7 Lessons from 7 Boss Moms

Guidelines for success, from 7 of the world’s most powerful working mothers

Being a mom might be the toughest job in the world, and for 70 percent of American mothers who also work outside of the home, it’s just one of two tough jobs. That makes it all the more interesting when women in powerful positions of leadership sound off on what they’ve learned as working mothers. Want to know how Massachusetts senator Elizabeth Warren made it through law school with two young children and a third on the way? Or why choosing the right partner made all the difference to Melinda Gates, or what Chelsea Clinton thinks about leadership symbols that will matter to her 7-month-old daughter? Read on.

On Mother’s Day, as you celebrate yourself or all the moms in your life, consider these lessons gleaned from seven sage mothers who are some of the most powerful women in the world.

1. Ask for help when you need it

Massachusetts senator Elizabeth Warren is an illustrious former professor at Harvard Law School and a tireless consumer advocate for corporate accountability. But decades ago, as a grad student and mother of two, she had a very recognizable working-mom moment—wanting to give up. She asked her family to step in and help her take care of her children as she finished law school (graduating while 8-months pregnant), which allowed her to pursue an increasingly ambitious career. Recalls Warren:

“My Aunt Bee had called me, and I started to cry, and I said, ‘I just can’t do this. I think I’m going to quit.’ Her aunt calmed her down and instructed her to wipe her nose. Then said, ‘Well, Sweetie, I can’t get there tomorrow. But I can be there Thursday.’ She arrived with seven suitcases and a Pekingese and stayed for 15 years.” 


Courtesy of (clockwise from top left): Elizabeth Warren; Elizabeth Warren; Elizabeth Warren; inquisitr; mommy2go.

2. Take time off for family to gain career insights

Susan Wojcicki is the CEO of YouTube, one of the world’s largest companies, and is also a mom of five who leaves work by 6 p.m. each night and takes a few months of maternity leave at the birth of each baby. By example and by policy, she is advancing the cause of working parents at YouTube (implementing extended maternity leave, special parking for expectant mothers, and generous flex time) because she believes that it is vital to value time with family. Says Wojcicki:

“I’ve found that it’s really important to take time off, and I’ve found that sometimes you get really important insights by taking time off, too…I want people to realize that it really is ok, that you can have a family. I don’t feel like I’m a perfect mom, and then there are times at work that I feel like maybe I wasn’t perfect here because of constraints on my time. But having the sum of both of those things going on in my life makes me a better mom at the end of the day, and gives me really important perspective in the workplace as well.”

Courtesy of (clockwise from top left): womensilab; moms the word; techcrunch; mamamia; today.

Courtesy of (clockwise from top left): womensilab; moms the word; techcrunch; mamamia; today.

3. Let your leadership serve as a powerful example

Chelsea Clinton is one-third of the Clinton Foundation and originator of the No Ceilings Full Participation Report, but for the most part, she has proved an expert at deferring commentary on her mother Hillary’s political ambitions. As a new mom to daughter Charlotte, however, she takes a stand on the importance of electing a female president who can serve as a powerful symbol for the next generation of girls. Says Clinton:

“It is important who and what we choose to elevate, and to celebrate. And one of our core values in this country is that we are the land of equal opportunity, but when equal hasn’t yet included gender, there is a fundamental challenge there that, I believe, having our first woman president—whenever that is—will help resolve. And do I think it would make a substantive difference? Yes, we’ve seen again and again, when women have been in positions of leadership, they have had different degrees of success versus their male counterparts, historically being able to build more consensus so that decisions have longer-term effects, whether in economic investments or in building social capital.”

“Who sits around the table matters. And who sits at the head of the table matters, too.”


Courtesy of (clockwise from top left): People; Us Weekly; Tedxteen; Elle; Washington Post

4. Ask the most of your workplace, and offer the most in return

As FLOTUS, Michelle Obama consistently addresses the challenges faced by working families because she’s been there—she spent years juggling work and family until, upon losing her long-time babysitter, she nearly stopped working entirely to become a stay-at-home mom. Because she wasn’t planning on working again, she approached one last job interview in the mindset of having nothing to lose: Says Obama:

“That empowered me. I said, you know, I don’t even want this job, so I’m going to go to the interview and I’m just gonna be whoever I’m going to be. And they’re going to have to deal with it. And who I was at the time was a breastfeeding mother of a 4-month old, and I didn’t have a babysitter, so I promptly took Sasha to the interview with me and I thought, look, this is who I am: I’ve got a husband who’s away, I’ve got two little babies—they are my priority. If you want me to do the job, you’ve got to pay me to do the job, and you’ve got to give me flexibility. And flexibility means I will work my tail off for you, but you better pay me and value my family. And the guy said ‘Of course,’ and I thought, ‘Are you kidding?’ So I became a vice president at the University of Chicago hospitals and it was one of the best experiences that I had because they put my family first.”

“I felt like I owed that hospital because they were supporting me. And that’s what we have to get employers to understand, that this is about their bottom line as well.”


Courtesy of (clockwise from top left): People; fellowship of the minds; the gloss; Zimbio; International Business Times

5. Draw support from your family

IMF managing director Christine Lagarde has made a habit of breaking glass ceilings—first as the first female chairman of international law firm Baker & McKenzie, then as the sole female finance minister in the G8. But decades ago, when facing a huge promotion that would take more time away from family, she listened to her kids when they gave her the push she needed to chase career success. Says Lagarde:

“The balancing act is very hard. I had to accept that I could not be successful at everything. You draw up priorities, and you accept a lot of guilt. It’s part of growing up—as a woman, a spouse, a mother. You can not let guilt engineer your life. But you know, in my career, the best support in the end was my kids. When I was about to become chairman of Baker & McKenzie, and I knew the amount of work it would involve, the younger one took me aside and said: ‘Mum, do it. You started it, you have to finish it.'”


Courtesy of (clockwise from top left): The Guardian; US News and World Report; Daily Mail; Paris Match; Paris Match

6. Use shameless tricks to assuage your guilt

Indra K. Nooyi is CEO of the $65 billion company PepsiCo, and, like nearly every working mother, often feels like she’s failing to strike the right balance of dedication to either work or family. When work kept her from attending regular 9 a.m. mother-daughter coffees at her daughter’s school, she developed a coping mechanism. Says Nooyi:

“I missed most class coffees. My daughter would come home and she would list off all the mothers that were there and say, ‘You were not there, mom.’ The first few times I would die with guilt. But I developed coping mechanisms. I called the school and I said, ‘Give me a list of mothers that are not there.’ So when she came home in the evening she said, ‘You were not there, you were not there.’ And I said, ‘Ah ha, Mrs. Redd wasn’t there, Mrs. So-and-So wasn’t there. So I’m not the only bad mother.’”

“You know, you have to cope, because you die with guilt. You just die with guilt.”


Courtesy of (clockwise from top left): Wealthy Matters; pixgood; Poets and Quants; Inkwell Strategies; Daily Mail

7. Choose a partner who will share parenting duties

As co-founder and co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Melinda Gates spends about one-third of her year on the road advancing global development projects, and she struggles to carve out family time. What helps is her conviction that both she and husband Bill should be available for their kids, and that his parenting contributions should be commensurate with hers. Says Melinda:

“Bill and I go over our calendars a lot to make sure, as much as we can, that one of us is home when we can be and to make sure that the kids know they really are the center of our lives…There was a science fair recently at school. Bill had promised he would be there. I signed up for something on the road and he had a pretty important trip come up. I had to say, ‘You know, you said you were going to do that.’ So, sure enough, he followed through.”


Courtesy of (clockwise from top left): Ted; Tedx; Telegraph; Economic Times; fashions cloud


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