When Jill Koziol was expecting her first child, she didn't see motherhood depicted in a modern, authentic, and inspiring way—and so she decided to rebrand what it means to be "Motherly."
Before having children I had an illustrious career in consulting advising senior government officials and impacting strategy as the highest level. I was confident in who I was and the value I brought to my profession. When I met someone new they always asked what I did as my career and I was proud to share my work. But, that all changed when I became a mother. While I continued to work, I found that the world no longer saw me as an accomplished professional—before anything I was a mom. Now I was asked what my husband did as his profession, not me.
I felt lost, like I was missing a core piece of my identity and had been put in a box that just didn't fit. Why was it that society saw the characteristics of motherhood as nurturing, loving, and caring, without acknowledging that women who are mothers can also be ambitious, driven, and confident? These attributes appeared to be viewed as contradictory but that didn't align with my truth.
It took randomly crossing paths with another mom, Liz Tenety, through the Stanford Graduate School of Business community. Liz and I got to know one another as working mothers but even then our lives didn't intersect much. We were just too busy raising our young children and putting our husbands through business school to get to know each other that well.
Incidentally, Liz and I had lived parallel lives for nearly a decade—though we had never met. We both attended Georgetown (Liz as an undergrad, me for grad school), worked in DC (me in strategy management consulting for defense and intelligence agencies, Liz in journalism at the Washington Post), and both married Naval Academy graduates—and lived as Navy wives while our spouses deployed abroad.
It wasn't until 2015 after Liz attended a mother's symposium on finding your authentic self that our worlds truly connected. On a cold NYC day in March Liz called me to chat about some ideas she had for a business to address the fact that motherhood was consistently portrayed in an outdated manner in media. She was not looking for a co-founder on that call but what she said resonated deeply with me as both a millennial mom and a woman—and a partnership was born.
The more we talked the more Liz and I realized that the issue wasn't simply a media issue, but a systemic issue that cut across content, community, and commerce. We also quickly recognized that this white space existed not just for us—but for our entire generation.
Research shows that millennial women are the first generation where women are more educated than men. They are also the first digitally-native generation to become parents. This generation of hopeful, accomplished, and discerning women was arriving to motherhood wanting to embrace this most incredible transformation of their lives—but found themselves disappointed with the outdated offerings from media outlets and consumer products.
That's where Motherly came in.
From across the country, with Liz in California and me in NYC, we launched Motherly's "alpha" within six weeks of our first conversation and spent the next six months leveraging a design-thinking, user-driven approach, gathering data from thousands of women to understand what their pain points were in the micro-moments of motherhood. Through those interviews, we realized that creating a community around woman-centered, expert-driven, non–judgmental content was a way to connect with and inspire women.
Today, nearly four years since that first conversation, Motherly has emerged as the voice of the millennial mom and is a lifestyle parenting brand redefining motherhood on behalf of a new generation of mothers. We provide our 30M+ community of mamas with the encouragement, support, and inspiration to meet her real life, real mama needs reminding her that motherhood is an opportunity to nurture—not lose—her true sense of self.
We are proud to be two female founders building a business for women, by women and creating a next-generation employer where parents can thrive. But all of this success hasn't been without its challenges. Our growth has been organic simply because we weren't able to raise the capital needed to fund marketing campaigns. Looking back, all of those "no's" from venture capitalists the first three years were a blessing. We were forced to be scrappy and it taught us grit and resilience. And our team owns our success in a profound way—we've earned our audience's loyalty, mama by mama. In business, money can hide a lot of problems and in its absence one must address each problem head on. We did all the hard things, which in the end were the right things.
In addition to the stereotypical challenges we faced from investors as female founders who also happen to be mothers, we both faced deeply personal struggles in Motherly's first years. Liz, now pregnant with her fourth child, has endured hyperemesis gravidarum, a pregnancy complication that is characterized by severe nausea, through two pregnancies. And three short months after our formal launch in December 2015, I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS), an incurable neurological disease. Thanks to amazing doctors and cutting edge medical treatments, I'm blessed in that it's unlikely I will ever fully develop MS. And, as everyone at TeamMotherly can attest, my disease hasn't slowed me down at all.
Though it all we've had each other's backs and we've had an amazing village in our staff, TeamMotherly. We've also had a deep passion and conviction driving our every decision that women and mothers deserve better—we exist to change the world on her behalf. And, we've got this, together.
Portions of the article are excerpts from the intro of This is Motherhood: A Motherly Collection of Reflections + Practices.
Women have come a long way in redefining beauty to be more inclusive of different body types, skin colors and hair styles, but society's beauty standards still remain as high as we have always known them to be. In the workplace, professionalism is directly linked to the appearance of both men and women, but for women, the expectations and requirements needed to fit the part are far stricter. Unlike men, there exists a direct correlation between beauty and respect that women are forced to acknowledge, and in turn comply with, in order to succeed.
Before stepping foot into the workforce, women who choose to opt out of conventional beauty and grooming regiments are immediately at a disadvantage. A recent Forbes article analyzing the attractiveness bias at work cited a comprehensive academic review for its study on the benefits attractive adults receive in the labor market. A summary of the review stated, "'Physically attractive individuals are more likely to be interviewed for jobs and hired, they are more likely to advance rapidly in their careers through frequent promotions, and they earn higher wages than unattractive individuals.'" With attractiveness and success so tightly woven together, women often find themselves adhering to beauty standards they don't agree with in order to secure their careers.
Complying with modern beauty standards may be what gets your foot in the door in the corporate world, but once you're in, you are expected to maintain your appearance or risk being perceived as unprofessional. While it may not seem like a big deal, this double standard has become a hurdle for businesswomen who are forced to fit this mold in order to earn respect that men receive regardless of their grooming habits. Liz Elting, Founder and CEO of the Elizabeth Elting Foundation, is all too familiar with conforming to the beauty culture in order to command respect, and has fought throughout the course of her entrepreneurial journey to override this gender bias.
As an internationally-recognized women's advocate, Elting has made it her mission to help women succeed on their own, but she admits that little progress can be made until women reclaim their power and change the narrative surrounding beauty and success. In 2016, sociologists Jaclyn Wong and Andrew Penner conducted a study on the positive association between physical attractiveness and income. Their results concluded that "attractive individuals earn roughly 20 percent more than people of average attractiveness," not including controlling for grooming. The data also proves that grooming accounts entirely for the attractiveness premium for women as opposed to only half for men. With empirical proof that financial success in directly linked to women's' appearance, Elting's desire to have women regain control and put an end to beauty standards in the workplace is necessary now more than ever.
Although the concepts of beauty and attractiveness are subjective, the consensus as to what is deemed beautiful, for women, is heavily dependent upon how much effort she makes towards looking her best. According to Elting, men do not need to strive to maintain their appearance in order to earn respect like women do, because while we appreciate a sharp-dressed man in an Armani suit who exudes power and influence, that same man can show up to at a casual office in a t-shirt and jeans and still be perceived in the same light, whereas women will not. "Men don't have to demonstrate that they're allowed to be in public the way women do. It's a running joke; show up to work without makeup, and everyone asks if you're sick or have insomnia," says Elting. The pressure to look our best in order to be treated better has also seeped into other areas of women's lives in which we sometimes feel pressured to make ourselves up in situations where it isn't required such as running out to the supermarket.
So, how do women begin the process of overriding this bias? Based on personal experience, Elting believes that women must step up and be forceful. With sexism so rampant in workplace, respect for women is sometimes hard to come across and even harder to earn. "I was frequently assumed to be my co-founder's secretary or assistant instead of the person who owned the other half of the company. And even in business meetings where everyone knew that, I would still be asked to be the one to take notes or get coffee," she recalls. In effort to change this dynamic, Elting was left to claim her authority through self-assertion and powering over her peers when her contributions were being ignored. What she was then faced with was the alternate stereotype of the bitchy executive. She admits that teetering between the caregiver role or the bitch boss on a power trip is frustrating and offensive that these are the two options businesswomen are left with.
Despite the challenges that come with standing your ground, women need to reclaim their power for themselves and each other. "I decided early on that I wanted to focus on being respected rather than being liked. As a boss, as a CEO, and in my personal life, I stuck my feet in the ground, said what I wanted to say, and demanded what I needed – to hell with what people think," said Elting. In order for women to opt out of ridiculous beauty standards, we have to own all the negative responses that come with it and let it make us stronger– and we don't have to do it alone. For men who support our fight, much can be achieved by pushing back and policing themselves and each other when women are being disrespected. It isn't about chivalry, but respecting women's right to advocate for ourselves and take up space.
For Elting, her hope is to see makeup and grooming standards become an optional choice each individual makes rather than a rule imposed on us as a form of control. While she states she would never tell anyone to stop wearing makeup or dressing in a way that makes them feel confident, the slumping shoulders of a woman resigned to being belittled looks far worse than going without under-eye concealer. Her advice to women is, "If you want to navigate beauty culture as an entrepreneur, the best thing you can be is strong in the face of it. It's exactly the thing they don't want you to do. That means not being afraid to be a bossy, bitchy, abrasive, difficult woman – because that's what a leader is."