Mothers in the Workforce
I was recently asked to identify a role model in my career. I couldn’t answer that question. Although I have worked with many inspirational leaders, I have yet to work for a female executive with young children. As a married working mother, the role model I am searching for would be a female leader who has somehow figured out a way to have career and a family… if she even exists. I thought- if she’s out there, maybe she can share her secret sauce so I don’t have to freeze my eggs for my career and or have a career without raising a family.
“Women represent 50 percent of middle management and professional positions, but the percentages of women at the top of organizations represent not even a third of that number” (Susan Colantuono, 2014). Moreover fast-rising women in corporations do not typically have young children and are therefore not on the “mommy track.” When I went on maternity leave with my first-born, my job was nearly replaced. I called my boss five weeks postpartum with a return to work date and there was an awkward silence before he said, “we were in the process of transferring you to another location.” I will spare the details, but long story short — that didn’t happen. I returned to work 6 weeks postpartum (opted-out of the baby bonding time), stayed at that location and was promoted from that role shortly after.
I work for a Fortune 500 Company and I am the youngest with my title in the nation. I am also a married, working mother of two boys (both are still in diapers). Those whom I work with attempt to understand how I got here so fast and with such a young family.
I am what I am now, but that’s different from what I was before and what I will be in the future.
To understand who I am today it is important to note that: (1). I am a child of divorce, and (2). I was raised below poverty levels. Why is this important? In my adult life, my top priorities are: (1). Family, and (2). Success. Growing up I had an inferiority complex. I held a limiting belief that my family was living in poverty because we weren’t capable or smart enough to reach a higher level. Fortunately I reacted against this limiting belief by confirming that I am capable and that I will reach a higher level. I went on a mission to confirm my intelligence and capability. In my adulthood, I became fiercely competitive with everyone around me. Because of the powerful need to prove myself in the face of my old limiting belief, I absolutely must win.
I now have a growth mindset that rejects limitations. To get to where I am today, I had to elevate myself against social norms. Early in my career, many hiring managers rejected me for not fitting a mold. Northouse (1997) asserts that, “Great man theories were developed focused on identifying innate qualities and characteristics possessed by great social, political and military leaders.” As a young female leader who wanted to get married and start a family, I did not fit the mold. I would never be that tall, charismatic, loud-spoken man running a team. I’m 5’3”, I weigh 115 lbs. and I happen to have a soft voice. Great Man theories would say that I have no chance at leading a successful team.
Last year my team ranked #1 in the nation despite this Great Man Theory. This year we will do it again.
I share my story not to boast but to bring awareness to issues that women face in the workforce today. Even though discrimination against pregnant women in the workforce is illegal, the reality is that its historic residue supports that it exists today. But that does not mean we have to take the force transfers or “mommy-tracked” setbacks in our careers. We, working mothers, can have both but we have to be relentless with achieving our goals. It starts by sharing success stories and words of encouragement. Are there any others who can offer their stories and/or advice?
Colantuono, S. (Producer). (2014, September). The career advice you probably didn’t get [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.ted.com/talks/susan_colantuono_the_career_advice_you_probably_didn_t_get/transcript?language=en
Northouse, P. G. (2004). Leadership: Theory and practice. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.