For Mom-Execs, Results Matter. Hours Don't


March 8, 2016 is International Women’s Day. It is a great time to reflect on the contributions women make to human progress. It’s also an occasion to look at the ways in which being a woman creates a unique vantage that enriches our evolutionary path, whether in family or business. This got me thinking about how being a mother in particular contributes to a more thriving enterprise.

Moms are wired for everyday heroism. Most of us don’t have the luxury of dawdling. We get the kids to school, pick them up, make dinner, do laundry. None of this goes away just because we have full-time jobs. Many people make an immediate assumption that because moms have so much to do outside of being executives, they couldn’t possibly be present enough to be transformational leaders. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

In fact, mom-execs bring qualities to the table that are essential to building a successful and resilient enterprise. In particular, their emotional intelligence, conflict resolution and proclivity for selflessness contribute to workplaces poised to outperform the competition on every level, from team-building to the bottom line. When people ask how gender diversity benefits a group, it’s exactly these types of differing perspectives that are essential in bringing a business over the hurdles that inevitably come flying its way.

In many respects, scheduling is the easy part. Centrify was the very first job where I came to the table upfront about needing a flexible work structure. I have three kids under five, two of whom are twins. Work-life balance is essential to being a good parent to them. Luckily, Centrify CEO Tom Kemp knows that being physically on the Centrify campus for eight hours per day has nothing to do with how productive we are. More broadly, women comprise 25 percent of Centrify’s leadership team, which is above average for Silicon Valley.

That said, I know that if I have to pick up the kids, make dinner and help with homework, I need to work efficiently while I’m in the office – and then resume work after the kids go to bed. Sometimes I feel like I do twice the work in half the time, because procrastinating is not an option. On the flip side – and I know it’s not just moms who share this sentiment – I’m much more dedicated and inclined to create results for an institution that respects my life. For me, it’s family. For someone else, it’s volunteer commitments or sports teams, the things that keep us grounded and engaged in the enterprise of our own wellbeing. We’re all mothers of our own happiness.

From a business perspective, the real magic of motherhood manifests in intangible qualities that ultimately increase the bottom line. For example, most mothers are in the habit of putting others first. So it comes naturally to us in the workplace to ask if a decision is right for the company before asking if it’s right for us or for our career. For businesses to grow, it’s critical employees think this way.

Mom-execs also bring to the boardroom a valuable approach to conflict resolution that’s as much informed by motherhood as it is womanhood. Landmark research from Catalyst found that Fortune 500 boards with the most gender diversity financially outperformed those with the least by 16-84 percent. More thoughtful deliberations and more careful scrutiny of risk are thought to make women’s perspectives – in lock step with the range of perspectives that come from having a truly diverse workforce – vital to the overall health of a business.

Women also have a different approach to mentoring, which, when combined with other approaches, creates a more well-rounded and engaged workforce. Summarizing their 2010 MIT study in a recent New York Times article, researchers found that teams with more women outperformed teams with fewer women, which they attribute in large part to women’s higher emotional intelligence – the ability to read and respond to complex emotional states by looking at a person and engaging them accordingly.

From my vantage, emotional intelligence leads to versions of mentorship that bank on inspiration, rather than discipline, which some people inevitably respond better to. Moms want to see the whole family succeed as a powerful team; this requires helping individuals determine their strengths and empowering them to use those strengths in a way that will benefit the entire company.

That said, the more our staffs are a mosaic of the societies around them, the greater their range of insight when making critical decisions that transform business. As a mother and as a marketing leader, growth is the number-one objective for both my families. 

About the Author

Ally Zwahlen is the Vice President of Corporate Communications at Centrify Corporation. A seasoned marketing and technology leader, with specific expertise in the security industry, prior to joining Centrify, Ally served as the Vice President of North American Public Relations for AVG. She also served as a leading member of several prominent technology companies, including McAfee and Taleo, which was later acquired by Oracle. 

Edited by Peter Bernstein

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