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Saturday, October 4, 2008

Working Motherhood - New Formulas for Success

What we can learn from other working moms? Read on and see how seven fabulous, top-of-their-game moms do it.

This past Thursday I went to a program, Working Motherhood: New Formulas for Success, in San Francisco. It was put on by Flexperience Consulting (I’m part of their “talent” base, but haven’t actually worked with them yet), and mommy track’d. Here, 500 women came together to socialize and figure how we can do “life” better – better in our career, and better for our families.

A bonus was that the VP debates were the same night, and we watched as a group for the first hour. Nothing like 500 women booing Sarah Palin’s refusal to actually answer the questions posed. Well, maybe it was only 499 women booing, as one brave woman in the room acknowledged that she’s a Republican (maybe the same woman who said on the news that night that she’s not voting for McCain/Palin. Hmmm).

Here are some words of wisdom from the panelists and keynote speaker.

Lisa Belkin – Keynote speaker, from the New York Times. Take home message: You’re doing a great job, think about what you accomplished today. Also, you can carve your own career path, but you need to ask for what you want and figure out a way to do it. And it’s not likely to be a direct path.

Tina Sharkey – CEO of Take home messages: “Balance is bunk.” And “don’t sweat the small stuff. It will go away.” She definitely has her personal philosophies down, and it was a pleasure to listen to her. While she’s busy running her company, she agreed to be room parent this year (admittedly a job I’ve turned down more years than I’ve said yes). She’s not going to worry about how others have done it in the past, “I’ll contribute in a way that’s joyful. I’m going to do it the way I can do it.” She’ll play to her strengths and recruit others to help, as she does in business.

Tina said she also teaches her staff to play to their strengths, and not to focus on weaknesses, and does the same in her personal life. When report cards come home and your kids get several “A”s and a “C” – don’t get on them for the “C” but celebrate their “A”s. If something needs fixing with the “C,” work on it, but focus on your child’s strengths.

When looking for flexible work, Julie stressed that it’s important to sell yourself first, then work out how do it flexibly. You need to show what you bring to the job, what you can do for them. It’s not all about you working from home – it’s about doing your job well.

Tina says her mantra is to “be present where I am right now.” This means limiting her Blackberry use and spending focused time on whatever she’s doing, whether in a meeting or with her kids. Interestingly, during the debate, she got an email noting that her kids have lice. After moving away from the other panelists and laughing, she said she had fired off a series of emails to move the ball into others’ court, like giving instructions to her nanny and informing her husband who was traveling. Then she got back to her “present” moment.

Julie Bornstein – SVP Sephora Direct. Take home message: “Feel comfortable saying no.” Limit your external demands. She also recommends giving up the notion of having a family dinner when your kids are very young. By the time you get home from work, the kids are starving and can’t sit for a dinner with lengthy conversation anyway. Have the nanny feed them before you get home (when they’re hungry), so that you can spend quality time with them without rushing around to fix dinner. (Of course this assumes you have a nanny).

As in business, Julie uses the concept of “buying in” with her family to get them on board with family issues. They had their first family meeting recently to get suggestions on how to get ready more quickly in the morning. By getting buy-in from her kids, they’re more likely to follow through.

Gretchen Libby – Executive Producer, Lucasfilm. Gretchen is a divorced mom, whose son finished chemotherapy a year ago for leukemia. Take home message: “Community is key – you need people to help you.” (and of course, you need to be there to help them too)

She also said “remember your accomplishments today. Little victories add up.” Think about what equity you have with your employer, because it might enable you to ask for different work arrangements and more flexibility.

Valerie Taglio – VP, Hewlett Packard. Valerie made it to the VP level while job sharing and working part time. About going back to work after having kids, she said “don’t feel like you’re making a lifelong decision. You’re making the best decision you can at the moment.”

Wilma Wallace – VP/Deputy General Council, Gap Inc. Take home message: “You have to know when enough is enough.” If something has to give, it’s okay to say no to evening activities or school volunteer work. She also noted that her life tends to go in six month increments, with her kids schedules changing at about that frequency.

With three boys of her own, Wilma said “it’s liberating to know – this is hard. If a 16 year old welfare mom can do this, I can too.”

Moderator Diane Dwyer, Weekend anchor and reporter for KRON-NBC, did a great job with her questions and follow-ups, and told some hilarious stories as well. Including ones about lice patrol in her school. (At least when my kids get infested, I’ll know they’re in good company). And about interviewing a death row inmate just after returning from maternity leave (that wasn't the funny part). San Quintin doesn’t allow bras with underwire through security – even if you’re a nursing mom. I’ll leave it at that.

Interestingly, a number of the women said that they got promotions when they least expected them– when they though they were contributing less than normal. This is why they stressed the importance of making sure others at work recognize your accomplishments, so you can get that promotion when it comes up, you’ve earned it and they recognize that.

This was a third annual event, and I can’t wait to go next year – especially with the fabulous gift bags we got – over $150 worth of goodies including a Plantronics Blue Tooth ear piece, HP flash drive, Karen Neuburger socks, Peet’s coffee, Ghirardelli chocolate, gift certificates for free stuff at Mabel’s Labels (online) and Peet’s. Plus a one month Equinox membership with perks. This is the closest I’ll come to getting an Oscar-like bag. Woo hoo!


  1. Fabulous summary! What a great event. Mabel's Labels loves to support events similar to this. MommyTrack'd is one of the best, for sure. All of the women on the panel were amazing and I loved Sally's workshop about negotiating. I'd say MommyTrack'd events are not to be missed!

    Glad you're enjoying the gift bag goodies also!

  2. so glad there is a summary on this event. thanks for writing it. i wanted to go but was not able to. i am, however, a little annoyed with the picture painted for one of the participants. i happened to have worked with this one participant that claims "balance is bunk" and the statement is nothing more than a message developed by her well oiled PR machine at AOL years back. she talks a good game about achieving balance but it's because she has the financial resources to be able to do so. not to mention, the fact she says she encourages staff to use their strengths is a lie. i've worked with her and she's nothing more than a tyrant who doesn't care about staff's strengths and weaknesses. its only about doing what she wants and her way. the others however, are encoraging and role models i would gladly follow.

  3. Nice to know that even senior executive women struggle with the same issues and care as much about being good mothers. Now we just need more soluntions from the workplace...

    By the way, it was Tina Sharkey that said being present was her mantra (and who found out via blackberry that her child had lice.)

  4. Thanks for reminding me that it was Tina who made that comment, not Julie. Apologies to both women for that.

  5. thanks - couldn't make it, but this is a great synopsis