Ambition and Motherhood … One Couple’s Successful Partnership



This article was originally posted on LinkedIn and can be read here.

In honor of Mother’s Day, I thought I’d tackle a sensitive subject … ambitious women — not only through my eyes, but also through my husband’s. I’m grateful and proud that he was game to go public with our private triumphs and challenges as a dual-career family. You’ll be hearing from us both in this post.

First, my view…

The seeds of my ambition were first sown by my dad. He was my first cheerleader and coach — always encouraging me and my two sisters to dream big and instilling confidence that we can achieve whatever we set our minds to. He also constantly reset the bar, which drove me to become more and more ambitious to simply meet his rising expectations. I’ll never forget when I got promoted to partner. Already looking to the next milestone, my dad’s first question to me was, “So how many boxes are you away from the CEO now?”

Let’s be honest. The term “ambitious woman” can conjure up all sorts of emotions — from being revered to reviled. I really respect the mission of the Tory Burch Foundation to remove the stigma and celebrate women’s ambition with her #EmbraceAmbition campaign. I must admit that I was guilty of shying away from the word “ambition,” using “bold” or “courageous” to describe myself instead.

When you introduce motherhood into the mix, it’s even more of a challenge for ambitious working women. The social norms of motherhood, fatherhood and career women and men are deeply rooted and difficult to overcome.

Accenture recently published research that takes a closer look at the relationship between ambition and motherhood — and there is reason to be optimistic. While there is no doubt that working mothers face tradeoffs during their careers — like sleep and “me time” — ambition isn’t one of them. Our study shows that working mothers in the U.S. have the same level of ambition as women without children. They are just as likely to aspire to be in a senior leadership position and they are more likely than women without children to change jobs for a promotion or for higher pay. Being an ambitious, working mom can co-exist in the same sentence, but there are obstacles.

For example, when mothers return to the U.S. workforce, fifty-six percent come back to the same or a similar job with the same demands and time commitments as before their child was born — even though ninety-two percent say they are the primary child caregiver in their family.

My personal experience is a bit different because my husband, Pat, takes significant responsibility for our home and family, while pursuing his career in sales at Marriott. I’m going to turn the pen over to him to share his perspective on having an ambitious wife and how we partner.

Pat’s perspective…

Ellyn and I both grew up in very traditional families with traditional roles. We had to set those stereotypes aside and view ourselves as partners — focusing on what needs to be done in the best interests of our family, while investing in two interesting careers. As a result, I do assume more responsibility for running our home and raising our daughter.

Would I change anything? No. I am incredibly proud of my wife’s accomplishments. Her hard work and ambition impact so many people in a positive way. She’s making a difference in the world and finds her career incredibly fulfilling. As her husband, I am passionate about helping her do something she loves. Overall, our entire family has benefited tremendously from Ellyn’s ambition and fast-track career. It has opened up new experiences and opportunities for our family — like our move to Paris and move to Minneapolis. Moving to Minneapolis helped my career as I was able to blaze a trail for virtual work at Marriott. I was the first remote sales person and now there are thousands.

Has it been easy? Not always. When we moved to Paris I was planning to work, however, due to issues with my work visa, I couldn’t. That was a difficult time — I hit a wall and needed to reconcile my role in the family, and Ellyn and I needed to redefine what successful partnering looked like. It’s also made me step outside my comfort zone and pick up things that Ellyn would normally do. Our daughter, Jessie, loves to tell the story where I stepped in for her mom as Girl Scout leader at a meeting when they made yarn dolls. Not exactly my strong suit. The varsity lacrosse coach in me took over to get those yarn dolls completed in record time. It’s moments like this, though, and having a steady, at-home routine with our daughter, that have enabled me to build a closer bond with her than other dads might have. As she’s starting out in her career, I’m immensely proud that she’s also developing into a strong, confident and ambitious woman like her mom.

Back to me…

Needless to say, I married an extraordinary man. He is the center of gravity for our family and I am so blessed to have his love and support for 30+ years of marriage.

I would echo what Pat says — it hasn’t always been easy. There are tradeoffs that I’ve made and sometimes I wish I could be involved in as many things in our community as Pat is — like coaching, volunteering and more time and flexibility to pursue certain hobbies.

He and I also have talked about how sometimes, when he and Jessie had their daily routine, I felt like I was disrupting them — a bit of an outsider looking in. He’s helped me work through those feelings and develop my own very special relationship with our daughter.

And, he and my entire team work together to help keep my work and personal life incredibly organized. We share a digital calendar so my team, husband, mom and daughter all know where I am each week. I personally rely on digital tools to help me juggle everything. Sixty percent of working moms in our study also used technology to help balance work and non-work commitments. Skype meetings are fantastic, as they help me cut back on travel. Our research also found that nearly half of working moms use digital tools to have more control over where they work and over a third use technology to reduce the need for work-related travel.

Technology is an incredible help, but you also need to know when to shut it off. I have Pat to thank for helping me with that too. When we were having dinner with my mentor, Arianna Huffington, he leaned over to her and outed me, sharing that I sleep with my phone. This is not something you want the author of The Sleep Revolution to know! Needless to say, I’m cured of that bad habit.

In closing, Pat and I want to share this quote from author and journalist, Joyce Maynard. It reflects our philosophy on parenting and the importance of having both ambitious moms and dads as role models.

It’s not only children who grow. Parents do too. As much as we watch to see what our children do with their lives, they are watching us to see what we do with ours. I can’t tell my children to reach for the sun. All I can do is reach for it myself.

Happy Mother’s Day!

Connect with me @EllynJShook1