by Catherine Flavin
Odds are you either love or hate the term “LeaderMom.” It is personal and hits nerves. Those who love it identify with it right away. Those who flinch or recoil may find it too familiar or unbecoming at work, may not have wanted kids or been able to have them, or may not relate to the term “leader” (even as they engage others to get results in schools or communities, or work incredibly hard to engage families and friends). When you learn “LeaderMom” refers here to high performing women leaders across industries, who are also admired as parents, you may wonder why you should care about, or empathize or identify with senior (mostly Caucasian) women leaders who seem pretty darn privileged already.
Our team is highly attuned to those experiences and feelings.
I believe that when reactions are this strong, it says something about why we need this work. If you too have felt, battled or witnessed any of version of these questions, no wonder you flinch: How dare you work and have kids? How dare you have kids and work? How dare you not work? How dare you not have kids?
These are the questions that are in the air we breathe. They sound and feel like we — or the women we care about — can’t win no matter what we do.
We promise, those are not our questions.
We believe LeaderMom can be a gamechanger for a lot of reasons, and we hope at least one of the reasons below resonates with you, too.
1. To strengthen the pipeline for ALL women leaders, we need a richer understanding of what motherhood means. There is a pervasive bias against mothers who don’t work for pay. And there is a pervasive bias against mothers who work. (Come to think of it, there is a pervasive bias against women in leadership, no matter what path we take.) When I ask leaders in different companies why representation of women drops off on the way up to top ranks of leadership, “having babies” is the knee-jerk answer; but women leaving say different things and women staying don’t say very different things as to why.
If we have felt and/or battled or witnessed any of that, or some manifestation of it, no wonder we flinch. It sounds and feels like we can’t win no matter what we choose.
2. By focusing on what works, we make it more likely that we can have what so many of us want – to do and be valued for meaningful work, and to love and be loved at home. The research that propels our work comes from our “LeaderMom Panel” – these women are what companies call “top talent” and are highly esteemed as parents. With their stories, the spotlight stays on what works and how to get more of that. We all gain.
3. There are a lot of narratives that pit women against each other, or women against men; this is not one of them. LeaderMom underscores how women help each other, across family and career spans. It shines a light on the men and cultures that have supported, and are increasingly committed to supporting, our success. It has room for people who may not get it to learn. Like savvy investors, we will leverage our assets to face the biases, risks and challenges we face; when we do, we can make more than incremental gains.
4. LeaderMom replaces ideas that are said so often they seem true, but aren’t, with better ones. It takes awareness and practice to replace ideas that get repeated over and over, ideas that seem true but that are false and end up hurting us – such as, “You can’t have it all” or “She left because her kids are little.” Yet, according to the best information we have, family is not typically why women leaders leave an organization. They leave for better bosses and for more compelling opportunities. When we check our assumptions, we can engage in one interaction at a time and make better decisions.
5. When we know better, we have the option to do better. In all coaching, if a leader can see the things she is doing that get a suboptimal result, she is poised to change. She can resist doing that habitual, ineffective thing, and replace it with something more effective. With the LeaderMom chorus in our heads, we will be more likely to refrain from saying the rote, unhelpful thing to ourselves, colleagues, friends, direct reports, friends and significant others. We can choose something wiser and kinder, such as “I know it is hard, but it will be worth it” or “Let’s take 15 minutes to think together about what has value and put that first.” As in all leadership development and learning, these small shifts can add up to big gains.
6. LeaderMom lifts clouds of doubt, and offers enough inspiration and confidence to enable persistence. As young professionals and women who aspire to professional life scan for evidence that it is possible to succeed at work and home, this work can enliven their ambitions. For mid-career women, LeaderMom enables women with kids to prepare for real challenges, and be less anxious and enjoy more. In addition, if we want more women in senior leadership, our LeaderMom panel advertises beautifully for the job. These women paint a picture that is compelling enough to struggle for.
7. At its highest manifestation, LeaderMom is about crafting a good life, being happier, and showing how wisdom at senior and executive levels can support that. Too many of us believe success requires depletion or burnout. The good life is not having more or being more. Organizations do better when they live their values; so do people.
8. LeaderMom is a place of appreciation and care. Our LeaderMoms take care of our companies, our teams, our children, and our communities. Many LeaderMoms experience a sense of not fitting in, at work and in the neighborhood. This is a space for them to find their people, thrive and care for themselves and each other.
Friday, January 25, 7:00 – 9:00 pm
Lessons from LeaderMoms: Be at Your Best More Often
Maria Sirois, Kelly Fredrickson & Catherine Flavin
Saturday, January 26, 10:00 am – 5:30 pm
LeaderMoms: Leveraging What Works
Maria Sirois, Kelly Fredrickson & Catherine Flavin
Whole Leader Consulting