Working moms who advance their careers make these 3 choices

  • In author Joann S. Lublin’s new book Power Moms she contrasts the experiences of baby boomers and GenX executives to show how far working mothers have come — and how much further they will need to go in a post-pandemic world.
  • The former Wall Street Journal editor interviews 86 executive women, including boomers such as Hershey Chief Executive Michele Buck and WW International CEO Mindy Grossman.
  • Power Moms looks at ways that younger executives—in their 30s and 40s—handle motherhood differently despite leading stressful lives. They include former Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer and Rent the Runway CEO Jenn Hyman.

In the 1988 game-changing Mike Nichols film Working Girl a new narrative was introduced in which the women, with a few bumps (including those disgraceful bangs) found their power in the ever-corrupt world of corporate business.

Melanie Griffith’s Tess and Sigourney Weaver’s Katherine both were fighting tooth and nail for what they believed was rightfully theirs, despite coming from very different circumstances. Unlike so many other films, the fight wasn’t over a guy this time. It was for an office with a view and the ability to call the shots. (OK there was a guy and they did both fight for him but that was just an added bonus and not the intended goal.)

But upon my 95th viewing of the film the other day, I thought to myself what if either of these women had had kids at the time they were clawing their way up the ladder? What would that have looked like and how much tougher would it have been for these women who were already scrutinized (and penalized) for their every move? (Well not Katherine so much because, after all, she is her.)

This is something Joann Lublin explores in detail in her new book “Power Moms: How Executive Mothers Navigate Work and Life.’’ Through numerous interviews with working women from the first wave (Boomers) and second wave (women under the age of 45) she pieces together an analysis of the challenges, triumphs, and tears of being a working mom including her own experiences as a driven reporter (and eventual editor) and mother of two.

You also see a vivid contrast of how these different generations were treated in the workplace and what we can expect for the next decade.

Ride the wave

In an exclusive interview with Ladders News Lublin said, “Each generation is making progress, albeit slowly, and that progress is going to accelerate to the extent that men feel comfortable being active in parenthood.”

In Power Moms she uses the example of Rent the Runway CEO and founder Jennifer Hyman announcing not her pregnancy to her board but that she was trying to get pregnant and wanted them to be in the loop as she would eventually be taking maternity leave in a way that worked for her.

Even a decade ago that would have been unheard of. Lublin cites many examples of working mothers in the 60s through 80s who felt pressure to make their children look non-existent as so not to ruffle any feathers with their employers. The second wave definitely owes the first wave some major gratitude.

“The idea is that there is a friendlier workplace where you can hang your hats is due to Boomers but also advances in technology — that’s how the majority of the U.S. workforce has been able to work from home the past year — and supportive spouses. The younger executives will not tolerate being in a relationship that is not as committed as they are to their career and parenthood.”

Work-life sway over balance

One thing Lublin did find in common between both generations was that work-life balance is definitely a myth. What women should gravitate towards is work-life sway.

She learned this term from a 38-year-old executive mom. “She was able to go with the flow and be 110% present for her job and 110% present for her family. She was able to watch her son takes steps at home with an instant video and go home and watch him that day.” This is similar to when Marissa Mayer, as the new CEO of Yahoo!, built a nursery in her office suite for her new son and eventually twin girls as she was not willing to miss out on either role.

Lublin surmised that many of the caretakers for working boomer moms probably saw quite a few children take similar milestones and simply not tell the parent as to let them think they would be present for the first viewing.

Lublin attributes the second wave generation and their progress with work-life sway to bravery but “bravery based in reality.” She was very moved by a younger executive mom who got a great job offer but because they didn’t have a parental leave policy in place (not just maternity), she felt she couldn’t accept it.

Pandemic setbacks

Though women have made great progress in the workplace, the devastating pandemic has, in some ways, erased some of that effort. Lublin cites Pew findings that mothers with children under 12 lost nearly 2.2 mil jobs during COVID 19. This is nearly three times the rate for fathers losing jobs.

But there are steps both companies and working women can take to try to remedy this. “Bigger companies recognize the struggle mothers are having.
Progressive companies who see that this part of the workforce is vital for their long-term success are doing some. things that are indeed very savvy. “

“They are practicing smart leadership by exerting maximum flexibility in terms of dealing with parents in their workforce. Extensive empathy means not just having these policies on the book but trusting their employees, particularly those with young children, that they’ll get the work done and asking what makes the most sense. Often bosses are asking their teams, ‘what else do you need?’ especially if they have young children. We are seeing extra benefits like CEOs holding storytimes, empty offices being turned into schools, etc.,”

But what can power moms do right now to get the support they need? Especially when they aren’t the CEO of a company like Hyman? She suggests seeing if your company has an Employee Resource Group (ERG) for parents and if there isn’t one, start it. “Much more happens if there is solidarity in numbers,” she told Ladders. Even starting it as a private Facebook group is a way to go.

Sharing a story of progress is absolutely key. Lublin names a high up female executive who announced that every Thursday she would be leaving the office at 5 PM to go have dinner with her teenage son. “She made a public declaration about it because it made it OK for women and men at lower levels to do the same.”

3 choices you must make

Lublin also emphasized that women must make three pivotal choices in at any point in their career:

Choose a life partner. Make sure the person you are marrying or committing to shares your outlook on both of your careers as well as shares your attitude on co-parenting.

Choose your employer wisely. Go with your gut feeling.

Choose mentors and sponsors. You’ve got to pick people to guide your careers and they shouldn’t just be women. You need guys because they are still running the show.

The book is full of wonderful advice and inspiring women, and men, as well as just stories that will make you feel less alone as it sometimes can become all to much, especially during these difficult times.