Influencers and high-profile female execs are leading a new positive dialogue about what it means to have a career, and be a mom.
The conversation around working mothers has long been dominated by guilt, apologies, and excuses—positioning a career as the sort of optional luxury that women have cause to feel ambivalent about. But a study published in December 2016 by the Center for American Progress reported quite the opposite. It found that nearly two thirds of mothers in the United States were the primary, sole, or co-breadwinners for their families in 2015, inarguable evidence that women are pulling their financial weight as never before and that women’s contributions are far from superfluous. #SorryNotSorry for going to work.
With this change in family economics comes a shift in the way we talk about women who work—from the elusive quest for balance, to a focus on the benefits of momming-while-full-time-jobbing. A new guard of celebrities, CEOs, and influencers is smashing this ceiling, embracing ambition, rather than apologizing for it—declaring work as a source of power, not shame. The evolving dialogue pivots from the outrage directed against former Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer when she announced she would only take two weeks of maternity leave following the birth of her twins in 2015 (though we’re pleased to see that Yahoo’s official policy is considerably more generous to employees).
Sarah Lacy, CEO of tech news platform Pando, seeks to rebrand working motherhood with Chairman Mom, a newly launched subscription-based online community that connects working moms and helps them solve the toughest problems they face. “Our aim is to rebrand working motherhood as exactly what it is: Something badass and aspirational that you are doing not in spite of your family but for your family, and—more importantly—for you,” she writes in a Pando op-ed. With Chairman Mom, Lacy pushes back against the trope that motherhood leads to a career dead end. “What happened when I had kids was I became better at everything. I became more ambitious, I wrote more quickly, I was so much better as a manager. I was so much more productive. You really have this amazing ability to prioritize what’s important,” she tells TechCrunch.
The idea that a mother’s career can be of service, not disservice, of family life, is increasingly being celebrated. Santa Clarita Diet star Drew Barrymore recently took to Instagram to share how she hopes to teach her daughter to respect, not resent, mom’s career, with the help of a handy calendar designed to make managing mom’s work and travel schedule simpler.
“I always explain to her that I love my job. I don’t say ‘I have to go work’ with a grimace on my face, because I fear it will make her feel negative about something a lot of moms must do to provide,” Barrymore writes in an Instagram caption. “My friend once said, ‘Never make your child feel like work is the bad thing taking you away from them,’ and I realized a lot of us tend to do that to try to make our kids feel better and that work is the yucky thing taking us away… I want to empower my daughters to think work is good and necessary. And can even lead them to road of their dreams.”
On International Women’s Day, Instagram director of fashion partnerships Eva Chen took to the ‘gram to pay tribute to her own working mother (and her mother’s enviable ‘90s power wardrobe). As a child, Chen recalls impatiently awaiting her mother’s return from long work trips to Asia. These days, the fashion powerhouse admits to shedding tears while away from her own family on work, but writes that she hopes growing up with a working mom will be as “fundamentally formative” for her children as it was for her.
Arianna Schioldager, editor-in-chief of Create & Cultivate, an online platform and conference for career-minded women, echoes both Chen and Barrymore’s sentiments about inspiring a positive outlook toward work, and its advantages on her own daughter’s future.“It is less important to me that my daughter sees me working, than it is that she sees me involved, passionate, and interested in matters that don’t fall into any gendered category,” explains Schioldager. “I love to write. I love to read. She sees me doing both those things and as a bonus, knows they earn me money. We talk a lot about how anyone can do anything. I live that example for her. The day I stop living that, I’ve failed her.”
With her #EmbraceAmbition campaign and upcoming summit, fashion designer and mom of three Tory Burch is shattering the stigma around being an “ambitious woman,” ambitious being a term that has historically been used to compliment men and denigrate women.
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While the conversation around working motherhood is evolving, some would argue that it hasn’t yet lightened the load for women, nor solved common workplace challenges. A widely cited 2018 OnePoll survey of 2,000 mothers with kids between five and 12 years old, commissioned by Welch’s, found that the average mother works the equivalent of 2.5 jobs. Moreover, the fight for basic rights such as equal pay, maternity leave, lactation support, and access to quality child care are still pressing issues that disproportionately affect women of color, just a few of the many things that will need to change on a policy level as women rise in the ranks and own their professional power. In the meantime, the dialogue about women—their right to work, have ambition, and enjoy their jobs as well as being parents, seems at least to be moving in a promising direction.