Tasha Richard was a rising star at Johnson & Johnson – traveling throughout North America and being mentored personally by the company’s CEO.
Then she became pregnant with her first child. While she was incredibly excited to become a mom, she worried about how she would juggle the demands of a top job and babyhood.
When she looked around at the senior leadership roles she was aiming for, there were few senior women she could look up to who were successfully combining big careers and motherhood.
So Tasha quit her job, moved back to Halifax where she and her husband would be closer to family supports, and relaunched her career as a business strategist and entrepreneur.
Tasha has built a highly successful business as a strategist and coach for entrepreneurs. And she’s done it in such a way that provides her with the flexibility she needs to be present for her kids.
But there are times when she wonders if her decision to opt out of the senior executive career path might have been premature. “I wish I’d had more senior women I could have talked to about my concerns and my future,” she says. At the time, Tasha didn’t know anyone with whom she could have such a frank discussion, and given the lack of advancement of women in the top echelons of corporate power, women in Tasha’s situation today still lack role models and mentors.
That’s one of the reasons why Tasha now leads momcafé, a national network that promotes honest and authentic discussions between professional moms. I recently spoke at a momcafé event and was moved by what I heard from other professional moms.
Many women felt torn between their desire to be present at home and to pursue their ambitions at work. Some dreamed of starting their own businesses in order to have the flexibility they so craved. Others wanted to stick with their corporate jobs in order to keep their benefits. Some were on maternity leave and dreading the return to work while other new moms felt mightily relieved to be heading back to the office. Still others were in survival mode – they were so busy working around the clock that they had lost sight of their big career goals.
We were all looking for balance, meaning and professional satisfaction. But we were all over the map in terms of what we thought needed to happen in order to achieve the personal and professional success we craved.
And that’s the problem.
Second and third wave feminists have done a great job of giving women what we lacked for most of history: a choice. But the problem with having choices is that you have to decide what you want and then clearly ask for it.
When it comes to women and work, figuring out what we want and then articulating that desire loudly and clearly needs to happen at two different levels.
First, we working women need to decide for ourselves what we want. We have to own our desires, reach for them and stand strong amidst the inevitable fall-out that happens afterward. Because saying “yes” to something means saying “no” to something else. Of the hundreds of women I have interviewed about work, the happiest are those who, at some point, made a conscious, informed decision about the life they wanted.
Second, we need to articulate loudly and clearly to the corporate world what exact conditions we need in order to lean in (rather than opt out). There are many great employers out there who want to retain senior women – they’re just not sure how to do it. The working world was designed for a society where daddy worked and mommy stayed home. That reality is a thing of the past, but the corporate world has been slow to keep pace with these sweeping social changes. As women we need to be clear about the exact changes we’re looking for, and ask for them, collectively and as individuals.
One of the biggest challenges is that women can be reticent to speak up about what they want. This is a mistake. Because if we aren’t clear about what we want the Mommy Track to look like, we can’t ask the corporate world to be either.