DAY WITH GRATITUDE

I find if I start the morning right, the rest of the day flows much more easily. I do have a ritual of practising gratitude first thing in the morning as it helps me to start off the day with a positive mindset. This really helps me to tackle any challenges with a fresh perspective. I also catch up on the world news over a cup of fresh coffee and plan out what my day is going to look like.

See also: How to Make Gratitude a Habit for You and Your Kids

TAKING A BIRD’S-EYE VIEW OF MY SCHEDULE

Like many working moms—especially single moms—I’m a serial planner. There are only so many hours in a day, and I’ve got to balance the personal and the professional aspects of my life. I like to have a bird’s-eye view of things on my plate and prioritise them based on importance. To help with this I don’t use anything more sophisticated than the apps on my iPhone and iPad. Prioritisation is critical so that I don’t miss any important family matters while being productive at work at the same time.

See also: How I Work It: A Green Developer and Single Parent on Organising Her Work Life 

SUPPORTING MY TEAMS TO BE THEIR AUTHENTIC SELVES

I am a people-person and thrive on the energy from my teams. I enjoy meeting with team members in person when Covid-19 allows, but I still enjoy connecting with my teams virtually: helping them overcome hurdles and grow; empowering them to do what they need to; and then seeing them in action.

I always want to help people around me to be the best possible versions of themselves. My goal is to ensure everyone feels like they belong and can bring their authentic selves to do their best work.

See also: How I Work It: The Longchamp GM Who Founded an NGO Promoting Emotional Inclusion at Work

DAILY CALLS WITH MY SON

My personal rewards each day reflect the twin aspects of my professional career and my life being a mom. As my family members live in different parts of the world, I do my best to stay in touch regularly, especially with my parents and my son through FaceTime. My son Harshul is at university in the US, and I speak to him every day. Listening to him about his day is an incredibly rewarding thing in my life.

On special occasions like birthdays, we go to the temple to pray for my family and the people I cherish.

MAKING THE EFFORT TO WIND DOWN

In my role, I have to work across time zones, which requires evening calls, so finding time to wind down often takes intentional effort. I like listening to music and podcasts and squeezing in time for a 30-minute brisk walk helps me take my mind off things. My other favourite activity is yoga, which really helps me relax both mind and body.

See also: 5 Top Science-Backed Benefits of Doing Yoga

 

MY PHILOSOPHIES ON LIVING AND LEARNING

Mahatma Gandhi once said: “Live as if you were to die tomorrow; learn as if you were to live forever.” I find this is still so relevant. It’s absolutely essential to have a growth mindset. Obstacles and adversity are opportunities to help you grow and learn new skills. Stepping out of your comfort zone is also important, especially for us women who sometimes tend to put limits on ourselves. I strive to never set boundaries for myself and always seek new opportunities in my work and life.

I’m also a believer in the pillars of Sikhism: Naam Japo, Kirat Karo, and Wand Chhako, which for me translate into practicing gratitude, remembrance of grace and blessings of the Almighty, and living honestly and giving back to the community.

See also: How to Support the Charities Helping Hong Kong’s Most Vulnerable During the Pandemic

WHY I AVOID USING ‘WORK-LIFE BALANCE’

I prefer not to use the language of work-life balance as it makes you feel you are constantly trying to juggle or something has to give in order to achieve balance. I believe we all make conscious choices in life and work every day. Sometimes you have to make trade-offs and say no to things.

I am also acutely aware of when I need to take a break to recharge my energy levels so that, as I like to say, “my mood elevator is on the right floor,” which ideally is to stay grateful and curious. I am also OK with less than perfect, which is the kind of pressure some of us tend to put on ourselves, sometimes unnecessarily. I know that over the long run I will always try to do better.

The only way to solve the struggles between work and family demands is not to treat it as a tug-of-war. I make conscious choices every day to do well on both fronts. I listen to my body and mind. When I feel something is out of sync, I need to pause and recognise what it is, and then find ways to solve it. That way nothing gets lost.

See also: “How Can I Help My Family If I Myself Am Drowning?” 4 Career-driven Mothers Speak Out

A Few of Kawal Preet’s Favourite Things

1. Super Soul Sunday podcast by Oprah Winfrey. Who doesn’t love Oprah? For me this podcast is about inner peace. Every episode gives me something to reflect on, be it about kindness or happiness or relationships. It’s my go-to on my evening walks.

2. The Hello Monday podcast by Jessi Hempel deals with workplace and leadership topics; CEOs and authors share their real-life lessons and experiences.

3. Multipliers by Liz Wiseman explores an interesting concept of a leader as a multiplier and how a leader can bring out the full genius in their team.

4. My Life in Full is the autobiography of Indra Nooyi and how she became the most successful female CEO in corporate America.

5. The book Think Again by Adam Grant is all about having an open mind and thinking like scientists, being humble and staying curious.

6. I love Brené Brown, and her book Daring Greatly is about having the courage to be vulnerable; it’s a real gem that I keep going back to every now and then.

READ MORE:

How I Work It: The Charity CEO Who Helps Kids While Raising 6 Of Her Own

Upfront With Microsoft's Cally Chan On Becoming A Female Leader In Tech

How I Work It: The Tech CEO and Mother of Two Who Is in the Business of Parenting


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