EVEN as recently as a decade ago, it was probably of note when a woman nailed a top corporate leadership position in Singapore.

Fast-forward to now, and it is less of a novelty that the managing director of McDonald's Singapore and the director of global business services at Procter & Gamble (P&G) Asia are women.

McDonald's Ms Randy Lai and P&G's Ms Lee Mui Ling are testament to how far the corporate world has come in recognising the value of women in the workplace - both of them told The Straits Times that they did not face any discrimination as they climbed the ranks in their respective companies.

But that is not to say they did not face challenges along the way, especially that of balancing a career and a family.

In fact, 38-year-old Ms Lai says she is in the midst of overcoming one of the biggest challenges of her career right now: since being posted to Singapore to oversee McDonald's operations here, she has had to live apart from her husband and 12-year-old daughter, who are still based in Hong Kong.

'This has been a challenge both for my personal and business life,' she said.

'I have to balance my own work-life harmony. I stay very open with my family and keep them informed of what I'm doing in Singapore so that we can remain close even though I'm by myself in a new market.'

As for 44-year-old Ms Lee, her biggest challenge came about 20 years ago, when she was planning to conceive.

'I discovered that I had a condition which needed to be treated - endometriosis - and I was really worried about how my employers would take it, because I was new to the company and undergoing the surgery would take me away from work for four to six weeks,' she recalled.

Endometriosis is a condition affecting the uterus, which can lead to infertility.

However, she soon found out that she need not have worried, as her bosses 'bent over backwards' to ensure that her responsibilities would be covered by her colleagues while she was recuperating.

Even when she suffered a relapse after giving birth, her bosses did not raise any complaints or count it against her when assessing her performance.

Such experiences have inevitably influenced the management styles of these two women.

Noted Ms Lai: 'I have more empathy. I know how hard it is to strike a balance between work and personal life, so I think I'm more understanding towards my own female employees.'

She is also introducing a 'Bring Your Kids To Work Day' - on June 15 - when all the female employees at McDonald's office in Singapore can bring their children to work so that their kids can learn what Mummy does when she is away from home, while livening up the office atmosphere.

P&G's Ms Lee, meanwhile, has been behind several changes at her firm to help employees cope with work and family at the same time.

Ms Lee started off at P&G as a marketing executive and in the 24 years since, she has completed stints at its human resource and IT departments as well.

As a HR manager, she helped to introduce more flexible working hours. For example, P&G staff - both male and female - can choose to take on a reduced work schedule, say by working four days a week instead of five, and receive a proportionally lower pay in return.

And while she was working in the IT unit, she was part of the team that studied and recommended ways to help staff work from home. Today, P&G meets some of the expenses of employees incurred in working from home.

Thanks to such policies, P&G employee Teneal Clayton is able to work four days a week, two of those from home.

'I can still contribute to my job and still be able to make it my for kids' field trips,' said the mother of three, who is diversity and inclusion leader at P&G Asia.

'Far from lowering productivity, studies have shown that employees who enjoy flexible work hours are happy employees. And happy employees are productive employees. They also stay on at the company and so staff retention is much higher,' she noted.