Shortly before becoming a CCO, I was in a huddle at a Toronto bar with Kara Goodrich, one of America’s most awarded copywriters. We’d just spent the day judging Canada’s Marketing Awards, and I was showing Kara a picture of my young daughter. Looking at the photo, Kara suddenly got very serious. “How do you do it?” she asked. She wanted a baby but wondered if her value would drop when she became a parent. I was floored. This brilliant young woman was undaunted by creating world-class work that made millions for clients like Keds, Polaroid and United Airlines. She took her industry’s onslaught of accolades in stride, year after year.
Any agency in the country would have killed to hire her. But one of the most employable people in advertising was completely unnerved by the thought of what having a baby might do to her career.
The truth is, professional women who go for the child often go on to discover that motherhood can make them even better at their jobs. After my tears dried back at work post-baby, I discovered this very big, pleasant surprise: the job felt so much easier than before. Having a tot actually helped me to do well at the top.
Far from hurting me at work, motherhood actually accelerated my career. Life after my daughter Lily was not a cakewalk, to be sure. But in many ways, it was so much better. I was getting the job done; there were no complaints that I wasn’t pulling it off. The quality of my work was often better, if anything. I think one reason for that was heightened empathy—a side effect of motherhood that hit even me, someone not famous for the quality. I was more sensitive to the feelings of others, including the target audiences for the products I was tasked with selling. If women make something like 80 percent of all purchase decisions, it seems obvious that being a mother gave me an edge in connecting with the moms.
Janet says one of the biggest benefits of parenthood for her was that it put work in perspective. If it was possible to take the job too seriously, she did. After her son Devin arrived, she stopped wanting to cry after every lost battle; she found her tendency to overreact and wear the hair shirt in response to failure evaporated. A little bit of distance gave her clarity. The detachment sharpened her judgment.
I wish I’d had the revelation sooner that having children can make women better at the job. And more than that, I wish this reality were accepted as common knowledge. I’m happy to see more and more press like this, which appeared in Forbes: “For working mothers, as for effective leaders, agility is a critical requirement. Agility means possessing strong self-awareness, emotional intelligence, flexibility, conflict management, listening and communications skills.
It also means being acutely aware of how others process and respond to our own actions and behaviors.” And I’m also glad more and more senior women are speaking out about the value that motherhood adds to their careers.
As for Kara Goodrich? She took the baby plunge; her daughter is now in her teens. Kara found a way to make life work at home and on the job thanks to the boss she followed to BBDO New York, David Lubars. He was very supportive in working out a situation that allowed her to continue to deliver fantastic work but also gave her the flexibility she needed to do the job of mom. She says it isn't always easy, but it is worth it.
She has great success—on her own terms.
This is an excerpt from Nancy Vonk and Janet Kestin's new book, Darling, You Can’t Do Both (And Other Noise To Ignore On Your Way Up), a guide to breaking the invisible rules of business that hold women back.