The debate on working mothers is usually framed in “you can’t have it all” terms and often pits working mothers against their stay-at-home counterparts. Typically, the discussion focuses on middle-class mothers in mid-level jobs. But what about balancing motherhood and work in the C-suite? Are the issues appreciably different for mothers who are top executives? Can executive moms find the right balance?
Tellingly, male CEOs are rarely asked how they manage to find the right balance between work and fatherhood. Even in 2014, women are assumed to be the primary caregiver for children, and mothers who take on demanding, high-level executive roles are often scrutinized and found wanting as either parents, leaders or both, as the controversy surrounding Marissa Mayer’s hiring at Yahoo demonstrated.
But the fact that the terms and framing of the debate are often unfair doesn’t mean there aren’t real challenges involved in striking the right balance between the role of mother and CEO. Here are a few methods women executives have used to successfully handle both roles.
1. Define your priorities – and recognize that they will change. As a top executive, you’re ultimately responsible for all aspects of company operations, and you understand the commitment it takes to successfully manage your enterprise. To handle another all-consuming role – parenthood – simultaneously means you have to set priorities and make compromises. This is true for any parent, male or female. It’s also important to acknowledge that your priorities will change over time. Parenthood is a life-changing event, and as children grow, the demands of motherhood evolve.
2. Develop a strong, dedicated team. Some CEOs find it tough to delegate important tasks, which makes it extremely difficult to achieve work-life balance. “Difficult” can quickly become “impossible” when you’re attempting to balance two extraordinarily demanding roles, chief executive and mother, without delegating key tasks. To pull it off successfully, you’ll need to surround yourself with a team you can trust to handle critical negotiations and client relationships. Give your top people a chance to shine, and mentor them to hone their leadership skills. When you have a trusted team in place, you’ll have more options when you need to prioritize your time.
3. Make sure you have solid support at home. The reason so few people question the ability of male CEOs to balance leading a company with parenting is that they assume his spouse is at home looking after the children. Female CEOs can also opt to support a partner who is home full-time with the kids; a Pew Research Center report notes that more fathers than ever before are staying home on a full-time basis. Women in the C-suite typically have more financial resources than the average working mother, so they have more childcare choices too, including the option of hiring a live-in nanny.
4. Leverage technology to be in two places at once. The ubiquity of mobile technology has already extended the boundaries of the office to virtually anywhere on the planet, making it easier to stay in touch with the management team and key customers. Telepresence technology enables virtual face-to-face meetings, allowing CEOs to deliver presentations and participate in important business development meetings from home or the office, curtailing the need for extensive travel.
No one ever said having it all would be easy, but it is possible for women to balance their role as a chief executive with motherhood. It takes a clear sense of priorities and a willingness to compromise. It requires solid support at home as well as a strong team of surrogates at work who can competently handle business decision-making. And it takes a creative, flexible approach, which may include using technology tools to extend availability and stay in touch with the team.
Another critical element for success in balancing parenthood and company leadership responsibilities is a company culture that values family and work-life balance. As a chief executive, you’re in an excellent position to build and maintain a workplace culture that recognizes the importance of a healthy work-life balance. Finding success as a parent and a company leader is definitely a challenge, but you may find there is no greater reward.
Guest Contributions do not reflect the opinions of The Glass Hammer