How working motherhood has changed from generation to generation

The Parentaly Team
Jan 24, 2024
Parent holds a baby while on the phone at a computer

Women aren’t always set up to succeed in the workplace - especially once they have children. But when looking back on previous generations of working mothers, we can really take stock of our progress.

WSJ reporter and Author Joann Lublin explores this topic in her book Power Moms, which has been described as “a must-read for the next generation of business leaders.”

Joann interviewed 86 executive mothers from the first trailblazing generation and their younger counterparts, including former Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer and Carol Bartz, who was the first woman to command Autodesk and Yahoo!

What Joann found in her research was a profound cultural shift between the two waves of “Power Moms”: the first generation braved the path for the second as they reshaped the U.S. business landscape.

A “Power Mom” herself, Joann spent her career in journalism—a traditionally male-dominated industry—and moved up the ranks at The Wall Street Journal before retiring from management in 2018, collecting the esteemed Gerald Loeb Lifetime Achievement Award along the way.

We interviewed Joann to dig into what she uncovered while writing Power Moms, which addresses how executive mothers navigate work and life. Read more to learn the three takeaways from our conversation.

There were no “family-friendly” companies decades ago

More workplaces today grasp the concept of showing up as your authentic self. And if they don’t prioritize work-life balance, Joann says professional women today feel more empowered to find a company that does.

For their mothers’ generation, this wasn’t even a possibility:  

“Because the workplace landscape had changed, the younger wave of women had an opportunity to move around…For Boomer moms, you had the choice of working for a workplace that wasn't family-friendly or working for another workplace that wasn’t family-friendly, unless you chose to start your own business.”

Joann said that some of the first-wave women did venture off on their own – not just because they had a good idea, but because they wanted to work on their own terms.

Mentors—if they existed at all—were mostly male back then

They say raising kids takes a village. Navigating your career as a mother does as well.

While mentors were mostly male for Boomers, to a greater degree, the younger wave of professional women understood the importance of finding sponsors and mentors:

“Women had gotten into positions of power where they could not only tell these younger-wave women what had worked and not worked for them as a mentor, but they could be their outspoken advocate, which is what a sponsor does,” Joann said.

This could include a sponsor calling out special projects for their mentee or advocating that a mother working remotely deserves more recognition.

It’s time to ditch working mother guilt

One of the executives Joann interviewed shared 10 hacks for ending the brutal cycle of mom guilt so many of us can’t let go. One of the more powerful pieces of advice - and Joann’s own life philosophy - is to take a glass-half-full view.

She shared the example of instead of beating yourself up because your family finally sat down to eat dinner at 630pm, be proud that you’re all eating together on a busy weeknight.

“Give yourself a pat on the back,” Joann said. “Isn’t it great? I’m having dinner on a weeknight with my family, the people who I care about the most in this world. And that’s looking at life as a working mom as the glass half-full.”

Working parenthood
Gender equity
Work discussion

Learn more about Power Moms and how Joann advocated for flexibility without hurting her own career

Listen to the full episode of The False Tradeoff!