authenticity for working moms

By: Nicole Salla, Kiddie Academy Chief Marketing Officer 

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” (Maya Angelou)

I remind myself daily that this is a marathon and not a sprint.

There has always been talk of the difference in challenges women face in the workplace compared to their male counterparts—pay equality, unconscious bias, inclusivity in leadership opportunities, balancing the needs of family and work and more. But now more than ever, there is a growing crisis that is statistically hitting women harder and putting them even further behind due to COVID’s impact on access to childcare and the shift to school-age virtual learning. The reports are heartbreaking and discouraging for women. 

According to the Center for American Progress, Millennial moms are three times more likely than Millennial fathers to be unable to work due to school or child care closures. Everywhere I turn, countless studies and articles outline how the pandemic is negatively impacting women’s careers, and how more women are leaving the workforce in higher numbers to care for children.

Women are being pushed and challenged in ways that were already stressors. Women in leadership have a unique obligation to encourage employers to be empathic and supportive of women in the workforce and to enact policies that create work-life harmony, or we stand to lose a generation of changemakers and diverse thinkers that we need as part of the conversation. The major effects may not be felt now, but I can assure you they will make an impact down the road.

Women leaders can be an authentic voice in their company for supporting the unique needs for women and families, not just during this challenging time but ALL the time. Not everyone in your organization may be able to understand the challenges facing working mothers, but it is up to women leaders to help others understand, empathize, and put a plan into place to support each other. 

In fact, recent research shows that women leaders excel in times of stress because of their ability to empathize and show up in a crisis. Rather than empathy being just a characteristic or personality strength, it is now considered a tool that can help leaders navigate unprecedented circumstances, exactly like the season of life we’re in now. 

As the Chief Marketing Officer of an educational child care franchisor, I’ve had the distinct honor of working with a largely female marketing team, a very diverse group of amazing Franchisees around the country, and a very smart and thoughtful corporate leadership team to help expand our commitment to serve children and their families, so parents can have successful careers and realize another purpose in addition to parenthood. I consider it a great honor to work for an organization that has such influence in this important industry, and I’ve learned some impactful ways that all leaders can show up in authentic ways to support their teams and forge paths to success. 

Step 1 for Authenticity for Working Moms: Show up

I’ve found the first step in being an authentic leader is to just show up, ready to learn, ready to be surprised by what you learn, and ready to change your perspective in support of the greater cause. But in this day and age, being mentally and physically present is a momentous task in itself for working moms. The concept of taking time for your overall health is easier said than done for someone who’s role in the family and at work rarely lends the time to do so. 

Fitness has been the path I’ve chosen to help prepare my mind and body to be a more authentic leader. I go to the gym just about every day (though, like most mortals, I sometimes fall short). I set goals when I need to boost my motivation. Last year, my goal was to complete a mud run. A few months back, I decided I wanted to run my first 5K. As in, truly run 5K without stopping a few times along the way. I chose Mother’s Day, and I did it. 

I know not everyone gets as excited for fitness as I do. But you must find what it is that excites and re-centers you! It could be writing, crafting, yoga, meditation, taking an online sommelier course—it doesn’t matter what it is, just that you’re doing something that fulfills you.  

Regardless of what you choose to do to better your physical or mental health, it’s important now to just start.

Mental and physical health matters. A woman’s health matters. Mothers’ health matters. Your health matters. Women have always taken on multiple roles whether it’s parenting, caregiving, a career—there are lots of hats to wear. It’s only been exacerbated by the pandemic. 

“… We’re really concerned about the current capacity of our mental health system,” said Marie Tobin, MD, Professor of Psychiatry at UChicago Medicine. “Women are principally responsible for parenting, family caregiving and other essential work — they are key to managing and recovering from this pandemic…”

As a leader, you need to mentally prepare yourself for every moment of every day. You never know what will come up and throw you for a loop—an important decision or talk, a crisis, an opportunity. But you won’t be able to meet it head-on if you aren’t physically, mentally and emotionally prepared.

Don’t forget to keep an eye on women in your organization and help them continue to show up to life. Sure, the life of a leader is full of stress, but the types of stressors we see coming out of this pandemic affect all women—especially those in socioeconomically vulnerable positions. As Dr. Tobin says, women are “afflicted by very significant socioeconomic risk levels that appear to be drivers of anxiety, depression and traumatic stress. We should be especially concerned that socioeconomically vulnerable women are at high risk for developing pandemic-related psychiatric morbidity.”

Step 2 for Authenticity for Working Moms: Listen up

The next step is to listen—with your ears, your eyes, and your heart. You can hear what people are directly saying to you, but it takes more work to use your intuition and radar to truly listen to all that is going on around you. Surround yourself with talented people who are passionate about what they do, give them the confidence to be brutally honest with you and the permission to do amazing work.

One time, I was watching a designer share her creative concepts with our leadership team. I noticed that she was agreeing to every revision they were making on her artwork, without asking questions or trying to learn why they were giving the feedback. I met with her afterwards, and asked why she agreed to all the changes they wanted — did she truly agree with what they recommended? She said she did not but did not want to question them as they were superiors in the organization, even though they did not have a marketing background. I told her next time, if someone gives their opinion, feel comfortable asking, “tell me more about that,” and create dialog to truly understand what they are trying to accomplish, which then she could give her expertise on why she did not do that initially, or better understand their intent so she can make a different recommendation on how to accomplish that. When she started doing that, I noticed that those giving her feedback started to respect her skill and craft more and appreciated the dialogue even more so that than just having someone do exactly what they asked for.

Step 3 for Authenticity for Working Moms: Turn up!

And finally, it’s time to get things done! Once you’ve prepared yourself mentally, emotionally and physically to be there for your team as an authentic leader, the fun work can begin. If you’ve created an environment where people’s needs are met, they will be able to contribute without an invisible weight on their shoulders of what’s challenging them inside and outside of work. 

Our team came up with our own credo and we remind ourselves of it often. Part of our set of beliefs is constant communication, telling stories, sharing experiences together, including everyone and giving everyone a chance to be heard (even when it’s not easy). For critical projects, involving others doesn’t always have to be death by committee. Find ways to involve key influencers throughout the lifecycle of the project so by the time it comes to fruition, it is more than just “your” project…it is “our” project that everyone had a hand in influencing.

When people feel seen and heard, their work quality increases, and it shows. Give your employees freedom to think creatively, share any and all ideas, make mistakes, seek growth opportunities, and come to you with concerns and I promise you’ll not only have more fun—you’ll also have a more highly-functioning team.