What If: We Lose a Generation of Mothers in Leadership?

By Christin Lola, Licensed from Adobe Stock

What If is a series that explores new paradigms arising from of the COVID-19 pandemic

Parenting is hard gig. Juggling a career and raising children is always a careful and tricky balancing act. A few years ago, I used to joke with my coworkers that my five-to-nine boss (my then two-year-old) was way tougher on me than my nine-to-five boss. Fast forward, and I now have two children, and wow, can I tell you, having two five-to-nine bosses is even tougher and more confusing. And that’s in normal times.

The COVID-19 pandemic changed all of our lives, but it’s doing something unique to working parents. Parents, and women in particular, are vanishing from the workforce. According to an article in Forbes published in March, there were 2.2 million fewer women in the US labor force in October 2020 than in October 2019, cited the Bureau of Labor Statistics. An article recently published by USA Today noted that breastfeeding women are facing even steeper challenges as their rights to pump at work are being threatened by either employer-driven COVID policies or a lack of a clean spaces to pump. For many women, that means leaving their job so they can feed their babies.

According to the 2020 Women in the Workplace study by McKinsey, progress towards gender parity from managers to the C-suite has been slow since 2015. It’s important to note that women of color represent a single-digits percentage of roles senior director and above. So if women, and especially women of color, are likely to get laid off due to COVID-19, how far does this set us back? If one in four women are seriously considering reducing hours or leaving the workforce due to COVID-related stressors, as the McKinsey study shows, how many years will it take to make up the slow gains in the last six years? According to the study, all the progress of the last six years could be erased. This impacts todays’ roles, but it also impacts the pipeline of future leaders.

I should note that women, and mothers in particular, leave the workforce for many varying reasons, and many are choosing a better life for themselves and their families, and that’s great. But if women are being forced out of the workforce due to lack of support from employers, impossible childcare situations, or unsafe conditions due to COVID-19, it’s a tragedy. Society loses and so does the company even if they don’t know it yet.

So what do we lose when we lose mothers in the workplace?

There are countless articles from Forbes, Business Insider, and other publications that document testimonies from leaders about how motherhood made them better. Creative Agency Berlin Cameron, along with The Female Quotient and Kantar, published Reframing Motherhood Research that noted that 75% of mothers say parenthood made them better leaders, and parenthood made them more empathetic, efficient, and respectful of people’s time. Berlin Cameron is now promoting a campaign to “end the shecession” caused by COVID-19.

For me personally, I came back from both maternity leaves with a clarity of who I was and what I wanted out of my career. When I had less responsibility, the studio apartment in a bar-hopping neighborhood was great. If I didn’t have food in the fridge, I just ordered out. If I had to work until 11 p.m. on a deadline, it was fine. But with responsibility of family came ambition for more out of my life and out of my work. I wanted to do better for myself and for the people I supported. I wanted to work somewhere that aligned with my values, and more importantly, that believed in me. I made big changes after my first baby with that wakeup call. I changed industries, I moved across the country, and I changed roles. After the transformative event of giving birth, I had less fear than I had ever had in my life. I remained open to new experiences and challenges, which opened up great new opportunities. I had already done the hardest thing I had ever done in my life. I could take on anything. And to this day, with baby number two only six months old, I still believe that. The evolution of self confidence, purpose, and contentment has never been more at the forefront of my life and my work.

Mothers are all special in their own way. As an amazing co-worker said to me, “Mothers come out of maternity leave with superpowers.” Like all superhero teams, their superpowers vary, creating a myriad of different strengths and journeys that propelled them to where they are today. The mothers in my life are intelligent, passionate, empathetic, collaborative people who have a deep conviction for making the world a better place. How could you not want those superpowers leading your organization?

Because I choose to be an optimist, I choose to believe that the women leaving the workforce this past year will reinvent themselves in another way through entrepreneurship, pursuing new careers, or fostering community. They will figure out how to make the world a better place, one way or another, because their motivation is the smiling face they see when they wake up in the morning, the little voice that laughs at their terrible jokes, and the hugs that feel like home. Their motivation is a mother’s love, and there is nothing stronger.

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Architectural + Interior Design, Innovation + Strategy, Workplace Futurism, Motherhood Musings

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Noelle Via Borda

Noelle Via Borda

Architectural + Interior Design, Innovation + Strategy, Workplace Futurism, Motherhood Musings

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