The other day I had a memory from about 10 years ago of two working mothers joking about how they would regularly exchange business emails at 5am. At the time, this completely baffled me - why would anyone be up at such an ungodly hour, and if you were up, why on earth would you be working? Fast forward a decade, a husband and a child and I totally get it. The only way I am able to add time to my day - whether its to run, write a proposal or even catch up on Netflix - is to wake up earlier and I relish those hours before the inevitable demands, distractions and detours of the day begin.
Thinking about this, and with Mother's Day looming, I spoke with some of the working mothers at H+K to learn their working mom/mum hacks...
One thing that came up multiple times was the importance of a supportive partner - and that a partner's increased contribution at home can enable the other's success at work. Whilst I don't think 'get a helpful husband' is a particularly actionable tip, I think this is a really valid point. Sheryl Sandberg talks about the notion that to achieve equality in the workplace, women need to demand equality in the home and she is very vocal about the fact that her husband does the dishes. It's an important point which both partners need to consider and negotiate to enable success in the workplace and diminish stress at home (hint, hint husband;-)
Another topic that came up was entitlement. The government is committed to supporting women in the workplace, and many corporations and companies make allowances to keep women with children working and for this I am genuinely grateful. However, policies and politics aside, being a working mother requires flexibility and this has an impact on people. I remember working 14 hours days in the office throughout my 20s and thinking the mothers leaving at 5pm had a good deal (little did I know what they were going home to!). So the learning is - if others are flexing to make your professional life possible - be cognizant and be appreciative. I go out of my way to say thank you to someone for taking a 5pm call so I can get home and make sure my daughter does her reading homework, and I try to pay back the favor and take that Friday 9am meeting so others can suffer through their hangovers...
One colleague mentioned the importance of having a network - at first this seems like 'professional' advice but its highly relevant and valuable advice for working moms too. Other working mothers are useful for comisseration over a glass of wine, but they also can be allies in times of need. Like when you return from a business trip and realize you need a school blazer first thing the next morning or you have completely forgotten to buy snacks for the school trip, it is somehow less humiliating to beg for help from another working mother who may be able to relate.
That same colleague reminded me of something really important that I had lost sight of -- be proud, not apologetic. I instantly had flashbacks to the many times I have said ' I'm sorry that Mommy can't (fill in the blank...) Its because Mommy has a job.' In retrospect, that's clearly not the right message to send and I'm pretty sure that doesn't ease any of my 5 year old's frustration as to why I can't be at the school gate like the other mothers... When speaking to adults, I'm proud to share what I do -- so why would I not relay the same message to my own daughter? Whether by choice or not, being a working mother is a reality and I believe an achievement and I would like my daughter to hold the same beliefs.
A piece of advice that I came across from an American CMO was about being present - if you are at work, stay focused and when you are at home stay focused on that - so basically mummy mindfulness. While I totally appreciate this is good advice - I have learned that what works better for me is blurred lines. I have no guilt about using part of the work day to schedule a parent/teacher conference or to spend time on Amazon finding a Halloween costume, and in turn, on (rare!) occasions I have taken conference calls during bath time. I'm not doing less work and I certainly not doing less good work, its just a different approach to the work day. I do realise I'm lucky that this approach happens to work for me, my company, colleagues and clients and not everyone is afforded the same level of flexibility.
I remember that a women I worked for in New York - who happen to run a large office, a global practice and be a mother of three children under eight - was once asked if it was possible for women today to have it all. Her answer was ' I have a family that I love and a rewarding career - for me that is having it all'. She didn't explore sacrifices or compromises - promotions she might hhacksave been passed over for during mat leave or sports matches she might have missed - she redefined success as a working mother on her own terms- I love that and think we can all take inspiration from that way of thinking! That said, happy Mother's Day to all...
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