Even before we combined remote work with homeschooling, the role of working mom was a multifaceted job many might hesitate to apply for if the demanding scope of work were outlined in a formal job description.
Yet, in addition to the unique rewards of being a parent, women often report that being a mom has enabled them to develop additional competencies that help fuel career success. That can include a greater ability to handle the unexpected, tune in to the unique strengths of individual team members and embrace new opportunities with renewed confidence they will rise to the challenge.
The WFF Working Mothers Community of Interest (COI) gathered virtually during the 2021 Leadership Conference to share strategies that help participants thrive at home and at work.
“I find a lot of fulfillment and enjoyment from working outside the home,” explained COI session co-facilitator Brooke McKillop, Vice President, National Sales-Foodservice, for Georgia Pacific and mom of two. “I feel like I can create value and contribute to society in multiple ways and that I’m setting an example for my children that there is no defined parental role within a family. It’s what works for you as a unit.”
Co-facilitator and Group Vice President, Diversity & Inclusion for Bloomin’ Brands, Inc., Sheilina Henry, agrees. “As someone who is raising four daughters, I want to show them the art of the possible. I don’t want anyone to put limits on them or for them to feel like they have to choose.”
Even though they wouldn’t have it any other way, the facilitators and session participants acknowledge something they call “mom guilt.” “Mom guilt is real,” McKillop said. “It’s that feeling that you don’t do anything well enough.”
Both she and her husband have demanding jobs and travel extensively for work. “It takes a lot of coordination. Sometimes, it’s whoever put the meeting or travel commitment on the calendar first,” she jokes. “Or, really, who can flex their schedule at that moment to support one another. We are both very career driven but also understand that our family comes first.”
Henry’s journey has included many years as a single working mom coordinating co-parenting responsibilities. In 2017, she remarried and added the role of wife and mom to a second daughter through marriage. She and her husband now have four girls including a four-month-old baby and two-year-old. “It can get messy sometimes,” she said. “You have to get comfortable with imperfection and a little mess, whatever that looks like to you.”
“The challenges are going to be there either way so don’t let those fears hold you back from advancing in your career,” McKillop adds. “It’s going to be a challenge regardless of what role you have so go ahead and stretch.”
“Learning to ask for help has been the toughest part for me,” McKillop said as Henry nodded in knowing agreement. “I thought, ‘I had them, they’re my responsibility,’ but having a support group and network has been and continues to be so important for me to be able to pursue my dreams of being a successful woman and successful mom.”
Henry concurs. “I had a similar mindset until I reached a point where I had to ask for help after being readmitted to the hospital after the birth of our youngest. I finally realized I’m not superwoman and that there are people ready and willing to help.”
“I think there’s also a common misconception that as your kids get older it gets easier and that’s not true,” McKillop adds. “It just becomes different. You go from being a constant caretaker to being a taxi driver.”
One of the biggest challenges for parents in the past year, of course, has been homeschooling while working from home. “None of us were prepared for that,” McKillop says. “I finally had to block time on my calendar to make sure my kids were getting their schoolwork done.”
Henry has strived to help herself and team members get more comfortable blurring the lines between work and home. “People know that my daughter might pop onto my lap for a few minutes during a call,” Henry shared. “I’ve made that okay for other members of my team too so moms and dads don’t feel so uncomfortable when someone in their household has to interrupt.”
Many of the discussion participants emphasized the importance of company policies, supervisors and mentors who value and support working parents. “When I was a restaurant general manager, my boss really encouraged me to train to be a regional manager,” Henry said. “The first thing she taught me about time management was to schedule my daughter’s activities first.”
McKillop uses the same approach. “I have no problem putting those commitments on my calendar for everyone to see. I have support from my company to do that and we talk about being unapologetic about being a working parent. I’m excited to see working moms and dads continuing to succeed in our organization and get promoted.”
Empowering each other
In addition to their passion for parenthood, Henry and McKillop feel strongly about bringing more women into leadership. Henry advocates for leaning in — together. “I don’t want to earn a seat at the table and not see other women there with me. I won’t feel successful unless I can bring other women along,” she said.
Both women credit mentors and advocates in their companies, and their connection to WFF, as keys to their professional development and courage to stretch. “Motherhood prepares you for leadership in and of itself. You learn to do things you never thought you could do,” McKillop said. “WFF has also helped me have the courage to make it clear to company leadership that I want to grow and I’ve consistently been encouraged to stretch.”
Finally, Henry advises carving out some me time and goes back to the importance of planning. “Put something on the calendar that is just for you so you can rest and recharge.”