If there’s one image that says everything about the super powers of mothers, it’s that of Whitney Wolfe Herd, the self-made billionaire CEO of Bumble, who took her company public by ringing the stock exchange with a baby on her hip. The video of Herd in a yellow power suit and bouncing baby Bo went viral with the caption, “This is what leadership looks like.”
That may have seemed like an extraordinary statement to some people but it wasn’t to me. I’ve known all along that mothers make exceptional leaders. As a mother of six, grandmother of 13 and a health care executive with more than four decades of experience, I can tell you that mothers have the qualities organizations need to lead them to new levels.
Yet, only 6.7% of S&P 500 companies have women CEOs, and 2.7% of venture capital dollars go to women-founded companies. It’s time to stop doubting the power of women and of moms.
To all those boards, corporate hirers, and venture capitalists who look upon motherhood as a distraction, think again. The arms that hold babies become strong, capable of lifting and carrying heavy weights. This is about much more than the physical; it’s an apt analogy for all the exceptional capabilities mothers strengthen as they care for a child: They strategize, plan, anticipate, innovate, juggle and of course, protect, nurture and love.
These same capabilities make for great leaders. Here are some reasons why I think motherhood should be viewed as an asset in the workplace.
Mission-focused: What is a mother’s mission? Most moms can instantly articulate why they work so hard: We want to keep our children safe and help them thrive. The best leaders also look upon their responsibility to the company’s mission the same way. The mission is what gives employees purpose and defines the organizational agenda. Mission-focused leaders are not distracted from their goals; they know what they must do to get things done.
Innovating: Moms know a lot about embracing change. In the blink of an eye, their cuddly toddlers become complex adolescents. Their work evolves from diaper duty to driver’s ed, and they shift gears accordingly, always focused on the child’s well-being. This year, almost all companies experienced unprecedented change, with our GDP diminishing 3.5% — the biggest contraction since 1946. It’s said those organizations that will survive need a leader who can guide her team through dramatic change and a tough transformation. Ask a mom with a teenager how that’s done.
Listening: A 2020 Dale Carnegie Training study revealed 88% of employees value a boss who listens, but only 60% of workers said their managers do so. With an unresponsive boss, employees feel disconnected and misunderstood. Great mothers are attentive to their children’s needs. They listen to them and know when a little one requires their help and they address those concerns. Can you imagine if every boss you ever had was a good listener? Our work experiences would all be outstanding.
Efficiency: This one is knottier because I believe mothers take on too much multi-tasking. However, the ability to do many things is typically a skill set of motherhood. Who else but a mom can find lost homework, avert a pre-teen melt-down, throw a sweater on a kid and still get him or her to school on time? Similarly, good leaders keep many balls in the air to ensure their organization runs smoothly. Put mom in charge of a corporation and she’s likely to have it humming with efficiency, like mom-CEO Marilyn Hewson who ushered in a year of financial growth for Lockheed Martin.
Strength: Mothers quickly discover strengths they didn’t know they had. We gird ourselves to become our children’s rock in good times and bad. When I look at Ms. Herd, with her 1-year-old in her arms, I see a woman who has probably developed a lot more than just upper body strength in the past year. That’s the fortitude that can easily take on a robust company.
Mentoring: Mothers are hard-wired to teach their children lessons. They understand that part of their responsibility is to pass wisdom down from one generation to the next. The best leaders do the same, sharing their knowledge as mentors for those who come after them.
I realize there are many great fathers who are wonderful leaders, as well as exceptional women leaders who are not moms. The point is not to underestimate the enormous capabilities of women who also care for children. Although we recognize them on Mother’s Day, they deserve more credit and consideration throughout the year.
That’s why, when considering who we want to lead our organizations, we need to put more mothers in the picture and pay them what they’re worth. Someday, leadership will look more like the executive in the bright colored suit with a baby by her side. For everyone who understands the many talents of a mother, that’s the right image for our future.