The 2021 Working Moms of the 12 months’s Finest Recommendation for Making It Work
Arwa Kassamali, BEx and Operations Manager, Transfusion Medicine, Abbott
Know that you can thrive in your personal and professional lives. To make working parenthood more manageable, I strive to make conscious decisions daily about what I spend my time on, use a “work-life integration” vs. “work-life balance” point-of-view and use routines and early planning to try and keep things sane! I keep my goals for family life and career growth visible and top-of-mind so that I can continue to advocate for them. It is not about choosing among my family, my passions and owning my career, but about recognizing that they are equally important. Accepting that there is a limited amount of time every day and that the choices may not be easy, I focus on the priorities that align with these goals in the way that best fits my family. As a leader, I make the conscious choice to be an ally for others who are balancing decisions every day as well. To me, it is about sharing how I will dedicate my time to my various niches and being grateful about each of my accomplishments at the end of the day. Embrace integration over balance, along with using your support network, give back and believe in your awesomeness!
Nicole Hope Fountain, Business Development Manager, Facial Aesthetics, AbbVie
Guilt. It’s something many of us deal with, but as a working mom, it can oftentimes feel amplified. I’m always looking for ways to make working parenthood more manageable and rewarding. When dealing with the guilt associated with being a full-time working mom, I think of some great advice passed down from a fellow colleague and mentor: “Move away from guilt. It’s a useless word. It’s the wrong emotion. It’s about passion and satisfaction. It’s about making choices that are important, and that keep me happy and motivated. I do this not only for me, but for my family, and I worked hard not to feel guilty!
These words of wisdom resonate with me on so many levels. I’m passionate about my career and gain so much satisfaction in showing my kids it’s cool to see a working mom who can balance both her work and her job! It’s self-fulfilling. And then there’s “work-life balance,” a buzzword that’s used all too often to speak to the constant balancing act working parents face. Life doesn’t have an on/off switch. Finding ways to be present with both your family and friends and your career can be incredibly difficult. At the end of the day, it’s about time management and making choices you can comfortably live with. When I need to catch up on work but don’t want to do it at the cost of myself or my family, I find time early in the morning or late at night; I create alone time on very off-hours so that I can still be engaged in the needs of my children and family. Working parents will always struggle with finding that true balance. My advice: find a mentor. AbbVie provides amazing opportunities to connect with colleagues across the company to network, engage with, and share personal experiences. Being a mentor and having a mentor are important parts of my life and I would encourage everyone to find someone that complements them and their experience. I’m grateful to all those who take the time to mentor and impact our lives in such a positive way.
Kristen Hines, Managing Director, Accenture Strategy – Talent & Organization, Accenture
I’ve learned that you have to set boundaries and stick to them, because there will always be more work. As the mother of a 4-year-old, I advocated for myself so that I could be fully present for my family while building my career. For instance, I needed a more family-friendly schedule, but I didn’t want to dramatically change my role. The company delivered‚ providing me with an opportunity to focus on local clients who I could visit in a single day trip and still be home for dinner. My teams respect my evening family time, and I’ve noticed they too put personal time on their calendars. I’ve also started blocking out what I call “study hall.” It’s an hour or so a day that gives me time to read, be more thoughtful about what I’m doing, or simply give my brain a moment to breathe. My commitment and Accenture’s support of setting boundaries continues to promote more creativity and better work habits. Of course, as my mentors and sponsors have told me, the best way to gain flexibility is to simply say: “Here’s what’s important to me.”
Sid Gause, Sr. Director Client Services, ADP
Through my mom’s incredible example, one of the reflections I make each day is: “Clean house or happy kids?” Reality rests somewhere in the middle, but it’s an important reminder to be deliberate with your time. As a mom of eight children, ranging from 8 months to 16 years, planning is paramount. We model the demands of hard work while allowing ourselves to be fully present when it’s time for play. We work to keep organization in everyone’s lives so they can show up confidently, prepared, and ready to make their mark. We’ve created our beautiful blended family through adoption and fostering, and it’s the values of confidence and self-worth that I hope to instill in my children. I was fortunate to have a loving family to build me up and give me the foundation upon which to build my success. It’s my guiding goal to do the same for my family.
Kristine Lord-Krahn, Vice President, Deputy General Counsel, Allianz Life Insurance Company of North America
Growing up, I always had a plan—be it for the day, for the year, for where I would go to college and law school and what it would take to get there, to when I wanted to marry and have children. Most of my plans came to fruition rather easily, until it was time to start having children. That journey was fraught with years of waiting, hoping, complications, losses, and countless doctor’s appointments. When we were finally blessed with our first child, I was so incredibly grateful and happy. As most parents will likely agree, my life was forever changed. I didn’t fully appreciate the impact being a mother would have on my career in the early days of motherhood, but as I had more children, I quickly recognized how I work and how I parent would require constant focus. I had a mentor at work in my early days of motherhood who was then the mothers of teenagers. She pulled me aside after I returned from maternity leave and gave me advice that I often reflect on. To paraphrase, she said: “Life is fleeting and our time with our kids is often marked by moments in time: birth, birthdays, first days of school, first lost tooth, field trips, Halloween costumes, first heartbreak, Christmas mornings, and sports, dance and musical events.” She said that when I look back on those special days, I will never forgive myself if instead of remembering the detail of those events, I instead remember a work project or a work call I was making rather than living in that special moment.
Today, my husband and I are parents to five children. Every day is an adventure when you have kids that range from kindergarten to 12th grade, as well as two cats, one puppy, and one fish. We are always on the go: school, hockey, track, soccer, football, swimming lessons, church, booster clubs, cheering for our local sports teams, and traveling. The pandemic has tested us in ways I never imagined and has forced me to be again be diligent and intentional in how I manage work, distance learning, COVID quarantines, loss of control, unexpected death, and fear of the unknown. I am far from perfect, but I work tirelessly to be a present and active mom in the lives of my kids, while also being a strong and fully engaged colleague and counsel to my company. I have had the unwavering support of Allianz Life throughout my 16 years with the company as I have welcomed five children into my family. I’ve held challenging roles, worked on complex projects, received promotions and increasing responsibilities, built lasting relationships with colleagues, serve on local non-profit boards of directors, and now serve as VP & Deputy General Counsel, leading an awesome team of attorneys and legal professionals. On the homefront, I drive my kids to hockey, soccer, track and every other school and extracurricular event the kids are involved with. I attend school conferences, their sporting events, volunteer on field trips and booster clubs and classroom events, travel to many soccer and hockey tourneys across the country and take domestic and international vacations with our traveling circus as we try and show them the world around us. I am able to do so because I made it my priority and have had the support of my company and my family to make it happen.
Carrie Schimizzi, Executive Director, Manufacturing and Operations Site Head, Astellas Gene Therapies
Two lessons I’ve learned are to find mentors who encourage and inspire you, and intentionally manage your time and energy to maintain the balance between career and family. Early in my career, I was so fortunate to have a mentor who led by example to show that balance was, in fact, possible. Just talking to someone who was successfully juggling it all and who encouraged me too was inspirational as I built my career while having young kids. A bit later, I decided I wanted to step into manufacturing leadership, but I had never seen a woman with children in those kind of roles, and thought it wouldn’t be possible to do it well and still be the kind of parent I wanted to be. Another mentor helped me see that I didn’t have to do it the same way others had in the past. Her support really helped me see that I could chart my own course, and to stop putting up barriers to my own career growth.
Once I was established in that role, I realized that charting my own course had led to me steadily working 60+ hour weeks. I was missing too much time with my family and I was burning out by struggling to try to do it all. I approached this challenge as I would a business problem: I explicitly stated my goal and started to track metrics and outcomes. How many hours was I working? How many times a week did I have dinner with my family? What percentage of field trips could I chaperone? I had to set limits, just like in a manufacturing processes when conditions are unstable—an alarm goes off letting us know we must fix it. It took a year of data collection to change my behavior, but it eventually worked! I’ve been fortunate to have amazing women mentors (as well as my biggest cheerleader, my husband) who have all helped me on my path to the “dream job” I have today. I strive to pay it forward, share my experiences, and support and encourage others as they balance working parenthood.
Erica Phelan, Senior Vice President; Learning & Leadership Development Consultant II; Global Human Resources, Bank of America
I’m asked often what it’s like to parent two children, each with their own unique and specialized medical needs. Several years ago, I ran into a story online that helped me answer that question. The story describes planning a fabulous vacation trip to Italy. Imagine the food, the sights, the history, the excitement! With eager anticipation, you pack your bags and hop on the plane. Upon arrival, the pilot says, “Welcome to Holland!” Holland? This was supposed to be Italy, the story goes. There’s been a change in the flight plan—you’ve landed in Holland and there you must remain. Holland is different than Italy—the pace is different, it’s less extravagant, and it’s really not what you had in mind. But it’s still wonderful; they have windmills, tulips, and even Rembrandts. The story closes reminding us that if we spend too much time mourning the fact that we aren’t in Italy, we might not enjoy all that Holland has to offer. Accepting and adapting to the unexpected and finding the positive has helped me in my professional and personal lives. As I’ve shared my personal story through the years, I’ve come across many colleagues who thought they were going to Italy and wound up in Holland. Whether it was not getting a promotion, missing an opportunity, or going through a personal struggle—we all have things that don’t go as planned. How we respond and support each other is all that matters. We are lucky enough to work at a company full of people who are compassionate and willing listeners. I’ve felt strengthened from every angle—working for understanding managers, feeling supported for time off to attend appointments and procedures, and having colleagues continually step up to help. This company has helped me balance and navigate a difficult time in more ways that I could have ever expected. As my journey continues, I’m constantly reminded that perspective is a gift. Sharing your story can turn colleagues into friends. And Holland is beautiful.
Susan Johnson, Director of Software Engineering, Inbound Payments, Capital One
I hold a very high bar for myself and once I commit to something, I am all in with gusto! When the pandemic hit and the office was closed I thought, “It’s just a season. I got this.” My husband and I were both working from home full-time, and I was homeschooling my children through first and fourth grades while also caring for my mother who lives with us and trying to manage a house and keep everyone safe and healthy. I was in a highly visible role, leading business critical programs, but then Zoom fatigue set in and my entire family was suffering a mental health breakdown from the stress of isolation, COVID news, social injustice, health concerns, etc. My gusto was gone!
My family needed me more than ever and I needed the courage and support to: 1.) ask for help, and 2.) take a step back at work to allow space to focus on my mental health. It was my “Simone moment” and Capital One encouraged me every step of the way. I asked to be removed from the lead role and worked behind the scenes instead. I modified my work hours so I could teach school. I turned my video off and set clear boundaries with my team for work-life balance. As a director, I set an example for other women in my network and made it my mission to elevate the needs of working women in every survey, all-hands, or executive audience I could get so other working moms would have the courage and support they needed to ask for help too. I got to be fully present for my kids during unprecedented (and unpredictable) times, and now I’m a better mom and still have an amazing career at Capital One.
May Chiang, Litigation Associate, Dechert LLP
The most surprising advice I’ve learned as a working mom is to be your whole self at work and don’t be shy to speak up about your own needs as a parent. I came back from parental leave in the fall of 2019, and was asked if I’d be willing to go on a week-long business trip a few weeks after my return. The trip would have been the same week my daughter was starting daycare for the first time. I really wanted to be home for that, so I reached out to another working mom for advice. She told me to be upfront about what was happening at home. I told the team the truth of why the timing of this trip didn’t work for me and asked whether I could slot in for the depositions that would be taking place a month later. I had no reason to be stressed. A colleague of mine volunteered to go in my place (even though it meant back-to-back business trips for her), and the partners I worked with were completely understanding and shared their own stories of navigating child care. I felt so grateful to be working on such a supportive team, and I now try to emulate that culture of support as I work with other colleagues who are making the leap into parenthood.
Jenny Mickeliunas, Managing Director, Deloitte & Touche LLP, Deloitte LLP
Ten years ago, I made the transition to working motherhood when Amelia was born. I changed when I worked and how I communicated to create visibility into my competing responsibilities and to be a positive role model for other working parents. This meant being adaptable and flexible to different schedules and arrangements. Five years ago, I transitioned to being a “medical mom” as well. In the weeks and months following Elliott’s birth, we learned he had Severe Hemophilia A (a bleeding disorder where his blood doesn’t clot) and an ultra-rare and newly discovered neurodegenerative disorder called BPAN. My husband and I quickly became “Elliott-trained nurses,” learning how to give him infusions of the clotting factor his blood lacks, changing feeding tubes, running a ventilator, and managing complex medications and therapies, to name a few. It became critical for me to live the advice I had been giving other working parents: to continuously adapt to what is best for all parts of their life, and at different stages in their life. Navigating a full-time workload along with endless phone calls, doctor and therapy appointments, frequent hospital stays, and after-school activities requires me to be flexible with my schedule and work location and to communicate effectively with my husband, teams and clients. I strive to bring my authentic self to work, allowing others to understand how and when I work and take time for my personal life. This includes sharing the challenges of tending to my own well-being, as caring for another person so intensively leaves me with little time for myself. I realized quickly that I was not wired with the coping skills of being a parent to a child with such complicated medical needs, so I sought out help through counseling. I share this experience with others, so they feel empowered to reach out for help when they need it. I’m lucky to be at an organization and in an industry where my workday can be flexible and am so grateful for the support and encouragement I’ve received over the years from my entire support system.
Melissa Coe, Advisor Pharma Program Phase, Eli Lilly and Company
I am a proud mother, wife and working mother. I have two beautiful sons, 8 and 10, and have been married for 15 years to a wonderful and supportive husband. I started my career at Eli Lilly and Company 12 years ago after completing my M.B.A. I was raised in an African-American and Latino household and was taught to work hard to get ahead, so I did that for several years until I started a family and everything changed. Being a new mother was a particularly difficult time for me because my first son is on the autism spectrum, so I had to navigate work while caring for a child with special needs. During this time, I made the decision to work part-time to help balance my family’s needs with work. I made that choice despite receiving advice to not “limit myself” in my career. Fast forward to now, my son is doing very well in school, I am back working full-time, and have assumed a number of leadership roles over the years in management and in the area of DEI. I lead a team at Lilly called #iamIN, which is focused on building inclusive work environments and promoting well-being for employees. As a working mother, I feel strongly that we need to foster work environments where we can speak up without fear of impact to our careers and be able to maintain a healthy work life balance. I feel it is our responsibility as leaders to listen to employees and take action to address their concerns. #iamIN helps to elevate voices and build a more diverse and inclusive environment to bring better well-being to our organization. In addition to my work efforts, I am heavily involved in my church and sit on a non-profit board helping connect community schools to local resources. Education, advocacy and taking collective action is needed to ensure all children can grow and thrive in a safe and nurturing environment. My advice for working mothers is to follow your heart and don’t let others determine your goals.
Alysia Steinmann, Partner, Audit, EY
I had my first son when I was a manager at EY. Returning from my maternity leave, I felt like I was in a whirlwind: rushing to work, rushing home, and rushing every second in between. I realized quickly that boundaries and communication were critical to surviving and had a conversation with a male partner, explaining that getting home to do bedtime was important to me, and I needed the flexibility to do that. Over the next year, he would make sure I left on time because I told him it was important to me. Almost three years later, I had just returned from my second maternity leave and was figuring out how to be a working mom of two, when my oldest son was diagnosed with autism. I felt broken and unsure how I was going to possibly take care of him and focus on my career—it seemed I had to choose. A few days later, I went to the same partner and asked for help, telling him I wasn’t sure how to make it through the day, let alone stay at EY. He didn’t miss a beat; he said, “That’s OK, we are going to figure it out together.”
That was the single defining moment of my career. I thought I had to pick between being a good mom or fulfilling my career aspiration of making partner, but he reassured me that I could do both. During my first year as partner, my second son was also diagnosed with autism, and although overwhelming, I knew I had the right support group. I’m able to navigate and have the flexibility I need to be successful, despite daily struggles. Today, I try to support people in their journeys. I sit on the EY Americas Professional Network Council and the EY NYC D&I Council, representing and advocating for those with disabilities. The advice I would give other working mothers is to be honest about your struggles—share those moments with your teams. When people see that you are vulnerable and real, they feel at ease sharing their own challenges.
Tina Powers, Associate Director, Financial Industry Regulatory Authority
Years ago, I mentioned to a coworker that my daughter had asked me why I went to work every day. My reaction was to feel guilty considering the length of her days at daycare, between the time I spent commuting and the regular workday. My coworker made two suggestions. The first suggestion was to explain the benefits of me going to work to my daughter in terms that she could understand. For example, when my daughter was about 3 years-old, she asked that question while we were in the store buying cookies. I noted to her that if I didn’t go to work, I wouldn’t be able to buy her cookies. Her response was, “OK, well go to work tomorrow, Mommy.” As my children grow older, I continue to associate working to the life lessons most relevant to their stage in life at that time, such as managing their own finances, pursuing college, or entering the workforce for the first time. The second suggestion was to reframe what I thought of as working mother guilt to be working mother pride. Being a mom that works to support your family, whether you work outside of the home or manage the home full-time, should never be something to feel guilty about. This advice has allowed me to maintain a positive mindset over the years and take pride in working as another means of contributing to my children’s lives.
Morgan Smith, Associate, Finnegan, Henderson, Farabow, Garrett & Dunner, LLP
I admittedly had writer’s block when I first tried to write this. Then, I read an opinion piece about women lawyers in the ABA Journal that horrified me—and numerous other women in the legal community. The piece said, “[T]here is nothing that can derail a career faster than the responsibilities of motherhood. Ask any successful woman lawyer with children.” At the time the piece came out, I had a 2 year-old son, was eight months pregnant with my daughter, and was doing very well at work. Was I “derailed?” I certainly didn’t feel that way. After finishing the article, I realized why I found it so jarring: I have been surrounded by wonderful, powerful lawyer moms throughout my career. Rather than try to fit themselves into a stereotypical mold for success, these women are open and honest about their lives so that others can actually see the many different ways one can succeed in my profession. These women have taught me the most valuable (and surprising) lesson about working motherhood: the importance of making motherhood visible at work.
The benefits of “motherhood visibility” have changed throughout my career and journey to motherhood. Although I did not realize it at the time, observing my lawyer mom colleagues as young professionals without children exposed me to many different examples of how to balance motherhood with a high-powered, busy career. I didn’t feel that having children would “derail” my career because I had so many role models to look up to. When I eventually decided to have children, these women and their experiences served as helpful mentors and examples of how to navigate that monumental life shift. And now that I am myself a working mom, “motherhood visibility” allows me to achieve the professional balance I want for my own success. I set boundaries, manage expectations, and have more meaningful relationships with my colleagues by discussing motherhood and my children. Coming full circle, it also allows me to set an example for my colleagues, just as my role models did for me.
Brittany Richardson, Audit – Senior Manager, Grant Thornton
The most important piece of advice I learned was that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to motherhood. I know it may seem very simple, but once I embraced this concept, it really helped me a lot. When I first started work, I worked with a manager who had young kids. I watched her work very hard. She would wake up early and work before her kids woke up, take them to school, come into the client site to work, leave to go pick them up, make dinner, help with homework and put them down for bed, and then work some more. I admired her work ethic, but I always knew that when I became a mother, I wanted a better work-life balance. Before I came back from maternity leave, I met with local management and proposed a different type of flexible work arrangement. Typically, working parents would take off on Tuesdays and Thursdays or work compressed work weeks (40 hours between Monday and Thursday), however, I tried to learn from other parents and come up with a unique arrangement that was different than the norm. I saw instances where the client wanted to have a call on a Friday, but it would have to wait until Monday, or a team member may need something and there could be a one- to two-day turnaround due to the timing of the flexible work arrangement. With that, I suggested still working Monday through Friday, but with reduced hours during our peak busy season. While this may seem like a fairly simple idea, I wasn’t familiar with anyone on this type of arrangement. Local management and resource management were very supportive and we put together a plan that worked for the firm, my clients, and my team. Throughout this process, I try my best to over-communicate and be proactive to continue to make being a working parent manageable and rewarding. My arrangement allows me to be 100 percent present when I am at work, and 100 percent present when I’m at home with my family.
Nikki Reid, Partner, Advisory, KPMG LLP
The advice that I live by each and every day is that “achieving greatness isn’t comfortable. You can have it all, just not at the same time.” Since I was a child, I’ve wanted to be great—to make a difference, even if only on a small scale. As I’ve matured, that goal hasn’t changed and I have become more and more committed to making a difference in the lives of my children, my colleagues, and the generations of under-represented individuals that will begin their professional journeys long after I’m gone. To do that, I expect personal sacrifice. It is impossible to be in two places at one time, so juggling the needs of four children, a husband, and a demanding career makes for long days and nights. I have learned to appreciate the struggle; to become comfortable with being uncomfortable; to find beauty in my imperfections as a human-being; and to commit to learning from my missteps. I work hard and I love hard, but those things don’t have to be at odds with each other. I won’t lie, when my children bring home Mother’s Day cards from school, the answer to “What is your mom’s favorite thing to do?” is always: “She loves to work!” In the past, it would break my heart. I wanted them to say bake cookies or knit scarves‚ but I slowly began to realize that my children are proud of my work ethic. Watching my daughters roleplay on their pink Minnie Mouse phones and describe their rainbow offices brings me pure joy. Being a working mother is hard, but I wouldn’t change one little thing about even the most chaotic days. My story is just that: mine. And it’s a Pulitzer Prize winner in my opinion!
Kelsey Gushard, Consumer Sector Senior Manager, L.E.K. Consulting
When I first became a parent, I poured every ounce of my energy into being a great mom and employee, and was very critical of myself for any perceived shortcomings at both work and home. But what I quickly learned (with some nudging from my husband; thanks, Jeff!), is that it’s so important to invest in yourself because you can’t pour from an empty cup. This investment could be time, a sitter to have said time, or other resources (e.g., exercise bike, meditation app). It felt selfish at first, and I still sometimes have to practice boundary setting with myself and others, but the benefits speak for themselves. I am a happier, more patient, present, and productive person in all aspects of my life when I practice self-care. Now, I make it a priority to engage in some form of exercise every day, regularly schedule calls with family and friends, and practice gratitude. This not only fills my cup, but those around me!
Dara Lakshminarayanan, Associate Director, Project Manager, Moody’s
Any primary caregiver of the family who owns the responsibility of the emotional, physical and academic health of the children, has truly faced a tremendous amount of pressure over the past year. For me this is especially true, as I rejoined the workforce after being home with the children during their formative years. In addition, I became ill last year, making it very hard to give my best at home or at work. But I learned through this experience that the quality of my time is much more important than the quantity. I learned to get more work done with much more focus and efficiency, so I can maximize my “healthy” hours of the day. My meetings were shortened from two hours to 10 minutes. When I had to quarantine myself, my time with family was also very short but concentrated with a lot of kindness and attention towards each other. I finally understood the true meaning of being present in the moment, of every single task I do. I repeat, being “present in the moment‚” not thinking about the next, or before, but now. It empowered me to break down tasks into its basic components, identify dependencies, risks, blockers, plan better, and execute better. As I started valuing my time and that of others‚ I could see the same reflected towards me. My sincere wish is that even after we get back to our normal mode, we retain this wisdom and continue to foster a sense of gratitude, value and attention to the present moment in our lives.
Erika Williams, Tax Senior Manager, Moss Adams
When I became a mom, my identity changed from “Erika” to “Marlie, Kennedy, and Myles’ mom.” Being their mom is a huge accomplishment and gives me the drive and purpose to succeed at home and work, but when I began my career in public accounting eight years ago, I didn’t anticipate how much time I would spend away from my family. I was a full-time working mom juggling a demanding career. My work-life balance was weighted more heavily towards work as I prepared for my CPA exams and built my professional network. The pressure I put on myself to be Superwoman at home and work was often overwhelming and unsustainable; I knew I needed to reevaluate so I could be the best version of myself. Now, to be a more present mom and employee, I make time for my family and myself. Finding time to ‘do it all’ is challenging, but it’s possible! When I’m intentional and prioritize doing the little things with my family, like going to soccer practice or parent-teacher conferences, I have significantly less mom guilt when I can’t be physically present due to work obligations. Self-care is also important to me. Some days it means getting in a workout, a massage, or a solo coffee date. Today, it’s snuggling my toddler on the couch as I write this, and he tells me, “You’re good at working, Mom.” Moments like this remind me of my “why”—it always has been and always will be my kids. I would not be who I am without them.
Some days as a working mom are better than others, and I can’t pretend that I always have it all together. My kids would say I’m not always a joy to be around and their nickname for that version of me is “Monster Mom.” Who wants that to be their family legacy? When “Monster Mom” or mom guilt creeps back into my life, I remind myself to be intentional. Make the time for work, make the time for my family, and most importantly, make the time for me.
Erika Lippincott, Director, Middle Market Underwriting, Nationwide
I was lucky enough to marry my best friend‚ Cody, whom I had known since kindergarten; we were high school sweethearts. We both had sales jobs that involved lots of travel, so we covered for each other as we raised our girls, Kate and Kenna. We never said “no,” or “let’s wait.” Instead, we said: “let’s do it.” I’m so grateful we lived that way, because last January, we lost Cody to a sudden cascade of medical anomalies. Now, Kate is 15, Kenna is 12, and I’m the single mom I never thought I’d be. Traveling wouldn’t work for me anymore, so Nationwide gave me the chance to move to a position that brought me home with my girls. After 20 years, I knew I worked for a company I loved. What I didn’t know until this year was that I also work for a company that loves me back.
My advice to parents: Say yes. Say yes to the choices that make you happy. Focus on the bright spots during tragedies, the way people love you and support you. We rely on those bright moments to keep us going. It’s only been a few months, but we’re in a good place now, because of the support we’ve received. We’re here because of the generosity of everyone around us.
Cristina Abreu, Operations Coordinator, Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP
One of the most challenging things parents deal with is a work-life balance, which took on a different meaning with the COVID-19 pandemic and the lockdown. The transition of working remotely, losing childcare, remote learning, and the technological aspect of it all made it more difficult. Keeping a sense of calm in my house with a 3-year-old was challenging. We had to establish a new routine that would allow us to work and keep her entertained through most of the day. We relied heavily on the iPad and TV in the beginning, but eventually started a routine of morning/afternoon walks, arts and crafts, making meals as a family, and puzzles (her favorite). Our routine was thrown off again by the start of fully-remote Pre-K. All balance was lost. At that point, we incorporated supervising her lessons within our work schedules. We kept in constant communication with her teacher and at times we were required to pay more attention to our jobs than her needs. As a result, we started repeating the lessons after work with her and incorporating her lessons into our daily life. Recognizing and acknowledging the difficulty of the situation are key factors in strategizing and creating a work-life balance. On the weekends, my husband and I alternate taking her to the park. This allows each of us some time for self-care (staying in bed longer, enjoying coffee while it’s still hot or having total control of the TV remote). One of the most important things for us has always been communication—this is essential to our daily routine. Before she wakes up each morning, we discuss our plans for the day and check in again during lunch, and after bedtime we prepare for the next day. This level of communication has helped us tackle each day successfully as a team. As unexpected and challenging as the “new normal” was and is, I wouldn’t change anything. This experience has taught us so much about ourselves, and we are beyond happy to expand our family and bring a new baby boy into our lives.
Chana Rubel, Associate Director, Protiviti
As a mother of seven children with a full-time consulting career as an Associate Director with global consultancy Protiviti, I’m always busy—and I wouldn’t want it any other way. I’m privileged to lead the Parent Employee Network Group for Protiviti’s New York office and try to pass on good advice to fellow parents. I’m fortunate to have received many wonderful tips over the years from other mom professionals. One of the best was, “Look at work-life balance on a quarterly basis, not a daily one.” Even if you can’t have dinner with your family every night, you can look back over the last three months and see that you were there for the important times, especially if you block out your calendar first! As an Orthodox Jew, I spend every Sabbath and holiday with my children. We cherish this time together since my family has my undivided attention, as we are required to completely unplug, which includes turning off my laptop and phone. I’ve also learned to delegate many everyday household tasks, but I’m always there for the critical moments when no one can take the place of a mother. Protiviti has helped me with this immensely by allowing me to be truly flexible and helping me to prioritize my children’s important events. My husband has been my number one supporter for the past 21 years, and I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to be so successful without his unwavering encouragement and support. My children encourage me to pursue my career aspirations, even if that means that they have less time to spend with me. I’m truly grateful for all the encouragement and support of my employer; I’m able to work in a profession I love and be a happier and better mom because of it. I am always present when I’m with my children, and they know I will be there for them when they need me. Having a career has also meant that my children have learned to value the time they spend with me. Little do they know, I value this time even more.
Angela Hung, Consulting Director, RSM US LLP
My children were conceived through IVF after I was married for 12 years. I had a fast-paced accounting career and a spouse who traveled for work 75 percent of the time. When domestic violence extended to my children when they were 3 and 1, I started a new life for Connor and Audrey. They are now thriving with a positive outlook. These are some lessons that have helped us:
A sense of security and feeling loved do not require money or possessions. Raised by my grandparents, I grew up selling clothing with them at outdoor markets to help provide for seven aunts. My children know that I love them no matter what we have or have not. We show love by helping one another. Most importantly, having faith in God gives us security, peace and joy. We can grow our own community of friends for support and connection. I joined my parents in Thailand at 9 years-old to help expand their machinery business internationally. My caretakers were kind and generous and gave me love and care. Now, I share my divorce experience with others to provide them support and connection. My children and I serve Christian single parents, elders and families with special needs children, and we celebrate holidays with families from the youth ministry. Be intentional about developing discipline, confidence and physical and mental agility. Learning taekwondo since they were 4, my kids are proud first- and second-degree black belts; both are state champions. With the shutdown, we stopped traveling for competitions and pivoted to what was more important: establishing a safe and active daily schedule for online learning, taekwondo and work. I am not measured by cooking, cleaning and maintaining a perfect house. The time I used to spend commuting now allows me to cook, exercise and play outside with my kids. If I am tired, I no longer feel guilty ordering deliveries or choosing a shorter self-care routine. We have fun laughing and talking before our bedtime reading. The intersection between work and life is learning, growing and serving together while staying authentic to what we value.
Monique Vessey, Strategic Operations, Sanofi US
In 2006, I had to take a step away from work to care for my son David, who was born prematurely at 26 weeks. After a year and half with my son, I returned to work; fast forward 12 years and my son Charlie was born prematurely at 25 weeks. Based on his condition, it was essential that I spend as much time with him as I could. However, I was the primary provider for my family. Taking another step away from my career was not an option, and to complicate matters more, COVID-19 hit and restrictions had been placed at the hospital, limited to one visit per day. After 14 months, my son was able to come home with us, but he was still on a ventilator, supplemental oxygen, and required frequent medications. My husband and I decided I would continue to work full-time, and he would take over the daily caregiving responsibilities. During this period, I was able to use the Sanofi US leaves and time off policies to care for the medical needs and complications of Charlie. This experience has taught me that people will understand only if they know you need help—so ask for it. My coworkers and managers supported me during this time and continue to support me today.
I have learned the importance of taking time for myself, while also being fully present for my family during personal time and fully present as an employee during work time. Going outside to take walks with my husband and children has been beneficial for me. Work-life balance has allowed me to be at my best as a parent and an employee and split my time in a way that works for me. Charlie is now 2 and is learning to breathe without the ventilator, with only minimal medications remaining. This has allowed us to further enjoy the outdoors and even take day trips as a family.
Kristin Johnson, Senior Director, SCJ New Ventures, SC Johnson
Throughout my journey as a working mother, I’ve been gifted three pieces of pivotal advice which have made all the difference in how I approach my time with my family and at work. The first helped me be present with my family. The second helped me take time for me. The third helped me stay connected with my kids.
I was promoted soon after returning from my second maternity leave into a demanding role and as such, was working quite a bit. A coworker expressed concern over this becoming a habit in my professional life and cautioned about the impacts to my family life. This was a wake-up call. I committed to embrace the small moments, focus on the joy and fun of playing with my kids, and let go of obligations. While my work and home life remain blended, I continue to find these small moments each day. Secondly, my neighbor shared that quiet time replaced nap time as they aged out of naps. Quiet time gives us a quick break, taking time for ourselves and ultimately recharging as a family. Our children spend an hour in their room relaxing while my husband and I catch up, take care of to-dos around the house, or get a few emails out. Lastly, growing up, sharing dinner together was an important part of my family and one I wanted to carry forward with mine. I asked a colleague, who had the same appreciation for it, for tips on how she got her kids to share about their day. In her family, they ask each person to share their favorite and least favorite parts of their day. These open-ended questions got our kids to share more each night. They’ve helped us to learn where our children find joy in the world, where they may be struggling, and when some one-on-one time may be needed. I’m grateful for receiving these gifts of advice as they’ve made a remarkable impression on who I am as a working mother.
Livia Maghiar, SMD, General Counsel, Corporate and Technology Law, Chief Privacy Officer, TIAA
I have learned that as a working mother, I am not superwoman. I do not believe my successes could have been possible without my husband, my family, my friends and my colleagues. It does “take a village” to be successful in all areas of life, and we, working parents, cannot do it alone. Embrace and be grateful for the help, and recognize those around you that support you throughout your career and family life.
Jennifer Hwang, Team Lead, Technology Corporate Banking, U.S. Bank
As a banker, developing strong relationships has always been at the heart of what I do. I am an advocate for my clients through thick and thin, and sometimes, I have to be reminded to stand up for myself. My advice to other working parents is to advocate for yourself—and find a strong support system to make that easier. My support system includes the NYC Women’s Business Resource Group chapter. I’m on the board and developed relationships with women who root for each other and have become part of my personal circle. Plus, U.S. Bank offers us the flexibility we need to manage all the responsibilities we face as working parents; there is no substitute for a supportive organization. This community helped me advocate for myself throughout two challenging periods. First, a job transition when I was 34 weeks into a high-risk pregnancy with my first child. I saw an opportunity to transition to a new industry vertical and met with leaders who encouraged me to consider alternatives to my current role that met my career goals and objectives. This enabled me to apply for, and land, a new role despite being about to have a baby and be on short-term disability leave. Second, I advocated for myself through the pandemic by connecting to others. We live in NYC and my husband is a physician in Queens. It was terrible to watch our city get ravaged. The never-ending sounds of sirens in those early days is hard to forget, and watching my husband fear for his life going to work, while I had no child care and was addressing my clients’ emergency needs, is an experience that will shape my family forever. I leaned on these individuals through virtual “catch up” sessions, socially-distanced walks in the park, and virtual events that helped us stay connected to one another during a time we weren’t physically present. I know that I couldn’t have gotten through it without the relationships that I have developed over the years, and I am forever grateful for the support of these individuals and our broader organization.
Michele Cousins, MD, Investment Bank – Loan Portfolio Risk Manager, UBS
In a 20-year career as a woman in investment banking, what I’ve learned is that you will never fully feel like you have balance. You have to learn to make choices, both in the day-to-day and over the long-term, that create a healthy existence between career and personal life. These choices are different for everyone and highly personal, and frankly they evolve over time when your own definition of “balance” changes. I have spent much of my career with my head down working very hard to succeed and prove that a woman with three young children can have success in banking. There will be lots of times where you can convince yourself to win at work, but my advice is not to let yourself get in your own way. And don’t feel forced to make the same decision that another peer or colleague might make. Make choices that work for you in that moment. Your career is long and there will be lots of decisions along the way, and none of them are permanent. A step sideways, or even backwards, which might feel defeating at the time, might just get you to the next place or a new opportunity.
It was my older brother who convinced me to head into finance and banking, and pushed me early on to keep at it. We were the first generation in our family to be college-educated, so it wasn’t a natural or known path for either of us. He sadly passed during this COVID-19 pandemic, alongside many others whose families have been impacted, and it has been a stark reminder on keeping work and life in perspective. But the loss has impacted me in positive ways with respect to my own journey and a focus on giving back to others, particularly young women entering this industry and others earlier in their careers trying to navigate work and parenting. In my role as Co-Chair of Women of the Investment Bank at UBS, we provide networking, advice, and mentorship to our female talent so we can help recruit, retain, and promote more women in the industry.
Crystal L. Jones, Manager, Business Transformation, Verizon
My experience has taught me that despite being a single mother due to my unexpected loss, I am really never alone. I have an amazing support system with my family, friends, neighbors, and of course my Verizon family. I do not feel that I would be able to achieve success as a working parent without my faith first, and having the support from a company like Verizon. I received invaluable advice from my director, Matt, and senior manager, Karen; they continually reminded me to take care of myself. I know it may sound cliché, but in order to be the best version of myself at work and at home, it was important to take time for myself. That meant things like scheduling alone time, focusing on a hobby that releases stress, or any activity that I found to be rewarding. For example, I volunteered to be a cheerleading coach for my daughter’s team, which allowed me to spend time with her and do something I love. In taking care of myself, prioritization is key. When prioritizing time for myself, my children, and various other responsibilities, I can better control my home and work-life because I’ve succeeded in making it more manageable. My late husband, Christopher Jones, Sr., made a habit of listing all the things that needed to get done each day and the goals he wanted to accomplish. As he completed each task, he scratched them off the list. I also started doing this and found it helps me to stay organized, and scratching my tasks off the list provided me with a sense of accomplishment. In summary, take care of yourself and prioritize your responsibilities—at work and at home. These tips, along with being fortunate to be a part of a supportive team within Verizon, have been instrumental in finding that balance we all strive to achieve.
Connie Lin, Research Scientist, Vertex Pharmaceuticals
We are not meant to do this alone. To help make daily life less overwhelming and more sustainable, I’ve learned the importance of being gracious with yourself and others, intentional with time, flexible in any situation, and humble enough to reach out for help. Like many full-time working parents who are navigating caring for their children while delivering at work, there are weeks where I’ve crafted grand plans for perfect presentations, healthy home-cooked meals and picking my son up early enough to take him to the park after school. However, life happens; with any combination of meeting schedule changes, last-minute pick-up/drop-off swaps with my husband, later workdays, and family illnesses, these variables inevitably lead to sporadic last-minute dinner plans, later pick-ups, and late night data analysis from home after putting my son to bed. I can feel the weight of my own expectations: to be enough and do everything and feel like I’m failing. During times of discouragement, I hold fast to my faith in God‚ the perfect Father who gave His only Son for me‚ and remember that my identity and sufficiency don’t come from my own effort. In God, I find freedom to relinquish control, reset my expectations and boundaries, reprioritize what’s truly important, reframe my mindset, and reach out for help. He teaches me to put to death my earthly aspirations of motherhood to resurrect a more Christ-centered one. My life is in the hands of my Savior. I lean on Him for the capacity and freedom to manage work-life balance more effectively by being more present in each moment I intentionally choose to prioritize, to humbly and graciously reach out to others for help, and to extend help to others. I find success in the joy God reveals through each mundane and extraordinary moment as a working parent in a community of others on the same journey.
Emily Niepomnik, East Region Marine Underwriting Manager, Zurich North America
Emily Niepomnik, an engineer-turned-underwriting manager at Zurich North America, is the mom to four school-aged children. She supports and develops other working parents in her role on the leadership team of Zurich’s Women’s Innovation Network. Here, three lessons she’s learned: You can’t do it all. Period. Work-life balance is an urban legend. There are seasons to motherhood. There have been times in my career where I spent significant time outside of the workday traveling and developing my professional skills, including obtaining my professional engineering license. There was also a time I chose to cut back my work hours to part-time and the scale tipped toward more time with my family. Sometimes your best yes is no. When I took a part-time position to spend more time with my family, I felt like I needed to fill the time. I ended up saying yes to everything: Girl Scout Leader for two troops, religious education teacher, PTA president. The result was less time with my family. I was overcommitted and overwhelmed and eventually burned out. What I thought I was doing for my family ended up taking me away from them. Believe it or not, life became a bit less chaotic for me when I went back to work full-time and learned to say no. You don’t have to do it alone! Motherhood is hard; being a working mom is hard. Create your village. Find your people. Provide mutual support, encourage, lift each other up, and bring others along as you rise. It results in not only success, but shared enthusiasm and happiness. My neighborhood mom friend grabbed my first grade son at school when it was clear that my husband and I forgot about early dismissal. We still laugh about this 10 years later! I advocated to create a part-time position for my team member who was ready to quit because full-time was too much with her growing family. For me, these are two great examples of walking through this journey with others beside me.