It’s vital to retain these valuable leaders with hard-earned wisdom.
It was just Mother’s Day and it got me thinking about what it’s like to be a leader mom.
I could take the time to write about how leader moms bring empathy, compassion, understanding, a strong work ethic, and accountability to an organization. After all, working moms are exemplars when it comes to the adage, “If you want something done, ask a busy person.”
Instead, I want to discuss the added pressures and biases that we place on leader moms and a call to action to remedy our societal ideologies.
“Are you sure this is the best decision for your family?” I was asked this question twice by two different superiors before I accepted the principal position. I had already been working in the assistant principal role and had a keen sense of what the principal role would entail. This question may seem benign, but it elicited a lot of emotions. Mostly because I felt like a man would never be asked this question. In fact, they would probably hear, “This is great news for your family!”
Why are we so biased toward leader moms, to working moms?
Men and women alike (myself included) harbor biases toward working moms. It’s more than a sexist or individual ideology; it is societal. I was just asked how men could better support women and I believe it boils down to treating them as able professionals.
If you wouldn’t ask a man the previous question, why would you feel like it’s ok to ask a woman? My husband was mostly a stay-at-home-dad when I was considering the principal role. We were set up for success for me to roll into the position. It was a no-brainer, yet our biases still veer towards women as the primary caretaker, and we have a hard time envisioning women in the dual role of mother and leader.
As someone who has held many roles in which my gender is the minority—athlete, physical education teacher, Military Police officer, and school administrator—I have often pushed back against biases and misconceptions. I wore my ability to bust through biases as a badge of honor.
Here’s the kicker though, society still needs to reproduce, if for no other reason than to resupply the workforce. And no, I’m not some Autobot as the previous sentence implies. I find that raising my family brings me the most joy with my career being a close second. And that’s just it; women shouldn’t have to decide between family or their career. We need to support our moms so that they can thrive in their careers unencumbered. It’s a win/win for everyone.
I think about the major female athletes who lose their sponsorship or must relinquish their contracts when they get pregnant. This is not supportive, it is reckless. We are essentially telling some of the most talented women in our midst that they shouldn’t have children or if they do, they should wait until their bodies are broken and then it’s ok. Many of these women come back to the sport and continue to win, thrive, and prove that they are “able professionals.
Action steps to support working and leading moms:
- If you wouldn’t comment to a man such as, “Are you sure this is good for your family?” then, don’t say it to a woman. Instead, think of how you can reinforce your excitement at hiring the best candidate for the position. Chances are if the mom wanted the position bad enough she’s not only going to make it work, she’s going to excel because she had to fight even harder for it.
- Without moms having to ask, show you support them at your place of employment by having necessities on hand: lactation room (give nursing moms time to use them without added stress or pressure) and feminine products in the bathroom. Evaluate your maternity and paternity leave so that your organization’s actions reflect that of a supporting business.
- Have candid conversations with moms. Let them know that you’re available should they need anything. Ask how you can better support them. Do not be afraid to have these conversations and be open to constructive conversations if you inadvertently say something that is biased. You may have a leader who decides she wants to focus on being a mother. Do the right thing and support her choice by reducing feelings of guilt, anxiety, or fear. The support you provide now will pay off if she decides to return. Then you will enjoy the boost to your business that her hard-earned wisdom brings.