While impressive and inspirational stories are certainly just that, I wasn't alone in my desire for role models that were more accessible and relatable to my own issues and career. A nationwide internal survey by Deloitte Canada found that women overwhelmingly wanted to hear more about workable templates for their lives and careers—that is, practical advice and ideas from other women at the same life stage on how to raise a family and continue to move their careers forward.
"There's a perception among young women that there are few role models for them. They don't see women successfully managing their careers and their lives [whom] they feel they can relate to," says Jane Allen, Deloitte Canada's Chief Diversity Officer and leader of the firm's global renewable energy division. Jane, a mother of two, did consulting work while her daughters were young to develop her expertise before transitioning into Deloitte. As a consultant, Jane could generally skip the commute, work from home, and have a better control over her schedule—all while continuing her professional growth.
I wasn't seeing those stories in the media, but I knew they were out there. So I began looking for them as a way to inspire myself and to learn from their experiences.
Since then, I've had the opportunity to speak with over 500 women from a variety of personal and professional backgrounds, all of whom achieved greater career success after having children, as research for my forthcoming second book, The MomShift: Finding The Opportunity In Maternity, Positive Stories of Post Baby Career Success. Their stories have provided a variety of templates for the different ways that women are navigating career and family. And while all have been more professionally successful after having their children, their success takes many forms.
When working mother success is defined by the achievements, struggles, and angst of an elite group of women, it overlooks what Judith Warner articulated in Perfect Madness: Motherhood in the Age of Anxiety as the ability to "accommodate the more average kind of ambition with motherhood. The kind of ambition that most women and men have: to work a sufficient number of hours, at work they find interesting, meaningful, or enjoyable to earn enough money to buy their families a sufficiently good standard of living."
Consumer-goods manufacturer Unilever is one example of the private sector's deliberate efforts to accommodate the reality that successful careers don't necessarily have to be defined by a relentless race up the ladder. Instead, Unilever is proactively encouraging women (and men) to make the career choices they feel comfortable with, rather than choosing the career options they feel pressured to choose.
"Previously, women in marketing often felt the pressure to move 'up or out.' Instead, we are now adopting a more flexible approach which lets talented women move at their own pace and makes it okay to just stay at a certain level," says Alison Leung, a mother of two and Director of Marketing, Foods, at Unilever Canada (a position she reached after starting her own family).