What's Mom Got To Do With It? Daughters Explore The Legacy of Successful Women

Mothers play a large role in influencing the success of their daughters.

Mothers play a large role in influencing the success of their daughters.

Sure, many say that Mom knows best. Role models abound of strong mothers –and fathers— who nurture confident daughters who grow into successful women. But do these daughters create success for themselves regardless of maternal impact? As working mothers, how important is setting an example for the next generation of women leaders?

As working mothers, how important is setting an example for the next generation of women leaders?

Esther Wojcicki raised three over-achievers. “Susan Wojcicki is the CEO of Youtube (Google was invented in her garage,) Janet Wojcicki is a professor of pediatrics and epidemiology at University of California –San Francisco, and baby Anne grew up to become co-founder and CEO of genetics company 23andMe,” writes Charlotte Alter in Motto.

Their mother “had a theory that the most important years for learning and development were 0-5 (decades before developmental experts proved her right.)” Alter continues, “She had a theory that kids should learn to control their environment, not avoid it—which is why she taught her daughters to swim, read and count (she wanted them to swim so they could play near a pool without supervision, read so they could read street signs, and count so they could handle money.)”

Alter continues: “It was part of a larger philosophy of anti-perfectionism that has given her daughters confidence as they’ve excelled in male-dominated industries like science and tech. ‘They all try to do their best, but they forgive themselves,’ she says. ‘A perfectionist does not forgive themselves for doing something that isn’t perfect. And they do. They don’t hold themselves to blame.’”

A century earlier, two sisters won the first Pulitzer Prize in biography for a book they wrote about their mother, Julia Ward Howe, the creator of the “Battle Hymn of The Republic.”

“In 1917, while women were still waiting for the right to vote and the worlds of journalism and publishing were restricted mostly to men, a Pulitzer Prize jury awarded the first prize in biography to a pair of a sisters who wrote a sweeping account of their mother’s life,” writes Meg Heckman on the Pulitzer site.

Karen Caplan and her sister, Jackie, took over their mother, Frieda Caplan’s, specialty produce company, and now the third generation is involved

“Learning the business from the ground up, Karen has worked in just  every department at the company, from packing boxes to sales and marketing. In 1986, at age 30, Karen was promoted to President and CEO of the company. In 1990, Karen and her sister Jackie Caplan Wiggins, purchased the company from their mother. Karen’s vision and leadership propelled Frieda’s Inc. to the forefront of the produce industry as the nation’s leading marketer and distributor of specialty produce,” according to the site.

Television and entertainment media phenom Shonda Rhimes is the mother of three daughters, and she says she is working to be sure they are confident, which hopefully leads them to be successful women.

“They couldn’t be more different from one another, but they’re all stubborn — and I mean that in the best way,” the Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal creator, and executive producer of How to Get Away with Murder and The Catchtold Good Housekeeping of her girls.

“No one will ever take advantage of them,” she explains of Beckett, 2½, Emerson, 4½, and Harper, 14. “They will always go their own way because they have decided they’re going to.”

MJ Pedone, president and CEO of Indra Public Relations, is explicit about crediting her mother with her ambition and her success in what she tells Laura Dunn at Huffington Post:“I have so many distinct memories growing up with a mother who has a very strong personality and was a very bright business woman. She constantly instilled in my sister and I from a young age to never depend on anyone, but ourselves and to focus on our education and passion in order to be successful. She also assured us that we can do whatever we want in life if we put our mind to it. I truly have my mother to thank for instilling that positive reinforcement, which allows me to be a leader and mentor to others. She is the reason why I have always been my own boss and have the determination to be successful. ”

As Gloria Feldt, co-founder and president of Take The Lead and mother writes, ”I’m a practical activist. I want my work to have impact that is not just meaningful to me, but moves the dial toward my life’s purpose of equality and justice for all women: for you, and our daughters, and our granddaughters. That’s the legacy I want to leave, the passion that propels my work.”

Successful women who are mothers share a legacy of inspiration and leadership. Role models of successful daughters include Serena and Venus Williams; the Ephron sisters Delia, Nora, Hallie and Amy; plus many more. For millions of popular culture or fashion fans, there are now and forever the Kardashian/Jenner sisters. Joanna Sloane of PopSugar recently posted this video of the many ways working moms set up their daughters for success.

Successful women who are mothers share a legacy of inspiration and leadership.

Yes, mothers influence the confidence levels of daughters, but of course, fathers do as well.

“As society’s ideas about gender roles evolve,” writes Jackie Bischof in Quartz, ‘fathers seem to be having considerably more impact on their daughters than ever before’ with regard to their careers, writes Linda Nielsen, a professor of psychology at Wake Forest University and the author of two books on father-daughter relationships. Nielsen cites research suggesting daughters’ academic and career achievements were closely related to the quality of their childhood relationships with their fathers.”

Bischof continues, “One basic but important start is to display egalitarian behaviors at home. Parents who share household duties like cooking and doing laundry demonstrate to their children that roles don’t have to be determined by gender, and research has shownthis equal division of labor can have a direct impact on girls’ ambitions. In the study  involving interviews with more than 300 children in Canada, researchers found that in households where the mother and father shared duties, girls tended to have bigger career aspirations than in homes where moms did more of the work.”

And for both mothers and fathers, there are examples from across the globe that encouraging daughters to play competitive sports can produce successful women leaders in business and beyond.

Christine Lagarde, managing director of the International Monetary Fund was a member of France’s national synchronized swimming team. Annette Verschuren, former Home Depot CEO, founder of NRStor and one of Canada’s most powerful businesswomen, played high school basketball. Meg Whitman, president and CEO at Hewlett-Packard, played squash and lacrosse at Princeton. Ellen Kullman, former chair and CEO of DuPont, played college basketball at Tufts University. PepsiCo’s Indra Nooyi played college cricket in India,” writes Eleanor Beaton in Huffington Post.

“Research conducted in 2014 by Ernst & Young and the sports network ESPNW showed a clear correlation between a woman’s background in sport and her career potential,” Beaton writes. “Just three per cent of the global senior women executives surveyed who occupied c-suite jobs had not played competitive sports.”

She continues, “The ability to network with men is critical for women leaders. A background in sports not only equips women with “street cred,” but it also gives them a common language with male executives — many of whom, unsurprisingly, also have a passion for, and background in sport. The bottom line: if you want to equip your daughter for a successful, confident and happy career and life, bypass the mall and get thee to a field or court as quickly as possible.”

Whether parents enroll their daughters in sports, lead by example or pass on the necessity for successful women to stand in their power as leaders, each generation produces a new roster of daughters who are working toward a future of gender parity.

Wendy Lund, CEO of GCI Health, and the mother of a daughter and son, writes in Working Mother: ”My daughter’s strength and intelligence makes me confident in a future where women will be as successful as they want to be. Until that day, I will continue to look for opportunities to empower women and encourage my friends and colleagues to do the same.”

About the Author

Michele Weldon is editorial director of Take The Lead, an award-winning author, journalist, emerita faculty in journalism at Northwestern University and a senior leader with The OpEd Project. @micheleweldon www.micheleweldon.com