Motherhood and career: why choose*
Sónia Fernandes, February 15, 2023
This article is for women who have ever felt obliged to choose just one of these things when they can have (and be) anything they want.
When the topic is motherhood, there is always a mix of emotions (and discomfort) that takes over most women who have a career:
- Announcing a pregnancy.
- Warning that a child is sick and needs us at home.
- Leaving early to go to parent meetings or theme parties at school.
These are some of the many episodes of motherhood that tend to weigh negatively on the professional reputation of women, making them continue to be the biggest victims of discrimination, harassment, and even situations of burnout and depression in a work context, as recent studies by the World Economic Forum, Deloitte or PWC found.
Of course, being a mother brings extra responsibilities, commitments, and challenges for a woman and, by extension, for her career – many employers like to stress this when recruiting, assigning a salary, promoting, or rewarding (the so-called “motherhood penalty”). But only some remember the extraordinary values, qualities, and skills that motherhood adds to women as professionals – and which, interestingly enough, make up many of the soft skills currently most sought after and valued by organizations.
A whole new scale of patience and resilience emerges, strengthening our ability to resolve conflicts, communicate, negotiate, or storytelling to different targets. We improve our self-knowledge, critical thinking, empathy, creativity, and efficiency. We embrace an incredible range of multidisciplinary knowledge, from budget management to handicrafts, cooking, decoration, event organization, or lifelong (re)learning.
Scientific studies from the ASPREE Investigator Group and Cold Spring Harbour Laboratory explain how motherhood sets in motion a woman’s brain plasticity in areas such as the prefrontal cortex or the parietal lobes, which develops her organizational and multitasking skills, increase her stress tolerance and resistance levels, as well as her ability to more easily delegate tasks or relativize matters that are neither important nor urgent.
In my case, being a mother of two girls is an indescribable gift. It is also a massive test of daily overcoming that I proudly share with my daughters’ father. But it is also an undeniable engine that drives my strengths and skills. Moreover, it adds even more value to the organization where I work – a technology organization that, besides having a female CEO, believes that the best products and services result from great talent and different perspectives, ideas, cultures, and life experiences. This is called innovation. And clearly, mothers are part of it.
So, women, let’s remember every day (and remind the job market) that being a mother is not an obstacle to anything but a catalyst that enhances our profession, happiness and well-being, motivation, and strength to live. And if we have to choose something, let it be where we want to build our career, with people who respect, value, and trust our competence, work capacity, and commitment – without unfounded prejudices.
**This article was originally published in the Observador.