Ask entrepreneurs about their business and they will refer to their company as their “baby.” Why? Because they are emotionally invested in it; they care about it, they are passionate about it, and want it to grow up and be successful. The ties between an owner and a company can be similar to parenthood. While many of our mothers and grandmothers were primarily caretakers, more women today are at the helm of companies or even launching their own business. Whether or not we have a lot of professional experience in our past, motherhood prepares women for being great business leaders.
I often get asked – “How do you juggle it all?” How can you train for a marathon, run a business and get your kids to school on time, put food on the dinner table (albeit healthy food!) and still manage to find time for some afternoon yoga? The short answer is that I follow two important rules: 1) I try to get 7-8 hours of sleep per night and 2) I make several lists and prioritize tasks. While others marvel at the talent of accomplishing a lot, I have several friends and peers that in their own way also seem to “juggle it all,” and most of them are mothers. Mothers have a special bond and understanding in that we are capable of squeezing in a workout, feeding a family, preparing lunches for kids, finding missing shin guards, taking a business call and getting kids off to school all before 8am. This is “a normal” for us. It’s these same characteristics that also help us be great businesswomen. Below are a few lessons that motherhood has taught me (and many women), which we apply to our role as business leaders on a daily basis:
In raising children, we deal with disagreements and discipline everyday. We break-up fights, we teach our kids to respect, love and hug and tell them that they are the only brothers (or sisters) that they will ever have in their lives. So do this as a team. Find strengths amongst the corporate team, have everyone focus on what they do best and encourage teamwork as much as possible.
Our children teach us patience. From waiting out the 9 months of pregnancy to taking the extra minutes to wait for your 4-year old to tie his shoe (because that’s what’s important), it’s the same lesson of patience we follow for when it comes to training and teaching new team members. Can we do it better? Likely yes, but if you let others practice and continue to teach them, they soon will be almost as good as you (and might even teach you a thing or to) at their new task. I think of sports and skiing, slowly following my son down the mountain on his second day out and then one year later, he’s beginning to call me a “slow poke.” Before I know it, he’ll be flying by be on the mogul runs. In business, I have team members that can run social media circles around me and/or organize spreadsheets more effectively because of the initial building blocks I established for them.
Face to Face Interaction:
My husband once had a disagreement with a business associate and the business associate ignored him, wouldn’t take his calls and would even go out of his way to ignore him. Our 7 year old said to my husband, “Why aren’t you friends with him anymore?” My husband replied, “Well, because he doesn’t like papa anymore.” My son said, “Well, that’s kind of sad. Why don’t you go over to his house and ask him if he wants to be your friend again?” My son didn’t ask my husband to text message John, rather he asked him to go to his house and meet him in person. Face to face conversations is what young kids know before they are exposed to too much technology. At the end of the day, the best relationships and the best conversations happen “live,” face to face, eye to eye. Relationships are very important. Invest time into people and getting to know them. Don’t make it all about you. Relationships are the most important and part of success and happiness and good business. A disagreement is not resolved over email, rather, in person or via phone if geography is a challenge.
As mothers, we try to listen as much as we can. I constantly take privileges away from my kids for “not listening” and we routinely hear teachers talk about “being good listeners.” When we listen, we can better understand what team members need. And don’t just “hear,” but truly listen, and have conversations that incorporate everyone’s work ideas.
When there is something to be built, a Lego castle, a puzzle or even a meal where we need to follow cookbook instructions, we simplify. I’ve learned to apply this to business challenges. Take the large challenge and break it up into simple steps. For example, when faced with task for creating an overarching marketing plan, you can start with questions such as, “Who is our audience and Who do we need to get product in front of?” Or, “What problem does product or service solve?” When dealing with our kids, we automatically simplify when it comes to following instructions – there is almost always a “Step 1.”
Everything is a negotiation. If you eat your peas, you get a cookie. “So how many peas do I need to eat to get two cookies?” Or if you behave really well at Sunday church, you’ll get donuts afterwards. Compromise and negotiation is just as common and important in business. Ultimately, both parties should feel satisfied with the final terms.
From managing personalities to managing projects, being a parent prepares you well to be flexible and ready for whatever life and business throws at you. As mothers, we know how to multi-task but and be efficient but at the end of day, it’s about combining several of the characteristic above to empower our kids and business colleagues to be the best they can be and setting the ego aside. Mothers and good leaders tend to give more than receive. They empower their children and their team members to grow, be it at the boardroom or in the playroom.
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.