At Pepperlane, we help moms turn their skills and ideas into businesses that fit into their lives. As CEO, I’ve learned that to set the right example, I need to show that I’m fully committed. For me, however, commitment isn’t about being in the office from 9 to 5; it’s about productivity and reducing unnecessary stress. My commute to Pepperlane’s office sometimes takes over an hour in rush hour. My team knows that unless we have urgent meeting not to schedule meetings before 10:30 in the morning. I start my day working from home and arrive later; doing this means my commute takes just 25 minutes (with no traffic and no stress). So why is this kind of flexibility in our ways of working so hard for so many of us to achieve?
If you’re a parent, then you’ve probably experienced ‘mom guilt’ before (or ‘dad guilt,’ for that matter) -; that dreaded feeling when you miss a special moment in your child’s life because you were working, or when you goof something up at home or at work because you were unable to defy the laws of physics and be two places once (still impossible, I checked).
So how do we break free of the ‘mom guilt’ shame cycle -; and learn to bring our whole selves to work? How can we shift parenthood from being something we’re ashamed to bring into the workplace -; to something we celebrate at the workplace? After all, parenthood is not something to be ashamed of -; it’s one of life’s greatest joys.
Changing ingrained behaviors is never easy, but it’s possible. Here’s how:
1. Set Boundaries and Communicate Clearly
The first step in this process is one you’ll recognize from your parenting skill set: setting boundaries. Just like a toddler needs boundaries in order to thrive, we as professionals need to set boundaries so that we can be at our best. It’s absolutely okay to say, “I need to leave by 4:30PM and pick up my kids but I’ll be back online as soon as I put them to sleep.” If you don’t clearly state what you need, people can’t guess. Don't hide it, own it.
2. Own Your Strengths
Embrace how you’ve grown as a mom as a strength you bring to the workforce. Own your strengths as a master negotiator. We all know that kids can take forever to put on their shoes-;but has that stopped you from getting them out the door? Of course not. The same rule applies at work. If there’s something you want to change, be clear on what you want, what you need, and what you deserve. If you want or need financial security for your family, you owe it to yourself to leverage the negotiation skills you’ve honed as a mom.
Own your strengths as a resolute, in-charge mom who makes decisions with speed and conviction (one of the four key traits of top-performing CEOs, according to Harvard Business Review). As moms, we know that sometimes you have to make a decision quickly, and just go with it-;even when the decision isn’t a popular one. The same is true in business.
3. Own Your Empathy
Own the empathy you’ve gained as a parent, and let it shine through in your leadership. As a mom, if I want my kids to listen to me, I’d better choose empathy over authority. Sure, the easy way is just to tell them what to do and use my authority as a parent-; but what I’ve learned is that if I listen to their point of view and do it with patience and smile, in most cases, magically they just agree to my suggestions and, even better, they believe my suggestions were their ideas. As Laura Goode writes, “The scope of maternal empathy can feel almost impossibly wide,” -; and, in this expansiveness, we give others the permission to be similarly empathetic. Plus, by channeling your empathy, you’ll run higher performing teams-;40 percent higher.
Of course, if you embrace all of these techniques and you’re still facing undue pressure from your employer -; then guess what, you’re in the wrong job! No employer worth their salt should make you feel guilty for having a personal life. The good news is that you have options -; and many of them. There are plenty of companies searching for talented moms just like you (or you can always strike out on your own). Just like you tell your kids, the world is your oyster.
So let’s work together to banish “mom guilt” from our cultural lexicon. Be yourself -; your whole self, even at work -; and you’ll be amazed at the magic that happens.
About the Author
Sharon Kan is the CEO and co-founder of Pepperlane, a company that empowers mothers to start and grow their businesses and cultivate their entrepreneurial spirit. Prior to her current role, she was Entrepreneur-in- Residence at Accomplice, Chairwoman of Luminoso Technologies and Chairwoman of Orora Global. She is a Co-founder of the WIN (Women Innovating Now) Lab at Babson College. Sharon has spent 20 years growing successful businesses in high-potential markets and was instrumental in developing and leading companies from inception to successful acquisition including Tikatok (sold to Barnes & Noble), Zoomix (acquired by Microsoft), C-Ark (acquired by SSA Global, now Infor), and Demantra (acquired by Oracle).