Corporate Culture

Motherhood Makes Us Better: How Raising a Child Provides Essential Lessons in Leadership

by ABFRLadmin | May 11, 2024

They say, ‘Mother Knows Best’, but how do they sow what they know? Here’s how ABFRL’s Female Leaders let the joy of motherhood bring new teachings to the workplace.

You might think the transition from motherhood to coming back to work is a tough trek for anyone to complete. And you would be right!  Maternity “leave” may have the implication of a vacation, but those formative days with your children are not just some of the most important for any parent, it’s also a battle of wills with one of the most brutal forces of nature out there: your own toddler. As they grow up, this battle only gets harder, then perhaps a little easier, but remains enlightening throughout. I’ll let you in on a secret right here: those endless days wrangling tiny humans have equipped most mothers with a leadership toolkit most business schools wouldn’t dare add to the syllabus.

Imagine this – Juggling conference calls while simultaneously mediating a sibling squabble over the last juice box? Part and parcel of motherhood. Mothers learn how to don the hats of a master negotiator when it comes to enforcing bedtimes, A Crisis management expert when they navigate temper tantrums in public with ninja-like grace, and a creative champion who would put any finger-painting Picasso to shame as they try to stimulate a young mind with boundless energy.

Sounds exhausting? It is.

Is it rewarding? Almost every day.

In this article, we wanted to flip the script on the stereotype of new mothers returning to the workplace being martyrs. Life is tough with a toddler to raise, but in these hardships, our mothers find ways. We’ll delve into how those bleary-eyed nights soothing a fussy baby/ teen/adult transform moms into strategic thinkers under pressure.

We’ll explore how the seemingly endless patience required for story time after story time equips you to become a master delegator. Forget the “superwoman” myth – motherhood isn’t about flawless execution. It’s about embracing the beautiful chaos, honing your skills in the trenches of childcare, and emerging as a stronger, more resourceful leader.

The Motherhood Penalty

In many organizations around the world, the motherhood penalty has been a form of bias that many new mothers have experienced. Described as a change in perception towards women who come back to the workplace after giving birth, it stems from the incorrect belief that having a child would somehow impact how much a woman would prioritize work when they have a child waiting for them at home.

This often leads to a change in behaviour towards them in the workplace and some disadvantages can include:

  • Lower pay: Mothers often experience a pay gap compared to women without children, and the gap widens with each child they have.
  • Reduced promotion opportunities: Mothers may be seen as less committed or dependable, hindering their advancement in the workplace compared to those without children.
  • Negative perceptions: There can be stereotypes about mothers being less focused or reliable at work once they return post maternity leave.

Not really fair, is it? This actively contributes to more mothers dropping out of the workforce to focus on raising their children exclusively, giving impetus to this wicked self-fulfilling prophecy.

Motherhood unlocks a treasure trove of leadership skills, yet often comes with an unseen tax in the workplace.

73% of Indian women leave their jobs on giving birth according to a report titled “Predicament of Returning Mothers”, conducted by Ashoka University’s Genpact Centre for Women Leadership (GCWL).

To begin understanding the BS behind the bias, it is important to look at some of the world’s greatest women leaders, and their views on motherhood as they climbed up the ladder.

Consider the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the American Supreme Court Justice, who presided over the post for 27 years. She set an example of how being a mother can enhance, rather than detract from, one’s success at work. She did not see raising a baby during her time as a law student to be an impediment to her success; instead, she considered it a contributing factor to her accomplishments.

She explained, “I felt that each part of my life gave me respite from the other.” In her view, being a mother replenished her energy for her studies, and vice versa.

How Motherhood makes you a better Leader

In her bestselling book ‘Good Inside’, child psychologist Becky Kennedy explores the advantages of adopting the “most generous interpretation” when dealing with your child’s behavior that you find unfavorable. For instance, imagine a scenario where your child throws a tantrum because they can’t have a new toy.

Your initial reaction might be anger, or you might even assume your child is spoiled or ungrateful. However, the most generous interpretation of the tantrum could be that your child is inherently good but is struggling because things aren’t going their way.

The remarkable aspect of this perspective is that responding to your child based on this viewpoint, instead of reacting with anger or frustration, often results in improved behavior over time. Your most generous interpretation can often shape a person’s reality.

While different terms, such as “the ladder of inference” (how we climb from observations to actions, potentially aking leaps of assumption along the way) or “appreciative inquiry,” (a collaborative approach to change that focuses on building on strengths instead of dwelling on weaknesses) are often used in business schools, they similarly allude to the importance of approaching others with an openness to the most generous interpretation available.

This sentiment is mirrored by our very own Barasha Pathak, AVP Legal, ABFRL, who reflects on the emotional edge her own experience of motherhood gave her “As a mother of twins, my experience of raising them has equipped me with valuable skills for handling challenging situation and managing a team effectively. Patience, multitasking and fairness are indeed essential qualities in both parenting and leadership roles. “

It’s not all Child’s Play

Raising a child can be the defining experience of a person’s life, so it’s only natural that it brings forth those definitive qualities that will decide how one lives their life and treats those around them.

In my experience, the managers I’ve interacted with, who also happen to be mothers, do have a greater sense of empathy and a wider perspective when faced with crises on the job. However, the defining quality I take from their style of working – is resilience. Working mothers bring a sense of resilience that is impossible to break down and impressive to witness. Who wouldn’t want a superpower like that on the job?

If this article inspires any change in you, I would like for it to be in a simple change in perspective. If you’re one of those people who believe that returning mothers in the workplace would have a skewed sense of priorities on coming back to the office, we’d like to pose one simple question: Have you ever doubted that ‘mother knows best’ at home?

Here’s a reminder to go hug your mom tightly and wish her a Happy Mother’s Day!

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