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Being a Successful Working Mom: How to Reconcile Work and Family Life

November 10, 2020

4 successful female managers tell how they succeeded in the balancing act

You’ve got to know how: at the virtual “Female Power Hour” recently hosted by the WU Executive Academy, four successful female managers and entrepreneurs encouraged other women to follow their examples: women CAN have both children and a career – it just takes the right mindset, good support, and strong organization skills.

Pic of a working mom
Successful female managers encourage: you can have children and a career.

Female professionals with a college degree usually have fewer kids and stay childless more often than other women – which does not necessarily mean that they do not want children. It seems that the fear of the often quoted motherhood penalty is deep-seated. What’s more: in the public eye, the compatibility of children with a career remains a women’s issue. Often, well-educated women have to ask themselves: is it better to focus on work or to have children and, potentially, nip their careers in the bud?

Female Power Hour: Finding Happiness in Being a Working Mom

Many examples of successful professional mothers show that women do not necessarily have to decide between one or the other. The fourth edition of the Female Leaders Network’s Female Power Hour put ambitious working moms on the virtual stage: four successful female managers shared their personal experiences and insights into reconciling job with family life with female MBA students and graduates of the WU Executive Academy in the course of this online networking event.

Screenshot of the working mom female power hour
During the 4th edition of the Female Power Hour 4 successful female managers reported on the compatibility of family and career.

Barbara Stöttinger, Dean and Mother of Two

Portrait Barbara Stöttinger

The first female Dean of the WU Executive Academy and mother of two teenagers (aged 15 and 19), Barbara Stöttinger, went first. “We expect women to work like they don’t have children, and raise children as if they don’t work,” she quoted the famous “working mom dilemma” from Amy Westervelt’s best-selling book “Forget Having It All.” For Barbara Stöttinger, it was always clear that she wanted to work: “As a teenager, I never thought about marriage or having kids. But I always knew that I wanted to work and earn my own money,” she recounts. In the end, she went for having it both ways.

Barbara’s Insights and Tips:

  1. Just because you are the mother, you are not the only one who can care for your child. Rely on other caregivers, babysitters, or the grandparents. Having other people in their lives can be a huge benefit for children, giving them something that the mother alone could not contribute.

  2. Look for a job in a company that appreciates you and supports your professional growth while accepting that you are also a mom.

  3. Find role models that inspire you – but also make sure to find your own path in balancing work and family life. Never forget that you are an individual, and there is no one else like you.

  4. Never stop being curious and wanting to learn something new.

  5. Make your children see the benefits of having a working mom: the family can afford common activities such as a nice dinner at a restaurant or traveling, for example, exactly because mom AND dad work. My children spent a semester in Canada with me, when I taught at the University of Victoria as a guest professor.

  6. Tell your children that nothing is more important than them, and be available in emergencies or when something is really important.

  7. Don’t feel bad because you are a working mom. You made the decision – now you have to stand by it.

  8. Time flies and children grow up so quickly: make the best of both worlds – and have no regrets.

Olena Khlon, C-Level Manager and Mother of 2 Kids

Portrait Olena Khlon

Olena Khlon has held high-ranking positions in business and people development as well as in sales in the finance and consulting sector on the CEE, SEE, and APAC markets for more than ten years. In October, she became CEO of the Kyiv-based financial services provider Fairo. The mother of two (a ten-year-old child and an 18-month-old toddler) has worked in ten different countries and lived in three of them. During her Global Executive MBA studies at the WU Executive Academy, she lived in Vietnam with her family. The board member of the WU EA Female Leaders Network said, “I am a big fan of the slogan ‘happy mom, happy child.’”

There was a time when she tried to be a full-time housewife, when she moved her family to the Philippines for her husband’s job: “I really tried my best, but at some point he said: please find a job – you are a much more balanced person when you work.”

Olena’s Insights and Tips:

  1. Don’t try to be perfect, in your job or as a mom. It just won’t work. It will cost you a tremendous amount of energy and you will hardly gain anything through it.

  2. Surround yourself with people who support you, and avoid those who judge you because of your decision to have a family and a career. In my case, my parents and my mother-in-law have helped us a lot. She is also a good friend to me and has joined us on trips.

  3. Find time to recharge your batteries and do something that is just for you and that brings you joy. This will make you a role model for your children when it comes to self-care.

  4. Trust your children and keep your promises to them. If this is not possible, be honest and talk to them. Communicate as much as possible with your children – they are often more grown-up than we adults are!

Anita Kirilova, Head of Sales and Mother of a Daughter

Portrait Anita Kirilova

Anita Kirilova can look back on an impressive international career that she has had despite and also because of her daughter (now 19). The business woman with more than 20 years of leadership experience in strategy development and implementation, project management, and change management made first place in the “Sales Director” category of the Europe chapter of “Women in Sales” in 2015. Currently, she is Head of Sales at the global insurance provider MetLife in Bulgaria. The founding and board member of the WU EA Female Leaders Network said that “there is a synergy between working and living: as women, we can have it both.”

To this day, she remains impressed by a TV documentary, where women and their five-year-old children were asked what made a “good mom.” “While the moms said things like ‘cooking healthy meals, tidying, and cleaning,’ the kids said: ‘a happy mom who gives me a kiss, hugs me, and plays with me,’” she recounts, visibly moved. After seeing that, she hired somebody to clean her home and promised herself to spend as much quality time with her daughter as possible. That also means: “Being happy and full of love makes me a good mom – which is lucky for me, because I am in love with my job!”

Anita’s Insights and Tips:

  1. Learn from your children – they often know what truly counts in life. My daughter always said to me: “Let it go, take it easy.” Thanks to her, I am less of a control freak than I used to be.

  2. Children need love and unshared attention, not a tidy table.

  3. Don’t deny the woman within you, your desires, and needs. Also take quality time just for yourself: I have my hair and nails done regularly, meet my girlfriends, and always take a moment to appreciate these things.

  4. As a working mom, you are a role model for your children. My daughter is currently completing her bachelor’s degree at Cardiff University – not least because I showed her that the sky is the limit.

  5. Combining work and family life gave me the chance to stay true to my values, meet an incredible number of inspiring people throughout my career, and make invaluable experiences.

  6. My favorite quote is, “I was born to be real and not to be perfect!”

  7. Don’t forget to have fun. I often brought my daughter with me to Vienna for the MBA weekends, took her to Wiener WIESN and the State Opera. You can have your cake and eat it, too – many people forget that or simply lack the confidence to go for it all.

Ruth Gabler-Schachermayr, Founder of CareerMum and Mother

Portrait Ruth Gabler-Schachermayr

Ruth Gabler-Schachermayer was the moderator of the Female Power Hour. She is the initiator of the women’s network CareerMum and the mentoring program Mumtoring and mother to a one-year-old son: “Having a family is a gift for me. But I never even contemplated giving up my work,” she says. “On the contrary, I believe that if I keep myself happy, I can handle all the rest.”

Ruth’s Insights and Tips:

  1. Separate your work time from the time you spend with your children. Stay focused and mindful: this way, you will be able to enjoy your time together even more.

  2. Believe in and trust your decisions, which will give you the confidence to leave your own doubts behind. Whatever you decide: it will certainly be for the best for you and your family.

  3. Talk to women who have already met the goals you strive for. Draw inspiration from your role models, and develop your own strategies and insights based on that.

  4. As everybody else here has shown: We don’t have to decide between family and a career these days, we can have it both. We just need to support and promote each other through networks, information-sharing, and discussions.  

Cross-Checking – What do the Kids Have to Say?

At the end of the Female Power Hour, a surprise was in store for the participants: the children of the speakers, aged between ten and 19, joined the meeting virtually and talked about their experiences with their working moms. A wave of gratefulness and emotion rippled through the virtual space, hearing sentences like: “We are proud of our mom, she is our role model,” “thanks to her, we were able to travel and have so many great experiences,” “I never felt like I was missing out as a child; I was always lovingly cared for,” “my mom always played with me and that was fun.”

Sentences full of emotion that will stay with the mothers for a long time – and maybe inspire other women to become successful working moms as well. It is just not necessary to sacrifice either family or career if you can have it both. Always provided, of course, that you have the necessary support – or get it from wherever you can...

For more information about the Female Leaders Network, please click here.

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