A few weeks ago an article appeared in the Harvard Business Review titled, “Children Benefit from Having a Working Mom.”
The article stated, “Women whose mothers worked outside the home are more likely to have jobs themselves, are more likely to hold supervisory responsibility at those jobs, and earn higher wages than women whose mothers stayed home full time.”
The story has personal significance for me. Both my grandmother and my mother were working mothers. And I’ve long known that their trailblazing inspired my professional aspirations.
A Family Tradition
Nana (as my grandmother will be forever known to me) received a full scholarship to the University of Illinois. That was 1916. From what I understand, it was very unusual for a female to receive this type of funding for education at that time. Because of her education, she had the opportunity to work in a variety of jobs over the years, something that would prove to be especially important during the Great Depression.
My mother joined the Air Force ROTC, again at the University of Illinois, in 1954. Because she reached the rank of officer, the enlisted men had to salute her. This was so unusual in the 1950’s that her story was picked up in the national press. After graduation, she entered the regular Air Force as a lieutenant. My birth in the early 1960’s required mom to leave the Air Force, but she nevertheless forged a long career in finance after earning her MBA.
These two women had a significant impact on my views about the importance of education and working outside the home. I understood from an early age that education equaled choices and that those choices could result in a meaningful and fulfilling career. In no small part because of them, I earned my master’s degree and reached senior management within Bright Horizons.
The Importance of Female Mentors
These kinds of influences are no small thing. Just last week, the New York Times published an article highlighting what it called “The Confidence Gap for Women” including the results of another study showing a disconnect between women’s desire to lead and their perceived ability to do so. Some of it has to do with the absence of role models to give them confidence, since mentors and leaders, the article noted, are the “single biggest factor influencing women’s perceptions of themselves.”
I honestly don’t know if I would have desired, let alone achieved, my accomplishments without the example of my grandmother and mother. With them as my inspiration, everything seemed possible.
The HBR article got me to think about that; it got me to think about the importance of women supporting women; it got me to think about the importance of female mentors.
What Women Supporting Women Means for our Daughters
It also got me to think about the influence of my career on my teenage daughter. I realized that all of her plans and dreams for her adult life center around a career. She has articulated the desire to be everything from a fashion designer to a vocal performer (thankfully she has talent in both areas so they’re not necessarily pipe dreams.)
Now 14, she’s considering what types of colleges she should attend and what kind of training and experiences she’ll need to achieve her aspirations. I don’t think it’s ever occurred to her not to strive for a career, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if she became the fourth generation of working moms in our family.
I imagine that my daughter’s views about women in leadership and working outside the home have been, like mine, shaped by the women who came before her. And I recognize that as critical.
Because there are any number of things that will need to happen for tomorrow’s generation of women to fully realize their ambitions.
And it just may be that opportunity really does start at home.