Posted by: jessmcdonnell | January 31, 2019

Mothers as Women in Leadership

Numerous articles on women in leadership can list off the leadership qualities that women possess. Women are communal, relational, kind, nurturing. My best guess is that these qualities would fit into your idea of “motherly” as well. The qualities women leaders have could easily be described as “motherly”, but we don’t often equate mothers as leaders. Why is that? Our society so often makes it seem as though women have a choice to make: they either become or mom or they advance in their career and become more of a leader professionally.

Many people feel very strongly towards women holding leadership roles. In the 1960s, through the Feminine Mystique, Betty Friedan, encourages women to get a job, get paid, and get out of the home. This push is still present today. I have linked a video of Shelley Zalis, founder of The Girls’ Lounge, a conference for working women, where she speaks on similar beliefs. In the video, she explains that mothers are caregivers and caregivers are the best leaders because they are nurturing, collaborate, supportive, and encouraging. She proceeds to say, “shame on you if you take being a mom as your excuse to opt out… kill it as a leader and figure out how to rebalance the work life balance”.


I think the words of both Betty Friedan and Shelley Zalis are a little harsh. I think that women should  have the option to be a mother without pressures from other women telling them they should be out of the house working. On the other hand, I also think women who choose to be mothers and have the desire to be leaders professionally should have the opportunities to do so. However, I don’t think society makes it that simple to manage that “work/life balance”. An article from Forbes states that “women in the United States are choosing to have more babies than most countries and be business leaders, despite that we have severely short and unpaid maternity leaves than other countries and impossible to work around school hours”.

The Forbes article also explains Spain’s failed approach to assisting working mothers. Spain passed a law preventing companies form firing mothers working part-time until their children are 12 years old. Now this seems like a good idea, it allows mothers to keep a job while still having adequate time caring for their children. Unfortunately, their plan backfired, and companies were afraid of hiring women of childbearing age and not be able to get rid of them if they performed poorly.

In a society where it seems as though work and life are at odds with each other and women have to choose in order to be successful in either, what can we do to improve? Could the issue be remedied by providing a longer and paid maternity leave? Better child care options for those working long hours? Is there an effective law that could be passed? I encourage you to read the Forbes article, watch the short Shelley Zalis video clip, and join me in the discussion of mothers as women in leadership.




  1. This was a great post that really inspired my thinking on the different aspects working mothers have to face in order to be considered “leaders” of their generations. In my opinion, I think mothers – and parents in general are the best leaders and role models. As a parent, if you are not providing a good example for your children and the younger generation, giving them something to look up to and be inspired by, then how can you be leading them? And is this not the best way to lead, by being there for your children and guiding them through their early years of life? Mothers are the epitome of selfless, sacrificing so much for their family and children. I agree with you Jess, I think the words of Friedan and Zalis are harshly stated. I believe that whatever choice a mother makes: to either stay at home and care for her children, or to be a working mother, should be celebrated by society. Because after all, mothers are giving the best gift to the world – a new life that will inspire generations to come. I think the first step of improving these conditions is for society to have a more accepting environment that encourages its members to do what is best for them.

  2. This was a great post that I feel makes people reflect back on the way they perceive working and stay at home moms. I believe all parents are the best example of what a leader looks like because they show younger generations how to handle many different situations. My mom is definitely my role model and I look up to her in so many ways. Not only is she a mom to my brother and I, but many of our friends consider her to be their mom too, giving her the title “Mama Shaw”. Every quality that was mentioned in the video about mothers as caregivers I see in my mom everyday. My mom is also a nurse and I remember back to when I was younger when she worked 12 hour shifts at the hospital in the PICU taking care of really sick kids. There were times when I could tell it was hard for her to balance her mom life with her work life, especially when she would get called in during my cheer practices, leading to someone else having to drive me home. However, she still managed make everything work, showing me how women can work and still care for their children. I believe society needs accept women who care for children as leaders and allow for more job opportunities for them. I think the idea of creating and passing a law, similar to the one Spain attempted, would be something the U.S. should consider, but the first steps in improving this issue starts with society. If society becomes more inviting and accepting of women, with or even without children, we may finally be able to see a increase in women leadership.

  3. I really enjoyed this response to the clip and article. It really made me think about working mothers and made me related my mom to this article. My mom was a stay at home mom when my sister and I were growing up, and looking back I am so thankful for it and would hope to do the same for my future kids. Allowing mothers to be home with their young children help them feel safe, loved, and have a great role model to look up to. I do remember though when my mom was looking to get back in the working field when we grew up and how hard it was for her. It is hard on the mothers, because they are used to be on a different schedule and being around their kids all day to then not seeing them for a while. Since it is already hard on the mom, the businesses need to make it easier on them. We should be celebrating stay at home moms, because they do so much and help raise children in amazing people. I thought
    Friedan and Zalis statements and point of view was very unnecessary and I agree with harsh. Stay at home moms often have harder jobs than most and it is there choice to make that decision. I truly think is it is so careless for moms to stay at home with their kids.

  4. The problem lies with the abuse of opportunities we are given. Any time people are given some kind of beneficial opportunity, there will always be those who abuse that power. By giving mothers longer and paid maternity leave, we opt in to women potentially having kids just to get the nice maternity leave. While I definitely think we should take steps towards helping women who long to be mothers and leaders in the workplace, we must also understand the opportunity costs of every decision we make to help them. The only way we can stray away from the dichotomy for women of either a mother or a worker is if we help them with better opportunities to balance both of them. And it is hard. Because not every man will be willing enough to take up the position of stay at home dad or try to make it easier for the mother to do all the things she wants to do. There are going to have to be sacrifices on both sides. And who knows when we will figure it out for women to be able to do what they want to do, the same way men can choose?

  5. I like this post because I definitely think stay at home moms should be celebrated more. It is crazy to me that people, mainly other women, will criticize a woman for choosing to be a stay at home mom rather than being in the work force. They sacrificed their career so that they could be there for their kids and teach them how to be leaders themselves someday. My mom was a stay at home mom and I am so thankful for that because, like others have said, it allowed me to see her as a great role model. I think my mom is incredibly strong for making the decision to be a stay at home mom and having to do it on her own periodically when my dad was deployed or away for duty. On the flip side, women who want to balance work and life and continue to be successful in their career should also be celebrated just as much. I also think Zail’s comment was harsh because women should not feel pressured to have to balance work and life and if they just want to focus on raising their children they shouldn’t feel criticized by society for doing so.

  6. I really enjoyed this blog post and the video, as my mother is one of many who should be celebrated for being a stay-at-home mom. I am immensely thankful for my mother’s presence in my life and at home, and part of why she stayed home for us is because my brother has severe special needs. However, in spite of being constantly there for us and being home whenever we needed her, she also balanced jobs as well–she was a TA at the elementary school, was a founder in a neighborhood dog-walking business, and was always finding little odd jobs to contribute to our income and to do things for herself as well. While she was active in both work and home aspects of her life and of motherhood, I truly think that she has found joy in both things–they do not have to be mutually exclusive aspects of motherhood! It is definitely possible for women to love to be stay at home mothers, to love to be mothers who have a career, or to choose to do both and find joy in both. My mother is a living example!

  7. It is so nice to hear “mothers” and “leaders” in the same sentence because although we do not often think of the two as interchangeable descriptions, they truly are. Parents are the first teachers and instill values in their children as well as lead the way for them to succeed. Motherhood is a valuable role and far more complicated and demanding than I can ever imagine. When we discussed the “mad men sexism” about how some women want more than to be a stay at home mom, I brought up that many women feel completely satisfied. By devoting your life to raising your children and providing a loving home, you are more likely to become involved in their activities.

    This raises two interesting points: the inequality of genders represented in top leadership positions as well as women who fulfill “behind-the-scenes” leadership. Our second article for this week discussed that women are equally capable of fulfilling leadership positions but often want to lead in places where they feel like they can make a difference. By being a stay at home mom you are able to reach out and devote more time to both your community and your children’s activities thus fulfilling a desire to make change as well as, perhaps subconsciously perhaps not, making the stereotype of women leading behind the scenes true, as volunteering and making changes in your children’s lives are certainly more behind the scenes than being a CEO. But equally if not more powerful and important.

    In regards to my point on inequality of gender representation, I honestly do not think that the world will ever see 50/50 male/female leaders in high profile positions. This is partially due to the fact that there will always be those women who want to stay at home and devote their lives to motherhood – a selfless act if you ask me – as well as the fact that women stereotypically interested in different things as the article mentioned. More importantly, we will never see 50/50 gender equality in leadership positions until we start to view leadership in a realm which encompasses all forms – those of smaller “behind-the-scenes” leadership as well as those within volunteer organizations.

  8. We have not really gotten into this issue too deeply in class yet and I appreciate you bringing it up. We have touched on it a little bit, how mothers are not really seen as leaders but it leads to a deeper discussion that we have not had yet. Mother’s, to me, have to be more than just leaders, they have to be role models, caregivers, supporters. They have to stand in the background and watch their child grow up, they have to be right there to show their child where they went wrong and how to fix it. More than those reasons however, a mothers influence is felt throughout a persons life while a leaders might be felt for five, ten, or even twenty years it is nothing compared to mom’s influence. I feel like I may be a little bias on this issue as I am definitely a mommas boy. I have one younger sister and she gravitated more towards my dad and I my mother. My mom is a great example of how women can balance the work and child raising life. She has been successful in her career my whole life while also raising me (in my opinion) to become a great young man. However, I do not believe that this is the path that all women want to take and the ones that just want to be mothers, or just want to work should be ridiculed for their choices. Each experience has different leadership aspects, motherhood: more caring, nuturing, business: bringing in the leadership concepts from motherhood but not being afraid to be more masculine when needed, and they both should be considered leadership roles for women. Women need to support other women in whatever they choose.

  9. I remember discussing this issue briefly in the beginning of the semester. This issue being women being shamed no matter what they do… and often by other women. 60 years ago, women were shamed if they chose to leave their home and family to work and get paid. On the flip side, if a man could not make enough money to support his family, he was shamed. Now that women have many more opportunities, we are expected to keep fighting for what the women before us fought for. I think in a way, this argument means that we aren’t at the finish line yet. Yes, women have more opportunities than ever. No, these opportunities are not going to be taken away from us now that we have them. The finish line hasn’t been crossed because women still face challenges getting to those leadership positions. But I do not think the answer to getting to the finish line is making women who do not want to lead, lead. The answer is being patient, and letting time do the work. Until then, we can let women (who want to) be leaders in their own home and let them do what makes them happy. In return, we can choose not to shame them.

  10. Being responsible for raising a child who will be successful in this world today is incredibly difficult to do. Mothers are typically faced with the responsibility to care for their family, make sure their partners are tended to, care for the home, all while trying to care for themselves. Two weeks ago I was visiting my parents when my mother started talking about some man that was rude to her and added in “AND his wife doesn’t have a job- she’s just a housewife.” Immediately I started lecturing her on how housewives are just as important to shaping society and that they have so many responsibilities in their role. She was open to hearing my little rant, and even agreed that women need to be more supportive of one another. After watching Mad Men’s Betty go through anxiety and depression over not having her own identity within her role as being a housewife, I really began wondering how common this issue is among mothers. Although not all women want to be mothers, everyone struggles with finding their own identity within their jobs. Recognizing that mothers fill a position of leadership in shaping the lives of the children who will lead our future world is very important and should be respected in society.

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