CEO Moms on Achieving Work-Life Balance
Despite the fact that there are more female CEOs on the Fortune 500 than ever before, the numbers are still not in a woman’s favor.
Women hold just 6.4 percent of CEO positions and only 20.2 percent of board seats at the country’s top companies, according to Fortune. And the numbers are bleaker for women leaders who also happen to be mothers. If the tide is somewhat slow to change, the modern conversation around women leaders, work-life balance and parenting from the C-suite (for mothers and fathers, alike) is helping change minds — and change policies.
Here are some leading ladies at the forefront of that discussion.
Susan Wojcicki, YouTube
Susan Wojcicki was the first Google employee to go on maternity leave. Since then, she’s had four more children — five total — and has risen through the ranks to become CEO of YouTube. As Time once put it, Wojcicki is “the most powerful woman on the internet.” Wojcicki has used her position and power to champion better family leave policies for all Google employees, and to advocate for more women in leadership, in tech, in Silicon Valley — and beyond.
On how she does it: “People assume it’s hard to have a child with the job I have, but my energy level is high. I also have a lot of resources at home and at work, not to mention the skills to run a big organization.”
Jennifer Hyman, Rent the Runway
As the co-founder and CEO of Rent the Runway, and a mother herself, Jennifer Hyman has leveraged her position of power to make the workplace kinder to moms and families. Because of the company’s mom-friendly maternity leave policies, Rent the Runway has 100 percent retention of female employees who have given birth — and Hyman has also made an impassioned plea for all workers, male or female, salaried or hourly, to receive the same benefits intended to help families survive and thrive.
On starting her day as a mom, not an entrepreneur: “In the morning at home, I'm not functioning as an entrepreneur — I completely limit technology and any work-think — I'm functioning as a mom and a wife. Aurora has made me happier than I've ever been in my life, and to start my day with such pure joy makes me the very best version of myself as I enter the Rent the Runway offices.”
Marissa Mayer, Yahoo
When Marissa Mayer became president and CEO of Yahoo Inc. in 2012, she was, at 37, the youngest CEO of a Fortune 500 company — and she was six months pregnant. Three months into her new job, she gave birth — and famously took a brutally short two-week maternity leave, and had a nursery installed in her office. Three years later, Mayer gave birth to identical twin girls, took a similarly brief leave, and reignited, yet again, a debate about maternity leave and the example female leaders set about work-life balance when building their own families.
On her approach to maternity leave: “Everyone makes it work in a way that they need to. Everyone does it in their own way. I think there is too much judgment involved from other women, and I think you have to have respect for everyone and the fact that they are going to do it their own way.”
Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook
With her 2013 book, “Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead,” Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg placed herself squarely at the center of the debate around women in the workplace and, by extension, mothers in the workplace. Plenty were shocked at her admission that she leaves work at 5:30 p.m. most days to be home for dinner with her two children — and she credits her now-deceased husband for helping her successfully manage work and parenthood.
On having a partner who supports your career: “I truly believe that the single most important career decision that a woman makes is whether she will have a life partner and who that partner is. I don't know of a single woman in a leadership position whose life partner is not fully — and I mean fully — supportive of her career. No exceptions.”
Kylie Jenner, Kylie Cosmetics
The youngest and richest Kardashian-Jenner — if not necessarily the most famous — Kylie Jenner found herself on the cover of Forbes' "America's Women Billionaires" issue in August 2018. Jenner launched her brand with a $29 “lip kit” that sold out almost instantaneously. Within 18 months, sales had topped $420 million. Jenner gave birth to her first child, Stormi, in February 2018, at age 20.
On how becoming a mother changed her: “I think more about the future because of her. Every time I leave and I’m stressed about leaving her, I’m like, ‘I’m doing it for you.’ Everyone says you change completely when you become a mom, but I really feel the same, just better.”
Mary Barra, General Motors
In 2014, when Mary Barra became the first woman to helm a major U.S. automaker, at age 51, she was no stranger to the company. She had worked for General Motors for 33 years, ever since her earliest days as an 18-year-old co-op student at the General Motors Institute (now Kettering University). The mother of two teenagers, known for steering GM through one of its most tumultuous chapters, was famously asked by the “Today” show’s Matt Lauer if she could be a good leader and a good mom at the same time — something he’d never asked a male CEO in a similar position.
On what her children think of her as the most powerful female CEO in America: “They remind me that my most important job is mom in their eyes.”
Arianna Huffington, Thrive Global
Arianna Huffington didn’t have children until she was well into her career as a writer and political commentator. The mother of two girls founded The Huffington Post in 2005 and, in a much-cited incident, fainted from exhaustion two years into that chapter of her career. This ignited Huffington’s passion for work-life balance and, in particular, the power of sleep. Huffington has since called for a third feminist revolution: the transformation of the workday. In 2016, she left The Huffington Post to found Thrive Global, a startup dedicated to health and wellness.
On the guilt most working moms feel: “I think while all mothers deal with guilt, working mothers are plagued by guilt on steroids.”
Ivanka Trump, Ivanka Trump Collection
Before she became special advisor to the president, in addition to first daughter, Ivanka Trump was an executive vice president of The Trump Organization, cofounder of Trump Hotels and head of her own fashion brand, Ivanka Trump Collection (now Ivanka Trump HQ). The mother of three is also author of "Women Who Work: Rewriting the Rules for Success," a 2017 book about Trump’s take on work-life balance.
On being authentic: “It took me a while to have the confidence to know that my authenticity as a mother with young children doesn’t undermine my professional capabilities or my toughness at the negotiating table; being true to who we are and what our lives look like proves that women who work are real.”
Anne-Marie Slaughter, New America
When Anne-Marie Slaughter wrote, “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All” — a blockbuster 2012 essay in The Atlantic in which she describes leaving a dream job at the State Department, working for Hillary Clinton, no less, to parent her two teen boys — she set off a fiery debate about working women that hasn’t really died down since.
In her follow-up book, “Unfinished Business: Women Men Work Family,” the conversation became more complex, in that it’s not just gender but who does the undervalued work of caring, that makes “having it all” so elusive. She is now the president and CEO of New America, one of Washington’s largest non-partisan think tanks.
On the bias against “women’s work”: “The bottom-line message is that we are never going to get to gender equality between men and women unless we value the work of care as much as we value paid work — or when both men and women do it. That’s the unfinished business.”
Indra Nooyi, PepsiCo
As chairman & CEO of PepsiCo (until stepping down in October 2018), Indra Nooyi is consistently named one of the most powerful women in the world. Promoted in 2006, Nooyi, the mother of two girls, was the first woman to lead PepsiCo — the second-largest food and beverage company in the world (by revenue). She is the first to admit that she has “co-opted” family and coworkers to help make it all work, enlisting her secretary to go through a list of questions when her daughter would call each day, to be sure homework was done before letting her play video games.
On her unflinching take on “having it all": “We plan our lives meticulously so we can be decent parents. But if you ask our daughters, I’m not sure they will say that I’ve been a good mom.”
Cathy Engelbert, Deloitte
In 2015, Cathy Engelbert became the first female CEO of Deloitte — and, more significantly, of any of the Big Four accounting firms. The mother of two still managed to coach her daughter’s basketball team and attend most of her lacrosse games — which inspired a new, practical take on work-life balance for those around her.
“I would tell my clients what I was doing, and [they] would come to me and say, ‘Thank you for sharing ... I wanted to coach my son’s little league or go to my daughter’s dance recital, and I didn’t think I could, but you do it, so I can do it, too,” she told Forbes.
On defining success on your own terms: “This isn’t about 'having it all,' as that is defined by someone else. You have to think about, 'Can I do it all as defined by me?'”
Sara Blakely, Spanx
Sara Blakely started Spanx with $5,000 in savings and a day job, and by 2012, she was the youngest self-made female billionaire in the U.S. The mother of four, including twins, remains the sole owner of the company.
On how to find balance as a working mom: “Oxygen mask goes on mom first then the kids for a reason. Pursue what you love and focus on being present and grateful in each moment, including during all the delicious chaos that ensues when you are the mother of small children.”
Alexa Von Tobel, LearnVest
Alexa von Tobel dropped out of Harvard Business School in 2009 to found LearnVest, taking a 75-page business plan and turning it into a multimillion-dollar business — and demystifying financial planning, particularly for young people, in the process. Her daughter, Bee, was born just days after LearnVest was acquired.
On staying focused as a mom and CEO: “When I'm at home, I'm at home, and when I'm at the office, I'm at the office.”
Geisha Williams, PG&E
When Geisha Williams came to the United States as a refugee from Cuba, at age five, she didn’t speak English. In March 2017, when she took the helm of PG&E, California’s energy giant, she became the first Latina CEO on the Fortune 500.
On being a mother to grown children: “There was a time I would have told you my proudest moments were when I gave birth to my daughters. [But now] Carolyn and Anne are growing, and their intellect, their poise, their compassion for others are what make me proud of who those ladies are becoming.”
Nancy Green, Athleta
With four children, Nancy Green, the CEO of Athleta, a division of Gap Inc., says that motherhood made her a better executive.
On the qualities she values as a woman, mother and CEO: “I can be very demanding and I have extremely high standards, but I understand that people are human. I think it’s a combination of accepting that women can be strong and powerful and soft at the same time.”