We have now passed the time when it is unusual to see a successful director, senior executive, doctor, professor, or politician who is also a mother. Such women in the past did not received the societal support they deserved. What is inspiring, is women of today who continue to break barriers by breaking down stereotypes, discover creative solutions for combining roles, and provide models for the next generation of flexible working organisations. Times are changing to support a different more flexible and supportive workforce.
Perhaps one of the most critical changes, is the social change that occurs through women who choose not to shape their lives to fit the confines of limiting stereotypes and also work to ensure the road behind them is smooth for those following in their footsteps. It is vital to recognise and learn from working mothers who continue to demonstrate simultaneous competence at both motherhood and employment.
Five years ago I started working with Katherine during her transition to a Senior Leadership role. One of her main concerns was the perceived lack of “commitment” from her team. Primarily it seemed in her view, the working mothers in her newly formed team, lacked the commitment she expected to see. As working mothers, their commitment was split between work and home and they were not always available for last minute urgent meetings, or required to work from home due to sickness in the family or specific day care requirements. This was something she was not use to or tolerant of. In her view, your role at work was your priority.
Today Katherine holds a senior executive leadership position and is also a mother of two young children. She believes now her expectations and views 5 years ago were an unrealistic perception of those in her team. From gaining an understanding of how to best utilise and support her team within their various external commitments, she now has a willing, loyal and highly productive team.
Working with many managers including Katherine, we established three key points to assist managers of working mothers:
Ask yourself honestly, can that urgent meeting at 5pm wait until tomorrow? Is it vital for every single person of the team to attend every single meeting? View Stephen Coveys 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and re-look at the way meetings are structured within your organisation.
It is not only working mothers, but people with sporting interests, elderly parents, and lifestyle choices who wish to challenge the typical 50 hour working week of executive level leaders. Challenge the status quo with regards to set positions and expectations within your team?
Be genuinely interested in getting to know your people. By asking them about life outside of work can often show insights to a person, you haven’t yet seen. People like to see that their manager actually cares about what is going on for them personally. Are their children sick at home, currently sitting high school exams, are they training for the New York marathon?
A well rounded employee has balance inside and outside of the organisation.