There’s a big shift that happens when you finally pony up the courage to leave your comfortable, full-time, often lucrative position in the pursuit of following your gut and your dreams. Creating your own company is one of the largest (and most impactful) leaps of faith you’ll ever take in your life, and stepping off that ledge into the vast unknown probably shook your spirit. But when you look back on those pivotal first days of creating your business plan, finding your first set of investors and buying that dot com, you likely have stars in your eyes, thinking of how much you’ve loved your company since the get-go.
To both your friends and your employees (and maybe your board), you lovingly refer to your business as your ‘baby’ - and that’s probably because it feels how you’d imagine being a parent feels. Even in the darkest hours (and with the late night phone calls and the carpal tunnel), you would do most anything to make your company successful. Why? It’s a calling and an innate passion inside of you. And nope, we’re not just talking in idioms here - it’s actually scientifically backed.
According to a recent study conducted at Aalto University in Finland, researchers discovered that entrepreneurs love their companies just like parents love their children. Published in the March 2017 edition of The Journal of Human Brain Mapping, scientists studied MRIs to compare the brain as it responds to seeing images of companies, versus children. (Though they tested men and fathers in this particular study, we’re sure the same is true for women - and if we had to guess, women might even love harder.)
While looking at sweet shots of their babes and then ones of their company, researchers were able to conclude that both entrepreneurial love and parental love impact the same region of the brain. This section is associated with high emotional processing and consideration, skills you'd need to have both to raise a business and to nurture a child.
Erin Motz, the co-founder of the yoga and lifestyle brand, Bad Yogi, relates, saying, “I don’t have children yet but I always swear by the fact that I do love my business like a child. It doesn’t matter what it does to me; it can make me lose sleep, wake up early, stay up late, eat too little because it makes me busy or eat too much because it makes me stressed. I don’t care if it throws up all over me, there’s nothing else I’d rather spend my time with.”
Erin Motz, Bad Yogi. Photo: Erin Motz
An interesting takeaway is just how much being motivated and inspired by love can put up blinders for you. When you’re engaging the part of your brain that encourages unconditional love, you also suppress the other area of your cognition that is critical and negative. In other words? You always think highly of your children… and ahem, that your business is the best. Even if, sometimes, that’s not always the most accurate portrayal of either.
As Melissa Fensterstock, founder of Aromaflage says, “As an entrepreneur, you must be aware that your creation may have faults and may need to pivot. Sometimes it takes an outsider with a fresh perspective to bring clarity to an emotionally charged situation."
Melissa Fensterstock. Photo: HBS
"While entrepreneurs must be optimistic almost to a fault," Fensterstock continues, "they must also take care to evaluate risk and execute decisions with a clear and unbiased mind.”
A tall order for both an entrepreneur and a parent. If you find yourself faced with tough choices, try to get an outsider's perspective - one who isn’t cradling your precious one day-in and day-out. Since you carefully took care of your baby when it was a heavily diapered and unpredictable newborn, having someone else to weigh in can offer the objective reality check you need. Remember to keep in mind that those maternal skills are still beneficial and well, part of the job description of the CEO.
“To say that I'm maternal and protective about Feastive would be an understatement. I don't actually have a baby so I can't really compare it to the real thing, but startups are all nurtured from an idea – the ‘embryo’ if you will – into an infancy that is both perilous and highly rewarding. Every day brings something new to the table, and there's a never-ending sense of worry paired with discovery that I imagine is just like having an actual child,” says Debbie Soo, founder of Feastive.com.
New parents re-entering the workforce are often juggling the tangible realities of daycare logistics, sleep deprivation, and a cascade of overwhelming work. No matter how parents build their family, they often struggle with the guilt of being split between home and work and not feeling exceptionally successful in either place.
Women building their families often face a set of challenges different from men. Those who have had children biologically may be navigating the world of pumping at work. Others might feel pulled in multiple directions when bringing a child into their home after adoption. Some women are trying to learn how to care for a newborn for the first time. New parents need all the help they can get with their transition.
Women returning to work after kids sometimes have to address comments such as:
"I didn't think you'd come back."
"You must feel so guilty."
"You missed a lot while you were out."
To counteract this difficult situation, women are finding mentors and making targeting connections. Parent mentors can help new moms address integrating their new life realities with work, finding resources within the organization and local community, and create connections with peers.
There's also an important role for parent mentors to play in discussing career trajectory. Traditionally, men who have families see more promotions compared to women with children. Knowing that having kids may represent a career setback for women, they may work with their mentors to create an action plan to "back on track" or to get recognized for their contributions as quickly as possible after returning to work.
Previously, in a bid to accommodate mothers transitioning back to work, corporate managers would make a show at lessoning the workload for newly returned mothers. This approach actually did more harm than good, as the mother's skills and ambitions were marginalized by these alleged "family friendly" policies, ultimately defining her for the workplace as a mother, rather than a person focused on career.
Today, this is changing. Some larger organizations, such as JP Morgan Chase, have structured mentorship programs that specifically target these issues and provide mentors for new parents. These programs match new parents navigating a transition back to work with volunteer mentors who are interested in helping and sponsoring moms. Mentors in the programs do not need to be moms, or even parents, themselves, but are passionate about making sure the opportunities are available.
It's just one other valuable way corporations are evolving when it comes to building quality relationships with their employees – and successfully retaining them, empowering women who face their own set of special barriers to career growth and leadership success.
Mentoring will always be a two way street. In ideal situations, both parties will benefit from the relationship. It's no different when women mentor working mothers getting back on track on the job. But there a few factors to consider when embracing this new form of mentorship
How to be a good Momtor?
Listen: For those mentoring a new parent, one of the best strategies to take is active listening. Be present and aware while the mentee shares their thoughts, repeat back what you hear in your own words, and acknowledge emotions. The returning mother is facing a range of emotions and potentially complicated situations, and the last thing she wants to hear is advice about how she should be feeling about the transition. Instead, be a sounding board for her feelings and issues with returning to work. Validate her concerns and provide a space where she can express herself without fear of retribution or bull-pen politics. This will allow the mentee a safe space to sort through her feelings and focus on her real challenges as a mother returning to work.
Share: Assure the mentee that they aren't alone, that other parents just like them are navigating the transition back to work. Provide a list of ways you've coped with the transition yourself, as well as your best parenting tips. Don't be afraid to discuss mothering skills as well as career skills. Work on creative solutions to the particular issues your mentee is facing in striking her new work/life balance.
Update Work Goals: A career-minded woman often faces a new reality once a new child enters the picture. Previous career goals may appear out of reach now that she has family responsibilities at home. Each mentee is affected by this differently, but good momtors help parents update her work goals and strategies for realizing them, explaining, where applicable, where the company is in a position to help them with their dreams either through continuing education support or specific training initiatives.
Being a role model for a working mother provides a support system, at work, that they can rely on just like the one they rely on at home with family and friends. Knowing they have someone in the office, who has knowledge about both being a mom and a career woman, will go a long way towards helping them make the transition successfully themselves.