Moms are pros at multitasking, juggling career and family obligations, managing conflict and staying levelheaded.
A new study released in January shows a whopping 89% of American workers believe working moms in leadership roles bring out the best in their employees. This is hardly a surprise — moms are pros at multitasking, juggling career and family obligations, managing conflict and staying levelheaded in crises both big and small.
Unfortunately, working moms often are denied the opportunity to use these skills in leadership roles. The same study found that 72% of both working moms and dads agree that when women begin families, they are penalized at work, and the same isn’t true for working dads. Sixty percent of respondents said leadership opportunities are given to less qualified employees rather than their counterparts who happen to be moms. And, despite the fact that workers agree moms excel in leadership roles, 41% of American workers perceive working moms as less devoted to their careers.
But how exactly do “mom skills” translate to “workplace leadership skills”? Survey respondents observed that working moms in leadership roles are better listeners, remain calmer in a crisis, are more diplomatic and are better team players.
Mary Lou Burke Afonso, chief operations officer at Bright Horizons, sheds more light on how and why moms excel in leadership roles. Afonso, who oversees the operational leadership and management of all of the organization’s North America-based child care centers and schools, is the mom of two daughters, one in middle school and one in high school (in the middle of the college search process) — so she’s got firsthand experience using her mom skills in a leadership position. Here’s what she has to say.
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Moms are leaders in their own lives
Moms have no option but to be leaders to their children in the home, even when it’s exhausting and tough. “The moment someone becomes a mother, they are forced to adapt to new challenges in life, whether they want to or not. Moms have the innate ability to navigate new territory, since that is a part of everyday life in raising children,” Afonso says. “Multitasking becomes a new normal way of living, and as our survey showed, employed Americans believe moms are better at multitasking than others in the workforce.”
Moms know the value of listening
Twice as many employed Americans describe working moms as better listeners than other groups of employees, such as working dads or non-parents. From her own experience, Afonso says she strives to provide the support needed to help her employees succeed.
“Much like at home, I have a heightened sense of what help is needed to allow employees to grow. Just like most moms, I am willing to roll up my sleeves and ensure that everyone at home is taken care of as best as possible,” Afonso says. This translates to her work; for example, she looks to ensure that if someone on her team has too much going on, they know that they have a relief valve.
“We’re all human, and it is important to be aware of everything impacting an employee’s life so that we can support them to be on a path to success,” Afonso explains. She emphasizes the importance of recognizing that employees need the ability to focus on whatever situation they have at hand, whether it’s personal or professional — and Afonso says her mom skills have made her better attuned to her employees’ needs.
Moms know the value of relationships
In addition to building strong relationships with their own children, moms often help foster healthy sibling relationships between children and offer advice to their kids when they’re having problems at school, whether it’s with their peers or a teacher.
Although building personal relationships with employees takes a lot of time, Afonso says it’s crucial for successful leaders. “As a mom, you may rely on the expert advice from teachers and doctors, and you know the importance of having a close relationship with those helping to care for your child,” she explains. This translates to the workplace. Afonso notes it makes a difference to check in with employees; for example, stop them in the hallway to ask about their weekend or pick up the phone rather than send an email.
“Leadership is a continual growth experience, as is motherhood,” Afonso says.
Bright Horizons is reimagining the connection between work and home. We offer child care, elder care and help for education and careers — tools used by more than 1,100 of the world’s top employers.