I became a coach for working moms after struggling to balance two kids and a demanding job within the confines of corporate culture. After I had my first child and was returning from maternity leave, I asked for a mere half hour of flexibility in my schedule to tuck my daughter in for bedtime—and was refused. So, I left and started my own marketing firm, running it for years with two kids before re-entering the workforce full time. Nothing had changed.
I accepted a role at a mid-sized firm leading a large marketing, communications, and engagement team–and within a month was told it was hard to succeed in hospitality with children. Two different leaders at the organization regaled me with stories of leaving crying children who missed their mother due to their late nights and weekends at work, essentially telling me this is what it would take to succeed.
A few years later, I started with a large multinational organization, thinking there would be more support–or at least less hostility–for working parents. I was there through the height of the pandemic when everyone was adjusting to working from home with young and old. While most people were understanding about kids popping up on zoom, my boss (and often his boss) would schedule calls irrespective of after-hours, dinner, or bedtime, never able to wait before I got the kids to bed.
The lack of understanding and support at these companies did not encourage loyalty or engagement, nor build long-term success. These managers led based on the experiences they had, rather than empathetically responding to my–or any working mother’s–needs and providing the support to help us succeed.
The challenges I experienced in the corporate world revealed the stark gaps we still need to fill to keep mothers in the workforce. I started my coaching practice focused on new mothers, helping them explore their new reality of handling their increased responsibilities at home while managing work. This grew to include mothers at all stages of motherhood, in different industries, at various levels within the company and across the globe. Through our work together, these women became more confident, more resilient, and better able to align their lives while communicating their needs.
Rebalancing our lives so we can thrive
The uphill battle that we working moms face throughout the world are strikingly similar. On top of the microaggressions at work, the feelings of being overwhelmed, overworked, and off-course (and the need to “keep it all together”) have reached a tipping point. We are taking care of everyone else’s needs–kids, boss, spouse, and colleagues–leaving no time left to recharge ourselves. These overburdened feelings are spilling into both home and work, without the tools to make a change.
In supporting working mothers, these are the first three steps that I walk through with them to clarify, then transform, their lives to find their career success, while gracefully managing home, work, and self-care.
This doesn’t look quite the same as it did before kids, as it encompasses your entire life, not just work. Imagine someone is giving a speech at your 80th birthday or your retirement party: what do you want them to say? From here, you can work backward to set your goals for parenting, finances, work, relationship, health, and self-development, mindfully choosing the elements that give your life meaning and purpose.
After looking at your goals, decide what you want your days and weeks to look like. Do you want to spend 70% of your time to reach your work goals and 10% with your family, 10% on chores, 10% on health, to equal 100%? Or what does balance feel like for you? Your personal equation will determine the speed in which you can realistically accomplish your goals.
Communicating your needs
Once you are clear on your goals and how you want your life to look, it’s important to share this view with those in your life. Your partner should know that you want to spend 10% of your time on your health, which may mean your spouse makes dinner, or you order a meal service. Your boss should know that you are looking to build more entrepreneurial skills, and bonus points if you already have an idea for her on how this can happen! Even sharing this mindset with friends can be good, so they can help keep you accountable and support you in saying ‘no’ when needed.
Every working mom needs a coach
While coaching offers working mothers an up-level in skills across all aspects of their lives and provides them with the tools to ask for what they need, women can’t do it alone. Companies that are looking to retain women in the workforce can provide coaching that addresses the pain points across their lives, supporting them to thrive in the office and at home. A tailored benefit like this shows that the company is truly listening to the needs of working mothers and isn’t just providing cookie cutter initiatives to match competitors.
Those unsupportive bosses, who likely just don’t know better, could also benefit from coaching to better communicate their expectations, while acknowledging the needs of their female employees. A good start would be to give working moms the space to create boundaries and offer flexibility. This alone will give them autonomy to be successful on their own terms, and the support from their bosses will generate a positive ripple effect, seen through increased engagement, productivity, and loyalty.
As we slowly re-emerge from the pandemic where women have been pushed to the brink, companies need to relook at what it will take to retain this at-risk population. By supporting working mothers to reconnect with their goals, rebalance their lives and share their vision, businesses, families, and the individual can all win.
Sara Madera has led organizations and teams across the globe before founding Plan Creatively to offer career coaching to working moms through corporate, individual and community programs.