The mythology of motherhood in the workplace is that working mothers are distracted, less committed. That motherhood is where ambition goes to die. It’s an old argument and one that divides parents, networks and pits women with and without kids against each other.
But the myths are not true.
Regardless of how many role models exist of working mothers at the top—including one running for the White House—the stereotype exists. If you are a working mother, you are fighting these preconceptions. Writing in the Chicago Defender, Ashley Watkins says it is one predominant myth of many about women leaders and employees that persists without current evidence.
“Keep in mind that being a homemaker isn’t every woman’s dream situation. Women can and should have it all if they so choose. For years women have climbed the corporate ladder while maintaining healthy family structures,” Watkins writes. “It’s not easy but women are pretty awesome creatures and are unstoppable when their eyes are on the prize.”
Turning common notions of motherhood and career aversion around, while diminishing these women stereotypes, Lisa Barnwell writes in The Guardian, that new moms should not be feared as less than other workers, but rather, embraced as “ninjas.”
“But recently there has been a growing awareness that losing the talent you’ve cherry picked and nurtured is not a great way to manage, and not great for business. In my experience, most managers want to do the right thing and support new mothers but they’re so often paranoid about saying the wrong thing that they say nothing at all or completely put their foot in it. From boardroom meetings to overheard tube conversations, the assumption is that when a woman falls pregnant her career rise is over.”
Quoting a study that says companies with more women are more profitable, Barnwell, the founder of Bumps and the Boardroom, says working moms can multi-task, are strong and resilient and use their emotional intelligence to an advantage.
Linda McMahon apparently agrees. Writing in Huffington Post, she talks about serving as a role model for other women as well as for her own daughter, Stephanie.
“As the co-founder and former CEO of WWE and the founder and CEO of Women’s Leadership LIVE, I am often asked to speak on power, success and leadership. I believe leadership is about passing along what I have learned to help others find their own way forward.” McMahon writes.
“It is about empowering someone with the knowledge and confidence to pursue their own goals. It’s about nurturing an idea and creating a supportive environment in which that idea can bloom into reality. Leadership is about teaching others.”
McMahon adds that dissolving the women stereotypes and passing on the notion of women as both leaders and mothers is powerful. “Stephanie is now the Chief Brand Officer of WWE. My role as mother and mentor was not to mold her in my image, but to give her the clay she’d use to sculpt the life of her own dreams, which has included a strong work ethic, compassion for others, and confidence in her abilities. I know she is doing the same for her three daughters.”
Yes, women stereotypes can be overcome or even dismissed outright, but in a recent study reported in the U.K.-based Management Today, many more women than men reported dissatisfaction with their career paths, some of it based on family commitments.
“Despite the introduction of shared parental leave, the impact of having a family still disproportionately affects women. Of those women whose careers hadn’t progressed as hoped, 31 percent believed parenthood and family commitments had been a key cause, compared to just 8 percent of men. Given that not all the women surveyed will have been mothers, the problem is likely to be even worse,” according to Management Today.
“‘You need the right support network and the right frame of mind to make progress,’ said insurance (executive) Claire Simpson. ‘But it’s important that you do make it for all the people behind you: if you stay and work your backside off, you will get there.’”
Motherhood and leadership can coincide, but mentors, role models and assistance are needed. Click To TweetAccording to Women for Hire, Belinda Jones, owner of Elite Business Solutions, LLC, a home-based call center company, and Executive Director of the Customer Service Training Center, a Proprietary School in Southfield, Michigan has focused her company on helping launch careers, especially young women with children.
“I know what it’s like to struggle, to strive to give your kids a good life while trying to work and attend college, Jones told Women For Hire. “Through my company I have the opportunity to train people and help them hone their professional skills so they can land jobs in a tough market.”
Looking back for Women’s History Month, the idea of juggling motherhood and a career has been ongoing for decades. Brownie Wise came up with the idea of women selling Tupperware at house parties and she became the vice president of Tupperware Home Parties.
It is a business model used by Avon and more recently, skincare giant Rodan + Fields.
Writing in the Smithsonian for the National Museum of American History, the daughter of a Tupperware hostess recalls, “Tupperware . . . took those moms out of the kitchen where they were ‘supposed to be’ and let them enter the workforce, and let them have something outside the home.”
In her new book, “8 Steps To Being A Great Working Mom,” author Gretchen Gagel advises women to get over the guilt and to “give as much to yourself as you give to others.”
While this advice may be simplistic, after negotiating parental leave, childcare, scheduling and possible work travel, as well as shattering misconceptions and women stereotypes, perhaps it could be that easy.
From a recent post on Jobs & Hire, consider this advice: “Alanna Strohecker, an engineer and a Progressive Railroading ‘Rising Star’ with a four-year-old and one-year-old at home, said: ‘Parenting goals are easy: you want to raise well-adjusted individuals who can do well in the world. Career goals that don’t interfere with your parenting goals? That is tough. I have a panel of ‘important’ advisors who I turn to when trying to make a career decision. The sum of their trusted advice helps me decide if a particular career move is going to align with my parenting goals.’”
Women leaders speaking honestly about career paths before and after a possible break for raising a family is critical. Jennifer Gefsky, founder of Apres, a digital recruiting platform, writes in Huffington Post: “Honestly, I don’t regret quitting. Not for a second. It was good for me to be home with my kids when they were young.
Yet part of me will always wonder if I should have just hung on. It has taken some time, but I have come to terms with the fact that I paid a hefty price for leaving the workplace. I know my career is not over. And for the 3 million highly educated women in the U.S. looking to get back to work, it shouldn’t be over for them either.”