Not long ago, I ended up in an awkward conversation with a man who I highly respected. He said it was impossible for women to be successful in both business and motherhood. One would have to suffer, one would have to give. More troubling, this was coming from a man with a wife who was also a high-powered working mom.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, 70% of women over 18 in the workforce are moms, and 75% of those women are employed full time. Despite those figures, there are many who still view the working mom as an anomaly, or worse, a problem. In today’s economy where the two-person income household is a necessity for many families, that mind-set is baffling.
The higher I moved up professionally, the more I heard the question about whether women can successfully manage both motherhood and a career. Is balancing home and work life easy? No, but it’s not impossible, either. Especially when working moms have allies and advocates in the workplace. One of mine came in the form of an unlikely individual.
Occasionally, working moms have moments that can only be classified as Motherhood Murphy’s Law. Moments when your work and family life collide, creating some pretty awkward situations. For instance, last July, the first week of my son’s new summer camp was also the same week of a critical mid-year sales and marketing meeting, where I was responsible for leading a lot of the agenda. Also, our global chairman, my boss, was flying in from Italy to attend the meeting.
Since my husband had a prescheduled out-of-town business trip, we arranged for our son’s sitter to pick him up from summer camp. As Motherhood Murphy’s Law would have it, something came up, and our sitter needed to cancel. I’ll never forget the feeling I experienced in my stomach as I read her text en route to work. Since we have no family in the New York metro area, the only other person authorized to pick up my son from camp was me. I immediately devised a plan of action: Make some slight adjustments to the agenda, forgo the team lunch to pick up my son, bring him back to work with me, set him up in my office with food and other items to keep him occupied for four hours, and return to the meeting.
When I greeted my boss that morning, I pulled him aside to briefly explain my situation. With a smile, he said that he understood. Although he appeared fine with the situation and changes to the agenda, I felt horrible, embarrassed, and unprofessional. Never mind that I was about to deliver a killer presentation and had met and exceeded all of the expectations for the year.
It was a scorching day in July where in a record 45 minutes I managed to jump on the ferry to Jersey City, sprint to the camp, grab lunch to-go at a corner deli, hop on another ferry back to Manhattan, and run back to the office with kid in tow. All while being attentive and listening to the details of his busy morning.
I could hear my colleagues, all male, return from lunch as I was setting up my office to accommodate my then 5-year-old. To attempt to suppress a Molotov cocktail of mom shame and guilt, I snuck off to the restroom to splash some water on my face and give myself a quick pep talk.
Before returning to the boardroom, I peeked into my office one last time to make sure my son was okay. When I got there, I saw my boss, Ulrich Zuenelli, the global chairman of Loacker, laughing with my son over chocolate and cookies.
My boss was fine with my son being at the office that day, and it made total sense. His mother, Christine Loacker Zuenelli, was instrumental in taking the company to commercialization and globalization. As a child, Ulrich was able to witness his mother taking charge, leading meetings, making decisions, and commanding respect. I can’t help but think the influence she had on him translates in how he views me as a mom, and why he supports our company’s PowerMom initiative, honoring and celebrating working mothers. I’m sure Ulrich was also able to relate to Elijah, as it was likely that he also played in his mother’s office while she worked.
Studies have shown that daughters of women who work outside the home are more likely to hold leadership positions and earn higher wages. But the benefits are also significant for boys. I believe that sons of business women pick up traits and make observations that are sure to formulate their future interactions with women in the workplace, particularly with working mothers. From my experience, adult sons of working moms tend to be more tactful communicators, hold a more accepting view of gender equality, and have a deeper respect for the unique challenges of working mothers.
As a boy, if you know how hard your mother works inside the home, and you also get a glimpse of how hard she works outside the home, there’s sure to be a deeper level of respect that accompanies those observations. It’s evident in how my husband relates to me, being raised by a mother who was also a successful business woman. This unique male perspective shapes their interactions and communications with women, lessening the likelihood of making insensitive comments or insulting insinuations.
My son is aware that both daddy and mommy have demanding jobs, and he witnesses how my husband is my partner in our household. Since my husband and I share household responsibilities, my son is being raised with implicit and explicit examples of gender equality. This should be beneficial when my son gets married, but also when he progresses in his career and is ever in the position to hire and promote women. He will be equipped with the tools to do so with an unbiased lens and respect for parity.
I have confidence in knowing that my son is gaining an understanding and reverence for the unique challenges it takes to hold two full-time jobs, running a successful household, and excelling in business. My son is just one of many who have the potential to disrupt outdated notions and serve as an ally and advocate for the next generation of moms who represent the very women who raised, provided for, taught, and most importantly, loved them.
Crystal Black Davis is the executive vice president/vice president of marketing for Loacker USA, founder of the PowerMom Movement, wife, and mother of a charming 6-year-old son.