Harvard reported last year that daughters of working moms will have “better careers, higher pay, and more equal relationships” compared to daughters of stay-at-home mothers, and sons will have more empathy and be more helpful in managing their own households if they grew up with a mother who worked. International telecommunications giant, Vodafone, meanwhile commissioned a third party accounting firm to analyze revenue trends surrounding maternity leave policies and found that global businesses could save $19 billion annually by retaining female employees after the birth of a child.
It’s hard to argue with cold, hard data proving that working moms are making a positive impact on their children and their employers… but what about the moms themselves? How does motherhood change a woman’s relationship with her work?
British politician Andrea Leadsom, while campaigning against Teresa May before withdrawing from the Prime Minister race, implied that her own status as a mother made her a better candidate than May because she has “a real stake in the future.” The media was quick to rip that assertion to shreds, leading Leadsom to claim her comments had been taken out of context. While Leadsom’s remarks felt particularly distasteful in light of the fact that May had recently publicly discussed her sadness upon learning that she and her husband were unable to have children, the idea that motherhood can be a source of power for a working woman is not an uncommon theme.
Olympic swimmer Dana Vollmer, for example, announced her retirement from competitive swimming after the London Olympics in 2012, but after giving birth to son Arlen in 2015 she decided to make a comeback. “Becoming a mom changes your passions,” Vollmer said, revealing that she wrote her son’s name on her foot so it would be the last thing she saw before diving into the pool in Rio. “I wanted him to be proud.”
In his book The Last Male Bastion – Gender and the CEO Suite, Douglas Branson notes that while women are in fact disproportionately underrepresented in the C-suite, those that shatter the proverbial glass ceiling to get there are almost all mothers. When the book was published in 2010, 12 companies in the Fortune 500 had female CEOs, and 11 of those women were mothers.
Personally, I postponed having kids for a couple years after my husband started lobbying for them, confident that I wouldn’t be able to balance my career — which I loved — with the duties of a new mom. It didn’t occur to me that becoming a mother might actually add a new dimension to my fulfilling professional life.
When I welcomed a son, and then another one 19 months later, I determined that I had been right: I couldn’t do both jobs well. I had to make some changes, downsizing my professional duties for a time and finding quality but affordable childcare. Eventually, though, I found that my career aspirations were more focused and energized as a result of the delicate balancing act I was performing as a working mom. I knew I couldn’t do it all, so I decided I had to figure out what mattered and just do that. I have never been more professionally fulfilled than I am now.
Whether it’s increased passion or improved efficiency, in the swimming pool or the corner office, it seems that motherhood does give some women an edge. Harvard says it’s good for kids. Vodafone says it’s good for business. For some moms, including myself, my roles as mother and worker are complementary. I am better in each role because of what the other offers me. I may not have an Olympic medal to show for it, but it still feels like a win.