“A lot of the time, what is stopping you from achieving your goals is a certain amount of uncertainty and a certain amount of worry that you are not perfect at everything you do. But guess what? None of us are perfect at everything we do. I think the only thing we can do is step up, do the very best that you can each and every day, and learn from your mistakes.” – Silvia de Jong
Tackling motherhood while excelling in your career can be intimidating to say the least, especially for new mothers. Compounded by the effects of the recent Covid-19 pandemic, working parents, especially working mothers, have had a tougher time juggling the jobs of being mothers and corporate executives. According to a study by KFF, working mothers were more impacted by the effects of the lockdown and more stressed than their male counterparts during the pandemic, which changed their lives almost overnight.
The constant of kids being in school while parents were at work disappeared almost immediately and was replaced by additional responsibilities to cook and clean the house for the family, while home-schooling and entertaining the children along with ensuring that all work responsibilities are discharged effectively. With all of these responsibilities, how can working mothers navigate these life challenges to help them maintain optimum productivity at work without burning out?
This was the inspiration for the panel discussion on “Succeeding As A Mother In Leadership: Achieving Productivity Without Burning Out” during the 2021 edition of the Rise and Lead Summit. The panel, which was moderated by Giralda Chiverton, the Sales and Account Executive at JAA Training Organisation included the following panelists:
- Silvia de Jong – Head of Supply Chain and Logistics for Benelux at The Kraft Heinz Company.
- Hanneke ter Velde – Global Director for Direct Sales & Digital Transformation/Tribe Lead at LeasePlan Corporation N.V.
- Jody Samuels Ike – Director of Brands at Diageo
- Ebere Akadiri – Founder of Rise & Lead and CEO of Ataro Foods.
In reality, being a business leader and being a mother are more similar than you can imagine. They both require a lot of the same skills, such as communication, flexibility, empathy, and more. While highlighting some additional skills that both mothers and business leaders have in common, Ebere Akadiri began by elaborating on the importance of prioritising, stating, “As a businesswoman, one thing I have done is to recognise my priorities”. As mothers, we tend to understand the importance of everything that we need to do and, somehow, we believe that they all need to get done in the shortest time frame possible. But this is the fastest way to get burnt-out and exhausted. Prioritising our to-dos as both mothers and leaders can help us to take charge of our time and effectively discharge our work and life responsibilities.
Another important skill for mothers, which was also highlighted by Ebere Akadiri, is delegation. Ebere emphasised the importance of delegating tasks as a key strategy for success and shared that in her personal life, “I don’t look back when I delegate anymore”. Whether you’re a mother of one child or multiple children, the daily tasks to ensure effective achievement of home, personal life and work goals will require that you have more than 24 hours every day. To achieve some semblance of work/life balance without getting burnt-out, you need to be able to delegate some tasks without feeling guilty. This is where a support system comes in. Whether it is hiring a nanny or setting up a schedule with close family members who can assist with watching the kids while you attend to work responsibilities, these types of delegation can go a long way in helping you to create balance while remaining productive.
Admittedly, not every mother has the luxury of having a support system of friends and relatives that are close to them, especially in situations of being a single parent or having a job that requires that a mother travels often. Some of the panelists were either currently in work roles that required lots of travel or had been in such roles and they shared some tips that helped them cope with the demands on their time. While sharing a personal story of juggling travelling for work and making time for her family, while caring for her husband who had suffered a paralysis as a result of an accident, Sylvia de Jong admitted that she broke down from the pressure of it all at some point. Her advice from this experience was for women to “Ask for help. It does not mean that you’re failing”. She also advised women to talk about their situation with people that they trusted – “I found that opening up with people and being vulnerable about the situation helped.”
If you are thinking, “all of this advice is great, but I have no support system because I relocated for work. How can I cope?”, Jody Samuels Ike shared a personal experience of being offered a position abroad and having to choose between moving immediately or waiting until after the school year so that she could relocate with her kids without disrupting their learning in the middle of a school year. While highlighting that she chose the latter option and it worked out well for her career and kids, she advised that women need to find a balance without exhausting themselves. Jody emphasised that, “It doesn’t have to be a full on focus to giving everything to different goals every day” as setting a goal for daily balance is necessary. Ebere Akadiri, who also relocated and was without a support system at that time, shared that she had to hire a nanny and create a monthly budget for this in order for her to focus on work responsibilities, confident that her kids were being cared for during the hours when she worked.
A similarity that exists in the stories of these panellists is the need to make sacrifices. It is not easy to delegate some home chores, hire a nanny or relative to watch the children, or make other decisions that working mothers make daily. A number of women suffer the effects of something called ‘mum guilt’ when they make such decisions in order for them to focus on their work responsibilities. According to Healthline, mum guilt refers to the “pervasive feeling of not doing enough as a parent, not doing things right, or making decisions that may ‘mess up’ your kids in the long run”. It usually arises in a number of ways, such as external pressures from family, friends, or social media, and internal pressures from personal insecurities, etc.
To deal with mum guilt, Silvia highlighted that lots of sacrifices will need to be made to create a proper work-life balance, but she advised that, “One of the things you must stop to think for yourself is, ‘What is important in my life? Who do I want to remember myself for?’” She said that these questions will help women create priorities, so that when they look back at the time spent working, they will not feel guilty. While agreeing to this, Jody added that women should “Have that vision of who you want to be in the future and be that person”.
Mum guilt also sometimes exhibits itself as a feeling of abandoning your child(ren). Hanneke ter Velde volunteered a creative strategy for working mothers to maintain/build connections with their kids while they may be away for work. Hanneke advised working mothers to “build rituals with your kids that you can build without being there”. She elaborated that her own ritual is to sing for her kids before they go to bed.So even if she has travelled, she still uses technological devices to talk to them and sing to them.
While navigating through life as a working mother, making different sacrifices and dealing with the resulting mum guilt, it is important for us to be kind to ourselves. We can only give so much of ourselves, but we should never forget to give something back to ourselves. This is where the importance of self-care comes in. Even if it’s just a couple of minutes alone or a solitary walk, it goes a long way in improving our mental health. On this topic, Jody advised women to “Treat yourself like a friend” and give themselves the advice that they would give to a best friend who finds herself in such situations.
The panel discussion on “Succeeding As A Mother In Leadership: Achieving Productivity Without Burning Out” is part of the discussions at the 2021 edition of the Rise and Lead Summit, which is available to be viewed here (insert YouTube link). To enjoy more discussions from the Rise and Lead Summit 2021, subscribe to our YouTube channel.