Mother = Manager

What does a parent do?

A parent’s main mission is to help kids transition into responsible adults, with values that are going to make us proud.

A mother trusts her kids. She establishes rules clearly. She explains them, sometimes in a written form, but ensures that they’re both well understood and transparent. Kids know they have to follow the rules and that they’re not negotiable. They also know that if they decide to go against them, there will be consequences.

A mother will challenge her kids. She’ll be a bit stern at times, simply because she won’t accept mediocrity or semi-accomplishments. She’ll push them to give their best and won’t allow anything below excellence.

But she will encourage her children, and anytime they successfully accomplish what they’ve undertaken, she’ll always be there to praise them.

A mother will supervise her children’s grades, but will never do the homework for them.

A parent will set an example. We do not tell a kid to read when we don’t read ourselves. We do not tell a kid not to eat sweets to binge on them later. Knowledge goes through actions and precedents rather than words.

A mother doesn’t lie to her kids. She does what she says and says what she does… otherwise, refer to the previous paragraph.

A mother will admit when she’s wrong and do her mea culpa. She will accept that her kids may not agree with her and will be open to discussing and questioning her opinions, but she will always have the final say.

These are a few ground rules – we can obviously switch the word mother with the word father.  The topic of the article is not to discuss mother vs father roles, but skills developed when raising children.

Now, we play. We read the article again, but replace the word mother or parent by the word leader or manager. We replace the word kids by employees, and we see what happens.

The purpose of the exercise is not to say that employees are kids…but to show that being a parent entails the same qualities as those of a leader.

The parent-kid relationship isn’t that different from the leader-team one.

So why is it so difficult to go back to the work environment after a “raising kids” break? Why do women think that being a parent and a manager is incompatible? But also, why doesn’t our society acknowledge the experience acquired by being a parent?

Why do we believe that a woman needs to act as a man to become a manager? She already has all the required skills and has tested them on her own kids.

I myself have always considered that being a parent and manager is the same thing and I have always applied the recipes at home and at work.

I’ll end this article with an example of the parallel between work and home, specifically how I handled a conflict between two people from my team. A disagreement arose, email exchanges were getting heated, and each person was accusing the other of “treason” – and forwarding the emails to direct and functional hierarchy. Both had their rights and wrongs – as it’s often the case.

I called them both into my office and said: “My daughters are 10 and 12 years old. When they fight, I send them to their room to solve the issue on their own and tell them not to come back until they’ve reached an agreement. And they always do. Now, tell me if you’re capable of doing what kids do. I don’t want to see another email, other than the one signed by both of you, where you tell me that the you’ve solved the conflict and let me know what conclusion you’ve reached.”

A few days later, they came back to my office telling me “Boss, we’re happy to announce that we are back in the adult world” – end of the story.

So mothers, go update your CVs, put forward all the qualities you’ve acquired during your maternity leave, and get back in the game.

Kids or career, that is the question… or not

I’m not going to start this article asking: “Do men ask themselves that question?” It would be a rather easy way to treat the topic, while ignoring the situation that most women face. And I think that more and more men do actually ask themselves that question.

It’s 7:30am. The taxi is waiting. I sneak out with my suitcase, en route to Zimbabwe. When suddenly, little hands grab onto my suit. My little 3-year old is screaming. No, mom, don’t leave. I remove her hands with a heavy heart. And I leave without looking back.

Pressure from society, guilt from the school, the family, the partner, ourselves, our education…

Can we be a good mother while pursuing a career? Of course. I did it and millions of women do it every day.

Do kids suffer from having a working mother? When they cry because we leave, are they necessarily miserable? For the most part, yes… for a few minutes.

But the real question is…

On the long run, what is the impact on the kids?

There are no studies showing that kids turn out better if their mother stays at home to raise them. It’s quite the opposite actually.

I’ll refer to a study conducted between 2002 and 2012, involving 30,000 people from 24 countries, which depicted that having a mother who doesn’t work at home increases daughters’ chances of finding a job, having managerial responsibilities and earning more. Simultaneously, sons tend to be more involved in chores and be more present around their own kids. (see study here)

The mother may be around less, but she will bring home a taste of the outside world every night and she will serve as a role model in the future.

So, how do we do it?

First, we put our ego to the side and we accept that someone else – someone who was meticulously picked, is able to take care of our kids. And sometimes even better than ourselves. We accept the judgments at school… We ignore them. Or we defend ourselves.

We try to understand why we’re being criticized. Fear of change? Jealousy? Lack of open-mindedness? When we think about it, we quickly realize that anything that could justify that kind of behavior is contemptible and shouldn’t affect us (yes, I know, easier said than done, but it’s essential to work on it).

Is it going to be easy?

Of course not.

When my eldest daughter turned 3 months, after experiencing incredible chemistry, it’s with a heavy heart that I decided to go back to work. When I came home that night, her welcome came as a slap in the face. At just 3 months old, she looked the other way to make me pay for my treason. Of course it’s hard.

Of course it’s hard to juggle between work, nannies, evening baths, and sleepless nights.

But going through that is inevitable and it’s important to find assistance.

Don’t be afraid to get a housekeeper, if that means you get to spend your free time taking care of your kids or yourself instead of cleaning your bathroom.

More importantly, ask your significant other (when there is a significant other) to contribute at home. A partner shouldn’t “help”. A couple should divide chores. Once you agree on who’s doing what, you let them do their part fully. A partner’s in charge of laundry, is in charge from A to Z, and you don’t spend your time criticizing how it is done… your partner’s in charge. It will also help alleviate the mental load linked to laundry. (To understand Mental Load – it’s here)

It’s also essential to agree with your partner on who stays at home when the child is sick, or who has to go to school unexpectedly when your eldest bit another kid in the playground. Once again, this choice is based on both sides’ availability, while keeping in mind that both parents have the required skills to handle these situations. Our genes are useless when it comes to dealing with the principal.

Is it worth it?

Once again, of course! But why? It would be so much easier to stay at home. But no. First, I thought it was much easier to handle a job, a team and different projects than my two monstrous daughters. But also, it allowed me to have fun both at work and at home. To have the best of both worlds. To have the evening bath and cuddles, but not the whims during the day. Work was evolving, but my daughters also helped me put sensitive topics into perspective and made me a better manager.

So yes, it is worth it!

And for the rest?

We find our rhythm. Mine consists of prioritizing real family moments. For instance, when I’m not traveling, I’m home at 8pm every night to have a real family dinner. All together, with no TV, and no cellphone. A moment of exchange. Transforming quality into quantity. Having real weekends. And when we’re with the kids, we’re with the kids. We’re not on the phone or on Facebook. We’re entirely focused on the kids, and we’re connected to them.

We’ve found a system that works and is flexible – we’ve adopted the au-pair way. Given that I traveled a lot more than my husband, we coordinated our calendars ahead of time to make sure that one of us was always home. Other people use the system “grandparents” but unfortunately, ours were too far. And then, we find common activities and we transform our kids into little globetrotters.

Of course, we sometimes don’t perfectly follow the traditional educational protocol. For instance, our daughters didn’t go to bed every night at a given hour (houlala…slap on the hand) – but having dinner together seemed more important than going to bed at a regular hour.

We all know that with a career like mine, we’re going to miss important meetings, so we establish a few rules, such as taking them to their first day of school, being there for parent-teacher meetings, as well as degree ceremonies and end-of-the-year shows.

And homework? In my case, I decided not to be involved, but to do it another way. In elementary school, the au-pairs helped. But in middle school, the level increased. So I had a pact with my daughters. “I trust you entirely. I will never check if you did your homework. If you can’t do it, you call me, otherwise you do it alone. But if one day your grades drop, or if your teachers tell me that you’re not giving your best, then, I’ll find a way to make you regret you were even born!”

And it worked. They learned to be autonomous. But when the eldest had difficulties, I compensated with a tutor. It wasn’t even an issue with time, but rather a patience problem on my end!

The result?

My daughters are 21 and 23, they’ve lived on 4 continents. They both have degrees and are entering the real world. They’re independent and confident young women who know what they want. Or at least, they know what they don’t want. I wouldn’t have been able to stay at home. Every time I stayed home on a Wednesday to take care of them, I went crazy.

The decision to stay at home is respectful and needs to be respected. If it’s a personal choice by one of the parents who genuinely wants to devote his or her time to the kids, I respect it. But if it’s that choice is influenced by anything else, such as guilt or social pressure, then I don’t agree.

You’ll end up having a miserable person, with kids blamed undeservedly – “with everything I’ve sacrificed for you, how could you abandon me?” You’ll end up with kids that won’t understand the meaning of independence and will undoubtedly go through a crisis teenage phase.

Of course, I’m not talking about kids with disabilities or illnesses. In that case, individual choices and desires aren’t the priority.

I thought it was a debate of the last century. But no, even if mindsets have evolved, it stays a current topic. The young women I meet today have the same worries as those of yesterday.

Feel free to share your experiences or pieces of advice that could help others. And for the questions, it’s right here.

Kids Benefit From Having a Working Mom

The research that we were all waiting for:

“There’s a lot of parental guilt about having both parents working outside the home,” McGinn says. “But what this research says to us is that not only are you helping your family economically—and helping yourself professionally and emotionally if you have a job you love—but you’re also helping your kids.

Women whose moms worked outside the home are more likely to have jobs themselves, are more likely to hold supervisory responsibility at those jobs, and earn higher wages than women whose mothers stayed home full time, according to research by Kathleen McGinn and colleagues.

by Carmen Nobel


Here’s some heartening news for working mothers worried about the future of their children.

Women whose moms worked outside the home are more likely to have jobs themselves, are more likely to hold supervisory responsibility at those jobs, and earn higher wages than women whose mothers stayed home full time, according to a new study. Men raised by working mothers are more likely to contribute to household chores and spend more time caring for family members.

“There are very few things … that have such a clear effect on gender inequality as being raised by a working mother”

The findings are stark, and they hold true across 24 countries.

“There are very few things, that we know of, that have such a clear effect on gender inequality as being raised by a working mother,” says Kathleen L. McGinn, the Cahners-Rabb Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School, who conducted the study with Mayra Ruiz Castro, a researcher at HBS, and Elizabeth Long Lingo, an embedded practitioner at Mt. Holyoke College.

McGinn’s previous research, with Katherine Milkman of Wharton Business School, found that female attorneys are more likely to rise through the ranks of a firm (and less likely to leave) when they have female partners as mentors and role models. McGinn, Castro, and Lingo wondered how nontraditional role models influenced gender inequality at home—both in terms of professional opportunities and household responsibilities.

“The link between home and the workplace is becoming more and more critical as we have two-wage-earning families,” McGinn says. “We tend to talk more about inequality in the workplace, and yet the inequality in the home is really stuck.”

In developed countries, employed women in two-parent households report that they spend an average of 17.7 hours per week caring for family members, while employed men report devoting about 9, according to the researchers. At the same time, women report spending an average of 17.8 hours per week on housework, while men report an average of 8.8 hours.

The Global Effect Of Working Moms

To gauge the global effect of working moms, the researchers dug into data from the International Social Survey Programme, a global consortium of organizations that conduct social science research, and studied 2002 and 2012 responses to a survey called “Family and Changing Gender Roles.” They supplemented these data with data on employment opportunities and gender inequality across countries.

The survey included several pages of questions related to gender attitudes, home life, and career path. The researchers were primarily interested in the answer to one key question: Did your mother ever work for pay, after you were born and before you were 14?

“It didn’t matter to us if she worked for a few months one year, or worked 60 hours per week during your whole childhood,” McGinn says. “We weren’t interested in whether your mom was an intense professional, but rather whether you had a role model who showed you that women work both inside and outside the home. We wanted to see how that played out.”

The research team aimed to find out whether growing up with a working mom influenced several factors, including employment, supervisory responsibility, earnings, allocation of household work, and care for family members.

Survey respondents included 13,326 women and 18,152 men from 24 developed nations. The researchers based their analyses on responses collected from the 2002 and 2012 surveys. They categorized the countries by their attitudes toward gender equality, both at home and in the workplace.

“Liberalizing Egalitarians” were those countries where respondents’ attitudes toward gender were already egalitarian in 2002 and became even more so over the following decade (Denmark, Finland, Norway, Sweden, France, Germany, and Slovenia). “Stagnating Moderates” leaned slightly egalitarian in 2002 and remained stagnant in the following decade (Israel, the United States, Great Britain, Spain, Australia, Czech Republic, Poland, Slovakia, Switzerland, Austria, Japan, and Taiwan). “Stagnating Conservatives” started off with conservative attitudes toward gender roles in 2002 and stayed that way (Chile, Latvia, Mexico, Philippines, and Russia.)

Men tended to report more conservative gender attitudes than women-with the exception of Mexico, where women were more conservative than men, McGinn says.

The researchers controlled for factors including: age; marital status; religion; years of education; urban versus rural dwelling; average Female Labor Force participation in the respondent’s home country during the years the respondent was 0 to 14 years old; Economic Freedom Index in the respondent’s home country during the survey year; Gender Inequality Index in the respondent’s home country; and Gross Domestic Product in the respondent’s home country. Stripping those things away, they focused on the effects of being raised by a mother who worked outside the home. “The direct effects are significant across the board,” McGinn says.

The data showed that men were just as likely to hold supervisory jobs whether or not their moms had worked outside the home. But women raised by working mothers were more likely to supervise others at work.

Effects On Income

The data also showed that while being raised by a working mother had no apparent effect on men’s relative wages, women raised by working moms had higher incomes than women whose moms stayed at home full time. The one exception: women who reported conservative attitudes toward gender equality. “It’s only for earnings that having conservative gender attitudes reduces the effect of a working mom,” McGinn says. “For all of the rest of them, having had a non-traditional role model at home has a direct effect on the outcomes, regardless of attitudes.”

As for men whose moms ever worked outside the home, they were more likely to contribute to household chores and spent more time caring for family members. “Growing up, what was being modeled for sons was the idea that you share the work at home,” McGinn says.

Women spent about the same amount of time caring for family members, regardless of whether their moms worked outside the home. However, “When we segmented just for people who have children at home, we found that women who are raised by a working mom actually spend more time with their kids,” McGinn says, adding that this includes women who grew up to become working moms themselves.

“There’s a lot of parental guilt about having both parents working outside the home,” McGinn says. “But what this research says to us is that not only are you helping your family economically—and helping yourself professionally and emotionally if you have a job you love—but you’re also helping your kids. So I think for both mothers and for fathers, working both inside and outside the home gives your kids a signal that contributions at home and at work are equally valuable, for both men and women. In short, it’s good for your kids.”