Motherhood & Leadership: How to Power Down Without Opting Out
Struggling to Balance Motherhood & Leadership?
Just because you can’t have it all doesn’t mean you can’t have it on your terms.
Balancing personal and professional demands seems like a reasonable goal, but the truth is, achieving the perfect balance is often impossible. Each day, millions of women feel they face no-win decisions over whether to hunker down with work or be present for their families at home.
When asked to name the barriers they face in advancing their careers, the work-life juggle rises to the top of the list for many women.
And that was before the global coronavirus pandemic and its aftermath. Now, more women than ever are leaving the workplace because the demands are simply too great.
There’s a tension that comes from wanting to be fully present for all parts of your life. But the notion of “balance” is a fallacy. It’s not possible to be fully present for work, for your family, for your health, and for yourself — all at the same time.
Instead of striving for an impossible balance between motherhood and leadership, we encourage women leaders to first think about their own values and what’s important to them and then take actions in alignment with their values. It’s different for every person, and that’s okay.
If you’re at the point of thinking about stepping away from your career to focus on child-rearing, or just to survive, remember that there’s another option besides dropping out: shifting gears.
Consider powering down instead of opting out entirely.
Shift Down & Stay the Course
In our book Kick Some Glass: 10 Ways Women Succeed at Work, co-authors Jennifer Martineau and Portia Mount explore the “power down” alternative for balancing motherhood and leadership, advising that “women may not need to leave their organizations if they can adjust the demands of their roles to accommodate childbirth and child-rearing.”
While powering down looks differently depending on an employee’s unique situation, Kick Some Glass suggests some ways to get started and better balance the responsibilities of both motherhood and leadership.
1. Advocate for better leave policies.
This is your first line of attack because employers don’t want to lose top talent. In writing the book, the authors talked to pregnant women who looked at their organizations’ leave policies and recognized that the policies were archaic. In some cases, a gutsy conversation with their employer effected change.
You can say something like, “This policy isn’t going to help you get the best out of me, one of the talented members of your employee base. It’s going to force me into decisions that aren’t ideal for me and my family or for you.”
Draw courage from the knowledge that it’s not just about your individual leave. It’s also about other families and about other women leaders at your organization who are also mothers or who have home responsibilities on their shoulders. You want to be sure your organization’s leave policies are strong enough to support you while you’re out and that they’re supportive of your colleagues as well. Organizations want to retain strong performers, especially given an increased focus on equity, along with diversity and inclusion, at many organizations.
2. Keep your network intact.
For employees who opt to power down their careers by reducing their hours or switching from full-time to part-time, maintaining a professional network can keep you current in the workforce.
How to stay involved? Maintain professional association memberships. Continue to interact with colleagues within your network to remain on their radars and to stay attuned to what they’re talking about. And to expand your existing network, periodically attend meetings or conferences. Check out our other networking tips for women for even more ideas.
3. Outsource low-value activities where possible.
On a day-to-day basis, the demands of motherhood and leadership can be so great that not only do women struggle to manage it all, but they also don’t have time to stop and think about how to prioritize. This is the time to outsource whatever tasks you can afford: meal prep, grocery shopping, or house-cleaning. Don’t feel guilty.
Part of powering down is figuring out how you can use other resources to take care of some of the things in your life that don’t require you, specifically. What services, for example, are available that can fill some of those gaps so you can be fully present for the things that are most important to you?
4. Beware of Impostor Syndrome.
Let’s say you’ve identified your values and you have a clear picture of what it’ll take to live with intention both at work and at home. Whether the next steps involve a difficult conversation with your employer, going out on a limb to build a robust professional network, or taking the leap into self-employment, a healthy dose of self-confidence is required.
Unfortunately, many successful professionals experience impostor syndrome — the feeling that they haven’t earned their accomplishments or that they’ve somehow faked their way to success. The good news is that there are simple behaviors you can adopt to help overcome feeling like an impostor.
Everyone goes through periods of self-doubt, but the important thing to remember is that balance shouldn’t become the impossible goal. Find ways to align motherhood and leadership, and recognize that what works best for you is likely different than what works best for everyone else.
Ready to Take the Next Step?
We have decades of experience working with those who are struggling to balance motherhood and leadership. Support, develop, and retain talented women leaders by partnering with us for women’s leadership development, or work with the experts in our Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion practice to create an organizational culture that attracts, retains, and supports women and people of color.