I've been thinking about this for a long time. I am frequently asked questions about this from students or other female professionals as I represent my company or promote my book around the world. So, this Mother's Day I just had to speak out about combining motherhood with paid employment.
Here's my conclusion in a nutshell: Contrary to what many people (men and women alike) think, I would posit that being a mom does not hurt your chances of becoming a CEO (or other senior executive). Indeed, it can actually help them! I say this, first and foremost, based on my own experience. But there is also a lot of other evidence out there. For example, there are many books written about what being a parent teaches you about management. Or the fact that today, about two-thirds of the female CEOs running Fortune 500 companies are moms, based on the April 2012 Catalyst list and my Internet research. A coincidence? I think not.
While I don't personally know most of these female CEOs, and I'm not saying being a mom makes doing your job any easier, I can say that I am confident being a mom can make you a better and ultimately more successful professional. Here are 10 things being a mom taught me that make me better at work:
1. First and foremost, being a mom taught me how to be a better negotiator -- with anyone and about anything. That comes in handy literally every day at work.
2. Being barraged by endless questions taught me the power of curiosity and to use questioning and probing as a management technique. I frequently don't know all the answers, but I often uncover powerful insights and issues by asking the right questions.
3. Juggling all the requirements of motherhood convinced me all other juggling acts had to be easier. Yes, I am the mother of all multi-taskers at this point. Sometimes it leads to overkill. But it's also a key survival skill to manage an overflowing inbox, multiple deadlines and a packed meeting schedule every day -- not to mention laundry, play dates and math homework.
4. It taught me that different is good. Contrary to what I was probably doing before I had kids, my teams shouldn't just be "mini-MEs." And if you are smart, you'll pick people that won't necessarily see things exactly as you do. You'll embrace looking at things through their eyes, like you do through the eyes of your children. (And I bet you'll come up with better solutions and better results because of that too!)
5. The best leaders (and best moms) know that it isn't about always lecturing or telling people what to do. It's a lot about coaching, nurturing and guiding. And then, toughest of all sometimes, it's about letting them go do their thing without you.
6. Being a mom taught me it's not physically possible to worry about or prevent every single thing that could go wrong (believe me, I tried!). So, now I try to remain laser-focused on what really matters and to let the little stuff go. The rule in our house is "no permanent damage." (So blue hair would be okay. Body piercing, not so much.)
7. Having kids taught me that "EQ" (emotional intelligence) is as important as "IQ." I am undoubtedly more empathetic to those I work with now. I am able to open my heart and really care about them and their lives, not just what we do together at work. I can say honestly that I now know my teams personally and they know me, too (the good and the not-so-flattering). This is a mutual investment that not only builds understanding but also trust and team spirit.
8. In the long line of things I learned from raising my kids is that long-term success depends on relationships, not just hitting the numbers and getting the results for one quarter or one year. I used to be too busy "getting it done" to invest in relationships. Now I know you must do both and that relationships aren't optional. They are critical.
9. I saw how direct, honest, real-time feedback, positive reinforcement, support when they are down, and actual cheering when they win are such game changers. These are all things we do naturally with our kids. Why should it be any different with our work teams? Okay, of course our work teams are made up of fully functioning adults, not kids, but we're all human. I am proud to say I can be heard whooping it up down the hall when we succeed and I feel good that everyone on my team knows exactly how they are doing and what they can or should do better after nearly every interaction. That's how we are at home and that's how I am at work and I think it's healthier.
10. Last but not least, being a mom helped me see that the journey and the process can be even more important than the destination when it comes to developing your people and getting a star performance out of your team. When you are a family, you are "in it for life." If you behave the same way with your work team, you will see positive growth from all members and an ongoing, self-motivated commitment to keep raising the bar. Need I say how priceless that can be?
These are just some of the things that being a mom either taught me or reinforced in me. I remain a work in progress for sure and I have no doubt my kids have more lessons in store for me as we move into the next phases of their lives. But I am certain that being a mom has helped boost my career -- at least enough to make up for the lack of sleep and the other things we all sacrifice to be great parents and great professionals. And I wouldn't have missed it for the world! I really enjoy working for Kraft Foods. But I love being a mom even more. And I'm just so lucky that my employers have seen what many employers have obviously seen -- that being a mom and being a CEO (or senior executive) can indeed go hand in hand. So, happy Mother's Day to all working moms! Go forth and create the careers and lives of your dreams! And, let me know what you've learned along the way. I'd love to hear your stories and lessons -- and I know you have them!