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Motherhood, Work and Personal Contentment

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When I give birth to my first child in September, I won't be nervous about how to juggle my new role as mum with my professional one as Zaggora Head of Products. I'll be excited at the opportunities.

A lot of the focus on motherhood and the workplace tends to be on 'flexibility' in terms of how often a woman is in the office versus her time spent at home with her children. I do think it's important for employees to be fully present in the workplace - I am not an advocate of full-time telecommuting as I see how important in-person teamwork is. I do think, though, that we can better shape today's workplace to meet the needs of mothers (and fathers) by integrating parenthood and work better. In order to do this, the conversation needs to move beyond mere hours worked.

In her recent Harvard Business School blog exploring why a tiny 9% of employed American mothers work more than 50 hours a week, Joan C. Williams points out that this statistic exists for reasons that go beyond many women being unwilling to sacrifice time with their children. She identifies the phenomenon of "the cult of busy smartness", a culturally ingrained mentality that equates devotion to work with moral purity and therefore something we are all taught to seek.

Whilst changing intangible cultural values is a collective effort, redefining the metrics of success is something managers can do on an individual level by promoting personal wellbeing and thus productivity.

A LifeTwist study, which the Huffington Post reported in early May, explored what Americans consider the biggest factors of success. Personal wealth ranks a lowly 20th on a list of 22 possibilities. First on the list? Being open to change. An impressive 94% of respondents saw a flexible mentality as key to getting the most out of life.

This makes me quite optimistic. I strongly believe that if you are personally content with the cards life has dealt you, you'll be better equipped to learn from life's challenges and embrace change.

This is especially relevant in the difficult balance between parenthood and employment. I think the key to striking it is seeing parenthood as something that opens doors instead of closing them.

We are luckily seeing more and more organisations that are vocal in their support of this notion. One example is Sheryl Sandberg's LeanIn.org initiative. I'm keen to see what kind of an impact it will have. Profiles of inspirational women on its website include people like blogger & entrepreneur Janette Crawford, who turned a surprise pregnancy into a life-changing career move. She worried that having a baby would stifle her professional ambitions, but it did the opposite. She found a new professional niche (creative baby retail) and a new level of personal contentment.

Finding new inspiration from motherhood is something that really speaks to me. Since I've become an expectant mum myself, I have been quite surprised by the lack of suitable choices that help women look great, reliable nutrition and exercise information, and support for their journey.

I believe as expectant mothers we can also find new ways of rethinking work itself. DuPont CEO Ellen Kullman made an insightful statement in a 14th May interview with CNN that puts a whole new spin on parenthood and the workplace. She said that parenting was good training for her role as CEO because in both cases, you have to figure out what makes people tick; you may tell them to do something but that doesn't mean they'll do it. So instead of thinking of a flexible work-life balance as merely an integration of time and space, we can think about it as an integration of interpersonal skills and approaches too.

I want my employees to be able to see motherhood (and fatherhood) as beneficial to their careers, not hostile to them. Making parenthood visible at Zaggora and emphasising the importance of personal contentment outside of work are two ways I hope to see that realised in my own workplace.

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