When Anna Jarvis created the first Mother’s Day in 1908, she envisioned a day of “sentiment” for mothers. For the first few years, people wore simple white carnations to show their support. By 1920, commercialism had taken over. Jarvis was so enraged she urged people to stop buying gifts for their mothers. She declared florists, card and candy companies “charlatans, bandits, pirates, racketeers, kidnappers and termites.”
But that happens sometimes, doesn’t it? We start with great intention and then it morphs into something altogether different, almost unrecognizable. For working mothers, life is a blur of “long days and short years”—the days feel so long yet the years fly by really fast. Often, we put ourselves and our career aspirations on the back burner. Our families are a force in motion (always in motion) and our professional lives can move into autopilot. We lose sight of our career dreams because we are managing so much more than ourselves. But we can’t lose sight of the professional self we want to—and can—be.
The national conversation to help more women in leadership is gaining strength. The fight for pay equity has come center stage. It is an exciting time for businesses to create more channels and choice for millennial women, mid-career women, women in STEM, and women returning to their careers.
As working mothers, we need to be a part of this change. To get started, here are 10 promises each of us can make to ourselves.
I will not feel badly about being a professional and a mother. I am driven, goal-oriented, time-conscious, loyal and committed. I am proud to be a mother and will not apologize for that, nor will I limit my career aspirations.
I did go through a transition where there were activities or events in my child’s life that I normally would have been there for, but I wasn't. I had to say no to things and keep in mind that that was ok. That's where other working parents can be supportive to remind you not to feel guilty. I count on peers and co-workers for that. Sometimes I also have guilt about "shouldn't I be doing more at work?” But I need dedicated family time, too. That's part of being a working parent and striking a balance. And it's ok!
I will create a quarterly check-in with myself to make sure I’m working on projects that challenge me in fulfilling ways. According to Harvard Business School, women don’t leave the workforce when they have children. They typically leave the workforce when they find their career path obstructed and are no longer excited about their work. Having a family is definitely the catalyst for considering a break, but the research shows that other factors may play a role in deciding to off-ramp, including how you feel about your career at a given point. So don’t be shy or stick with the status quo. Look around. Is there another role you could explore and grow with? Is there another company that piques your interest? List the five things about your current job that you love, and why. If you can’t think of five high points, take this Mother’s Day to make a change.
Is there a women-based initiative at your company? For gender diversity to succeed, it needs input and diligence from everyone—especially women. Fifty-one percent of middle managers and managers say they don’t know what to do to improve gender diversity in their company. Find out what initiatives are underway at your company and get involved.
This year, I joined a working group that is seeking to increase the number of women in our division. I’m proud that our business leaders recognize that a more balanced workforce means better business results. It’s been very gratifying to be part of a smart, committed group of women - and men - that are finding creative solutions to a critical business imperative.
Are you actively mentoring and sponsoring other women? Professional women are stronger together, but we often judge one another’s choices and hold each other back. We get competitive and protective and forget the common goal. It is critical for our collective power and success to support and build each other up. Today’s workplace is a blended base of women bringing diverse professional and life experiences together to solve big business challenges and make positive change for all women, young and old(er).
Sixty-one percent of employees worry that working part-time will hurt their career, and 42 percent believe taking a leave of absence or sabbatical will do the same. Research shows that less than 25% of employees utilize part-time and sabbatical options offered to them by their employers. The more often women (and men!) partake in flexible, part-time and family leave options, the more normalized it will become. For senior leaders, modeling this behavior by taking time for better work-life balance is a powerful and effective way to set a positive example at your company.
I will find concrete ways to gain access to senior leaders. Less access means less chance for growth, professional development and promotion. Be bold and creative. Find ways to get face time, either individually or with a group. Women make things happen all of the time on the home front. Use that same passion and initiative to leverage your brand and build your professional career. You can make it happen.
Women who ask for a promotion are 54 percent more likely to get one than women who don’t. Women are master planners and shrewd negotiators in their personal lives; why not in their careers? Drive your own destiny, and work to get a bigger paycheck. You deserve it.
I will let go of some of the many household chores by looking to my partner for help. There is a direct link between the amount of work people do at home and their leadership ambition. Women in senior management are seven times more likely than men at the same level to say they do more than half of the housework.
I knew when I started back to work there would be an on-ramping period and that it would be a big change for the family. I was able to hand off "concrete" pieces of work to my husband: dropping kids off at school, making lunches, and being in charge of their chores for example. Because those were identifiable tasks, that made it easier than me saying "just give me a hand". I also included him in all school and activity communication. They now have his email in addition to mine so he sees all notes home from school, PTA letters, etc. and he know more of what was going on with the kids.
We also have a shared calendar so we know who is doing what, or if one of needs to cover the other. For the first year I was back at work, my daughter told me she didn't want me to work. In the beginning, I didn't know how much to believe - sometimes mommy being at work is the reason for other problems or other things she wished she had. She was associating her frustrations with aspects of her life with 'mommy going back to work'. It took me a while to realize that my job wasn't the problem. She couldn't verbalize what it was, and she needed something to blame. My husband is also very supportive. He loves his career and understood why I also wanted to have a career. He had to make changes, had to be willing to give up some of his own time.
Women and men see the world differently, especially the corporate world. Creating a base of professional women in a similar life situation is a powerful way to share perspectives, challenges and joys. If you don’t have a professional group in place, tap into business women you know from your child’s school or the playground and arrange a monthly lunch or breakfast. This isn’t a business development networking group; it is a group of women just like you, whom you can lean on and help support.
As women and mothers, we always try to be ready for anything: medical kit, emergency numbers, backup clothes, you name it. Unfortunately, we don’t do the same with our careers. We aren’t always ready for anything at any moment — like raising our hands when a work challenge or new opportunity arises. A cobweb covered resume can signal personal complacency and a willingness to let the professional world happen to you, versus you going out and making it happen for yourself. Keep your confidence stoked, your resume ready and go get it — whatever “it” is for you.