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Motherhood

Making It Work As A Working Mom

According to the United States Department of Labor, over 75 percent of working women are also mothers. Which begs the question, how do these powerful, successful women manage their full-time careers alongside the demands of motherhood? That was an answer I was determined to solve.

As I was preparing to write this article, I sat at my paper-covered desk, reading a Forbes article about a woman who led the major acquisition of her company, Practice, while breastfeeding her newborn daughter, Hazel. As I sat reading her inspirational story, I knew right away I had to talk to this woman.

Leading An Acquisition While Breastfeeding

So I reached out to her. On her daughter’s first birthday, I spoke with Emily Foote, the cofounder of the microlearning program, Practice. Ms. Foote and her team held a strong belief that “practice makes perfect” and that everyone should have access to the same opportunities. Based on those core principles, a company was born.

Not long after, Instructure, a prominent education-technology company, took note. They thought the Practice program might be a perfect fit for their library and they contacted Ms. Foote to request a demo. She was ecstatic. The only problem? Ms. Foote had just given birth to her second daughter and she was technically on maternity leave.

But Instructure was interested in a potential acquisition, and Ms. Foote knew the opportunity couldn’t be missed. She scheduled the demo. That day, as she prepared for their Skype call, her daughter became hungry. Knowing she couldn’t exactly hold off a hungry child, she improvised. Turning her camera off and leaving her audio on, Ms. Foote sat breastfeeding her newborn while showing a room full of Instructure’s executives exactly what Practice was all about.

Three months later, she closed the deal, and thus began a busy season that meant her daughter often came to the office with her. “I also feel the need to prove myself more,” she says. “Because I don’t want anyone to think that I can’t accomplish something as a working mother.”

But if anyone can accomplish something as a working mother, it’s Ms. Foote, who skipped out on maternity leave and brought her daughter to work when it was her only option. Though her daughter is less likely to make an appearance in a boardroom meeting now, as she has a nanny who watches her while Ms. Foote is working, she credits motherhood with helping her flourish on the job.

“Parenthood is 100 percent an asset in all industries, including my own of education technology,” she says. “As a parent, you are automatically tasked with guiding the physical, emotional, social, and intellectual development of a person. In doing so you learn how to teach, you learn patience, you learn how to listen, you learn empathy, and you learn how to adapt. These skills are critical to succeed in any industry.”

Missing Opportunities At Work

After finishing my interview with Ms. Foote, I began itching to interview other working moms to find out if they too considered motherhood to be a career asset. So I turned to Chrissey Hayes, a working mother whom I’ve known (and occasionally babysat for) for the last five years.

Ms. Hayes worked for eBay and American Express before being recruited to join the Avetta team as the global head of training. Avetta thought Ms. Hayes would be the perfect person to build, and maintain, a training model from the ground up. Ms. Hayes says she owes her ability to manage single parenthood and a full-time international career to a supportive family, the help of her now ex-husband, and the flexibility found within her company.

But the flexibility provided by Avetta doesn’t mean that her career as a jet-setting woman and her job as a mom are any easier to manage. Though they’ve been few and far between, she tells me of a specific instance where she was not able to go onsite with a fellow coworker, because she had responsibilities to her two children, ages five and eight, at home.

Two weeks ago, I had a coworker that said ‘Hey Chrissey, I want you to come onsite with me.’ And unfortunately, that was a time that I couldn’t go. I can’t make that happen sometimes, but if you just give me a week’s notice, I can usually make it work.”

In my mind, missed opportunities can be a death sentence to careers on the rise. Which led me to wonder how all of these women felt about the impact motherhood had on the future of their careers. In fact, Ms. Hayes agrees. “It’s going to sound terrible” she says, “but while my kids are as young as they are, there’s only so far I can go within my company.”

But according to Ms. Hayes, that comes with the territory, as a mother you may lose out on opportunities because your children take priority. One can only hope that as society progresses, time missed due to family events will no longer be frowned upon. For the time being, Ms. Hayes says that open communication with employers is the key to making it all work.

“Be open with your employer and let them know where you stand―they can only be as flexible as you need them to be. If they aren’t, it sounds scary, but there are other companies who will be. Find that company.”

Balancing Work Demands With Motherhood Demands

For Kat Judd, finding that company meant leaving her job as an employment lawyer to join the Lucid team as the vice president of people operations. The timing of her career change wasn’t ideal. Her son was only four months old when talks of her joining the Lucid team began and she had some qualms about taking on a different role with a brand-new baby.

Like any new mom, Ms. Judd wasn’t exactly comfortable with the potential for excessive travel, especially while she was still breastfeeding her son. So, before making her final decision to commit to Lucid, she asked CEO Karl Sun how much travel would be required of her if she were to accept the position.

“He asked ‘how much travel are you comfortable with?’ and I told him my concerns,” she says. “It ended up being a really positive conversation.”

After that conversation, Ms. Judd’s decision to join the Lucid team was an easy one, even with the potential challenge of making the career change work with her new son in tow. But, Ms. Judd had help when it came to navigating her new role as a mother and navigating her changing role in the business world, help that would come in the form of her husband.

When Ms. Judd was first offered a position at Lucid, there were many nights of discussion between her and her husband. After all, they had a new baby to consider and a household to keep running. They eventually decided that when Ms. Judd took on a less flexible, more involved role at Lucid, that her husband would take on more responsibilities at home―including grocery shopping―allowing her the opportunity to focus on her new career.

“[My husband’s] support has been crucial to my success at work and at home―we each have our own responsibilities to balance the workload around the house and make sure nothing falls between the cracks,” she says. Though this might not always be how the responsibilities are divvied up at home, she says that her and her husband make decisions together as things change for their families and careers.

But her husband isn’t the only member of Ms. Judd’s support team, she mentioned that she regularly talks with other moms who provide “no judgment support” to one another. Ms. Judd and her family also have a few other “adopted grandmas” found throughout her neighborhood who help her in instances where she or her husband can’t leave work early to be with their son.

“A month after I started at Lucid, during my first board meeting, I got a call from the daycare saying my son had hand, foot, and mouth disease. I didn’t even know what hand, foot, and mouth disease was! Fortunately, that was a time where my husband could pick him up.”

When there is an emergency like that, she says, it’s important to make sure you are effectively communicating with those dependant on you by rescheduling meetings and deadlines if need be. The more open and effective the communication, she says, the more likely your employer is to be understanding of your situation. A statement that Ms. Hayes could probably agree with.

But effective communication skills and a team of all the best people only make Ms. Judd’s job as a parent and the vice president of people operations a little easier. Like many women in the same position, Ms. Judd finds it sometimes tricky to “balance it all” and prioritize.

“I can do anything, but I cannot do everything,” she says, “prioritizing what is most important can be difficult.”