Episode 10

In our "Power Moms" era

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Why is it that women aren’t set up to succeed in the workplace once they have children?

This is something Joann Lublin researched for her book, Power Moms, which has been described as a must-read for the next generation of business leaders.

The TLDR is that we’re making strides in the right direction - especially when comparing the way different generations have navigated the emotional and professional challenges involved in juggling their careers and families.

After interviewing 86 executives mothers like former Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer and Carol Bartz, the first woman to command Yahoo! And Autodesk, as well as their younger counterparts, Joann found 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.

This is also the year she won the highest accolade in business journalism: the Gerald Loeb Lifetime Achievement Award.

In this episode, we dig deep into the most interesting and surprising findings from Power Moms, which addresses how executive mothers navigate work and life.

We talked about Joanne’s time in the Wall Street Journal newsroom, where she remains a regular contributor today.


Disclaimer: This podcast transcript is autogenerated and may contain minor errors or discrepancies. 

Allison: Hi Joann. Thank you so much for joining me today on The False Tradeoff. I cannot think of anyone more appropriate that embodies the false tradeoff. You've been studying this space, you've been living this space…working women, mothers, parents overall. So thank you so much for joining me today.

Joann: I'm happy to be here and thank you so much for what you do as a co-founder of a company that's in the right space, as far as I'm concerned.

Allison: Thank you. I always say right space, right time. It's really top of mind for so many people these days. Before we talk about your book, which as you know, I read it, I think probably two years ago, I devoured it. I have a lot of questions about your book, Power Moms. I wanna start by asking you a few questions about your personal experience. You are a mother, but you expanded your family quite a while ago, in sort of a different time. And you've written about that experience of being pregnant, having young children. I won't spoil it and put it in my words. I wanna hear from you. What was that experience like being in the newsroom, being a journalist as a mother? What were the biggest struggles that you dealt with as you were in sort of the earlier stages when your children were young, within an industry that quite frankly was very male dominated?

Joann: It is still very male-dominated, although less than it was decades ago when I joined the journalism profession. It was really difficult, particularly after my first child, my son was born, coming back to work. There just weren't any role models for me to emulate. There were about a half a dozen female reporters who all declared their pregnancy within a 2-week period. The managing editor went crazy. He was like, this is not in my job description. What do I do?

And yet only two of us returned to work after our maternity leave. And the other one was in the New York Bureau, someone I really didn't know, I couldn't bond with. I was in the Washington Bureau. Again, not a lot of women there, and there certainly weren't any other working moms in that Bureau. My first day back at work, as so many of your listeners know, was probably the hardest.

And what made it worse was the lack of understanding and sympathy I got from my male colleagues. I remember waiting for the bus to go home after the first day at work. And of course, my boobs are really sore and engorged, even though I had cut back on the nursing. Oh, there wasn't any such thing as a lactation room. And a colleague said, so where do you park your baby all day? Thanks a lot, buddy.

Allison: Ugh. Right.

Joann: I got home that night and I immediately put baby Daniel in my snuggly and I just carried him around the whole rest of the evening. I wanted to be close to my child. Fast forward, I think the second hardest thing was trying to think about how I was going to be a working mom with two kids under four years old. You can relate to this. You've got three at very young ages. And so when I was pregnant with kid number two, our daughter, Abra, I proposed that when I returned from that maternity leave, that I take a 20% cut in pay and benefits to work a four day schedule. Well, my bureau chief at the time had a wife who had never worked outside the home. The managing editor was this guy who, you know, said this wasn't in his job description. And so while my bureau chief said, all right, I'll pass your proposal along, he clearly didn't endorse it.

Fast forward, I come back to work, I'm really struggling. I've got a baby and a nearly 4-year-old, but then management changed. My bureau chief changed. Al Hunt, who's married to Judy Woodruff, became my bureau chief. They already had a child, she was working. There was a new managing editor, he had a working wife, and the managing editor actually reached out to me after a page one story ran about women who had gone back to work after having kids and two years later decided to throw in the towel and stay home. And he emailed me to ask me whether I could relate to this and thereby generated this revival of my proposal. I not only got the four day schedule but they didn't cut my pay or my vacation.

And fast forward, when I'm reporting Power Moms, the book that you just alluded to, I interview Al Hunt and say to him, why did you guys give me this great deal? Because I had never asked at the time. And he said, we were afraid you would leave if we didn't give it to you. And it just, it was like, really? Nothing could have been further than my mind.

Allison: Wow!

Joann: But it reminded me too often, whether we're moms or just working women, we undervalue what we're contributing to our workplace, we don't realize that, gosh, they actually think I bring something of worth to this job. And...

Allison: Well, I think what's so incredible is the fact that you were able…now, this is much more common to go down to 80% or 60%. You were able to get something that wasn't standard and also that they didn't cut your pay. And I've read what you say about this is that you were still delivering 100% percent, but you were delivering a 100% of the value in less time, which worked really well for you because then you could have Fridays to be focused on your family.

Joann: Right.

Allison: How did you do that? How did you deliver 100% in less time?

Joann: I guess, as we all know as new parents, you become very focused on the task at hand. We also learned to multitask. I often say that the biggest victim of becoming a working mom was that all my house plants died when my son was born. Yeah, but so what? Big deal, you set your priorities.

Allison: Yeah. Same.

Joann: And I also was really focused on being at work when I was at work. I didn't do a lot of this sort of schmoozing and probably to my detriment, I wasn't doing a good job of networking with my peers. I certainly wasn't staying at work late if I didn't have to. And the thing was that I not only got this wonderful 4-day schedule, but then when I moved into management, I got back to a 5-day schedule when we moved to London.

But then when we returned to New York, because I was commuting quite a ways from Northern New Jersey to Manhattan, my editor, the same guy who had asked me to revive that proposal said, do you wanna work from home on Fridays? You've got a long commute from New Jersey. And my first reaction was, nah, you know, my kids are used to my being in the office five days a week from London. And then he had to take a phone call and leave the meeting. And while he's out of the room, I'm going, idiot! You get this gift for us and you're just tossing it. So he comes back in the room and I go, uh, I changed my mind. Can I work at home on Fridays? He's like, sure. And so I did for years afterward. And in fact, I'd like to say that one of the few days that I came into the office on Friday was my last day as a full-time employee at the journal in 2018.

Allison: Yeah. How old were your kids when you went back to the 5-day working in London?

Joann: That would have been when our daughter was three and a half turning four when we moved to London in January of 87 and our son was seven And she was very aware of the fact that I had what she called the mommy days. That's what Friday was because I was able to co-op at her nursery school not as much as stay-at-home moms, but I co-opped one Friday a month.

And so when we got to London after a while, she's like, you know, what happened to mommy days? Guilt, guilt, guilt.

Allison: Yeah, and you're thinking, oh, I hope her memory is short. She'll forget about this soon. We used to have those days. I'll remember it. I love that story because we have so many people who struggle with this idea of wanting to go down to part-time or just reduced schedules. And how do I do it without having it completely destroy my career? I think there's this perception that you're either a 100% on, or you're going to get counted out and you're sort of doing it for the paycheck. But can you be an ambitious working parent, not just mother, father, whatever it may be. And so I think your example of how you've done it.

Joann: Yeah. Thank you!

Allison: And also the thing that stuck out to me is we always tell people in our coaching program, you're not making a decision forever. This is a momentary decision. And then you get another opportunity to go to London. You can flex back up and then you can come back to New York and you're still working five days, but now you're working from home. So I love that.

I wanna talk about your book, Power Moms. Maybe give us a really quick summary of how this came about and the process, cause you interviewed so many incredible women for this book. I wanna hear your summary from your words of how this came about and what you were intending to cover with the book.

Joann: So the book is essentially a follow-up to my very first book, which was called Earning It, hard-won lessons from trailblazing women at the top of the business world. A majority of those 52 women who I interviewed for that first book turned out to be experienced public company CEOs, people like Mary Barra at General Motors. And then among those, the percentage who had children was even higher than the percentage who became CEOs.

And so I devoted one chapter to that topic in that book. And it was interesting, the title of the chapter came from one of those 52 women. And the title of that chapter was Manager Moms Are Not Acrobats. And it was because of her notion that this idea of work-life balance was a bunch of baloney. But given that all but one of those 52 women were women from my generation, the baby boom generation, I wondered, and that then gave birth to paramoms, whether things had gotten any easier for women who were in anywhere from their early 30s to early 40s when I reported the book in 2019 and 2020, when they not only became moms, but when they also became executives, whether one came first or the other came later.

So I interviewed 86 women from those two generations: Boomers as well as Gen Xers and Millennials for the younger wave. And on top of that, I interviewed another 25 young adult daughters of the Boomers who were for the most part anywhere from their mid to late 20s to 30 or so. As to what it was like growing up with a mom who was not only committed to her career, but in most cases, by the time they were able to understand what was going on, she was in an executive role and was very important and very powerful and perhaps traveling a lot.

And in fact, I did a Power Moms event a few months ago where the executives, many executives are women, the CEO is a woman, her top lieutenant is a woman. And we did this event with their teenage daughters. And so they had 1,100 people on this call.

And some of the questions were of the teenage daughters, you know, what's it like having such a powerful executive as your mother? And, you know, the teenager's response was, well, she's just mom. And of course they were full of admiration for her because, you know, in one case the girls were just about to graduate high school and the other ones were finishing their junior year.

So they'd gotten to the age where they'd gotten past that resentment about the frequent travel and long hours, which indeed did come up as a common theme among some of those adult daughters, mostly at the point when they were entering puberty, when they sort of became aware of this. But later when they got into college or got out of school and entered the workforce, they suddenly discovered they had this secret weapon and it was their mom. She was their informal career coach and really knew how to navigate the world of work.

Allison: What were the biggest differences you saw between the two generations and how they navigated being an executive woman between the boomers and the folks that were a little bit younger?

Joann: I saw that there had been three changes that helped those younger wave moms. One was that the terms of engagement with the significant other had changed. They were forming long-term relationships or getting married to men who kind of got it to a degree that the boomer moms did not see happen with their husbands when they got married.

Secondly, the workplace had changed. They were joining workplaces that understood this notion that there is something called work family. And that people don't stop becoming parents when they come to work, just like they don't stop being workers when they go home.

Allison: Mm-hmm.

And because of the fact that the workplace landscape had changed, the Younger Wave women had an opportunity to move around if the workplace they had chosen did not live up to what they broadcast on those nice slick videos on the recruiting website, they could vote with their feet. For the Boomer moms, you had a 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, which a number of the women I interviewed with Power Moms chose to do.

Allison: Yeah.

Joann: They flirted with a big corporate setting. They had to have worked at a company with at least $100 million in revenue at some point. But if they now were running a startup, more power to them. And they started their own business in many cases, not only because they had a good idea, but because they wanted to set the rules of the road. And then the third change was that the younger wave understood to a greater degree and could find both sponsors and mentors, not only among the men, which were always really your only choice among the Boomers, but among women.

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, and say, hey, you know, so-and-so ought to be considered for this special project. It doesn't matter if she's only coming in the office one day a week or three days a week. She's got a lot to contribute here or calls out, you know, when someone is being overlooked who's maybe working virtually.

Allison: Yeah. What do you think that regular mothers - ambitious but regular, not like fortune 500 CEOs - what can they learn from this book? What are the takeaways they should be? Like, why read this book if you're an ambitious normal person?

Joann: Well, to my mind, an ambitious normal person who has children, whether it's a man or a woman, is a power parent because it takes a lot to do both and to do it with a sense of job well done. And to me, I think the most important takeaway and the reason why you should read this book is to learn some really important lessons, learn the importance of why you should not be always on. Learn the importance of how to share the domestic load. Learn the importance of ditching working mother guilt. That same executive who gave me the title for that one chapter about working moms and earning it was also one of the half a dozen or so women making a repeat appearance in the new book. And she's the one who said, you need to have a chapter on ditching working mother guilt. And so there are 10 hacks, one of which comes from her.

Allison: Mm-hmm.

Joann: Do you wanna hear it?

Allison: Yeah, let's hear it.

Joann: So her hack is sort of in line with my own personal life philosophy, is that you look at life as the glass half full, not the glass half empty. And so she says, when you're sitting down to dinner, and once again, it's past six o'clock till you can finally get everybody to the table, your significant other, your children who've had tons of afterschool activities. Don't give yourself a hard time over the fact of OMG, it's 6:30 or seven or whatever time it is. Give yourself a pat on the back. Isn't it great? I'm having dinner on a weeknight with my family, with the people who I care about the most in this world. And that's looking at life as a working mom as the glass is half full.

Allison: Yeah, I love that. My husband and I talk a lot about what are the things that actually need to be done and what don't. And even to bring that down to a much more tactical level, we literally decide which rooms of our house need to be clean. Because it's never all gonna be clean, and especially with three little kids. And so the second that we released ourselves from like, our bedroom is just not gonna be clean, and that's fine, because nobody sees it but us. You can just relax because it's like, we can't do it all. So I love that.

I wanna ask you about the marriage contract. I find that fascinating. What is that and how have you personally employed that in your life?

Joann: So the marriage contract is not a cure-all or panacea or something that everyone should consider doing, but it is certainly something to think about even just from a conceptual standpoint. In my case, when my husband and I decided to get engaged, I was already working for the Wall Street Journal under my byline, and I announced to him that I was planning to keep my name after we got married. And he got very upset about this and said, well, how will anyone know we're married? And I was like, okay, I get it. Why don't we hyphenate our names? And he paused and was like, but then I'd have to change my name. And I was like, duh. But it made me wonder what else was I giving up by entering into this state of holy matrimony?

Allison: Yeah.

Joann: And being a good journalist, I dug deeper and I found out that at that time when we're living in California, there was a law on the books that said a woman's domicile was where her husband's legal residence was. And a woman who had legally separated from her husband could not register to vote in LA because he lived in San Francisco. And I dug deeper and found out that the suffragists in the 19th century, when they decided to get married, initiated this idea of a marriage contract because they wanted to be able to continue to hold property, which at that time you lost the right, I guess, to own property because it became the husband's property.

Allison: Wow.

Joann: So long story short, we drew up a marriage contract. We covered things like Mike respected and accepted my desire to keep my name. In turn, I said, if we ever have children, they'll have my name as their middle name and his name as their last name. We talked about the fact that we recognized we were both ambitious journalists. And so how are we gonna handle this idea of being a two career couple? We put in the marriage contract that we were gonna alternate who got to decide where we lived with the notion that a geographic relocation probably would relate to a career move.

So he followed me to San Francisco. He wanted to go back to grad school. I followed him to Chicago. Then I was seven months pregnant with Dan, got this transfer to the Washington Bureau. He followed me there and then the contract fell apart because I got offered this opportunity to go to London and move into management. And in fact, I came home and said, well, I guess I got to turn down a chance for us to live abroad, which we've always wanted to do. And he's like, what? What are you talking about? And I said, well…

Allison: Is it because the contract said you would take turns and you had just taken your turn? Is that why?

Joann: That's right, I had taken my turn to move to DC. And he was like, well, forget the contract, we're going to London. But the most important line in that contract is the only one that was not put into legal ease by the lawyer who drew it up. And it was one that my husband wrote, and it was, household duties shall be shared equally, but not necessarily cheerfully.

Allison: I love that. I am always embarrassed to admit that my husband actually does a lot more than I do at home. And so I'm scared of this contract because I need to be more committed to doing more. He cooks all of our meals. He definitely carries the emotional labor. But I love this because I think that this is something, my husband and I also, we met in business school and we were identical on paper. We got married in our 30s. We had children later in life.

And so it's something that we've talked about is like, how do you switch between the two? And is it that something's always got to give? Is it really that you need to choose one person? Can you both be focused on your career at the same time? And of course there is no great answer, but we've struggled with that as well. I followed him to San Francisco, he followed me to Chicago. Then we had a kid and we thought, we've got to be near my parents because we need help. We can't both be really focused on work without our support system.

But we talk a lot about like, how do we make that choice? Because I think the default is that you look at who's making more money. And that's not really fair to anyone. And it's also like, well, there's who's making more money right now, but that's just one input to decide. So I find that really interesting that it's like, in your case, you had an opportunity that who knows if you were gonna make more money or not, but it made sense for the family unit.

Joann: Right. Yeah.

Allison: And so you were able to do that. And I have to believe that putting that in writing, even though you then quote unquote broke the contract to go to London, it forced that honest conversation. Have you heard other stories of other folks having that type of a contract and sort of...

Joann: There's a great example in Power Moms of one of the younger wave women who again has a background in business, her husband's a physician. And so they've had quarterly strategic planning meetings since they got engaged. You know, they're not super formal. They're generally happening late at night over a glass of wine, but they've been pretty, you know, devoted to sticking to that schedule. And so when she was expecting their first child.

He was about to enter his father's medical practice. She had just entered the executive ranks for the first time in her 30s as a VP. And so at their strategic quarterly planning meeting, they talked about what are we gonna do for childcare after my parental leave ends? He did not take parental leave at that point. But do we need a nanny? Can we somehow patch something else together? And so the quarterly strategic planning meeting focused on that decision. But they always open every one of their strategic planning meetings with a look at how are we doing as a couple, you know, and making sure that they reaffirm their commitment to their love and to each other. And I just think that's a swell concept, even if it's not as formal as a strategic planning meeting. What is important is to revisit whatever it is you've agreed upon.

Allison: Yeah.

Joann: Maybe now your husband's doing more than his, you know, what he considers his fair share around the house, but you need to revisit the topic and decide the frequency. And as your kids get older, you know, their needs and their demands, of course, are gonna change, just like your career issues are gonna change. That's why having regular checkups and check-ins are so important.

Allison: I like the idea of checking in because even when I think about my personal situation, because he was doing so much, I said, well, I'm going to cook one meal a week. And then we ended up realizing, no, because he jokes like, where is our competitive advantage? I'm a terrible cook. I cook unhealthy food. I hate it. So I'm mad the whole time. And it takes me way longer. He is way better at it than I am.

And so are there other areas in our life where I can do more, like taking the kids to their medical appointments and being responsible for that followup. And so I think you're right that, and there's something that's also really powerful in just saying, I'm not gonna do this. So that when he's cooking every single time, he's not like, ah, you know, Allison doesn't cook something in five months. That is our plan. That is our strategic plan of how we run our household.

And it's almost like you've done that at a more macro level around moving, it's making the sort of unsaid said and making it, this is what the plan is, and we're doing it this way, as opposed to falling into these habits that can create challenges. I want to ask you about the hybrid workplace. So, it's interesting when you talked about the boomer moms and then the next generation of power moms and how they found the workplace so much easier. I...

I'm sure like everyone else, we're all wondering what are the history books going to say about what COVID has done to 20 year old mothers or like this younger generation that's now going to come into power and their ability to navigate these critical years in their career in a hybrid or working home environment.

Joann: Pfft. I think it's very, very important for us to all take responsibility for educating ourselves, especially if we're working in a hybrid environment, about what we need to do differently to be noticed, and whether that's giving a detailed action plan at the beginning of every week or every month to your boss as to what you're working on and when these deliverables are going to be coming through, and then checking in on a regular basis as to whether this indeed is what he or she wants you to be doing, to making sure that you do show up when it's important, either in person or virtually, for networking purposes.

In other words, if there is a big meeting coming up and you're going to be attending it virtually and you want to make sure your point of view or your agenda item gets serious consideration, have that. real or virtual coffee with a colleague ahead of the meeting and talk to him or her about how you need their support, need this person to be your ally, who's going to be there in person ahead of time.

And so you have to essentially be proactive, but at the same time, you need to look to make sure that the workplace is sensitive to making sure that those who are on a hybrid or fully remote work arrangement are not getting left behind or not getting overlooked for the key assignments, for the promotions, you know, who are not getting, being victimized by this notion that out of sight, out of mind is what counts.

And there are companies like PwC, which I feature in the last chapter of the book, which is doing a very, very thorough tracking of what is happening to the promotion rate of those who are working in hybrid or fully remote. And is it any different than those who have decided to come back to work? Most of the time or all the time.

So it's important that we be mindful of what's going on two tracks, from keeping ourselves on top of things and trying to keep our employer accountable, but doing it from the vantage point of not being a solo warrior here. That's what services like your company provides are good for, and that's what employee resource groups are good for.

Allison: Yeah, I'm generally a huge fan of this new era, but I'm also very biased because I was working from home for a long time before COVID hit. And I think back to some of the opportunities that I was presented with that I turned down. Because I thought, how could you possibly have someone in leadership at a company that has raised, I don't know, $100 million? I can't be on the leadership team. I'm sitting in my basement in Minnesota.

I mean, the fact that I turned down opportunities, because back then the idea of being a remote employee, it's like, okay, sure, you could do it, but you couldn't be a leader. You couldn't be an executive. And I think those days are so totally gone. And I think it is of course going to be a mixed bag, but I get really excited about it. And I think it is gonna be challenging, but I think it's gonna be a massive positive impact for all parents, not just mothers, but we've gotta be really careful to your point.

Joann: It's also one of the very few bright spots that has come out of COVID. Because who would have ever thought that somehow our economy could flourish and people could be productive not going into the office who were otherwise previously 100% office based workers. We've proven without a shadow of a doubt that it can work. And that is one of the few benefits of this horrible, horrible pandemic.

Allison: Yeah. What's next for you?

Joann: Well, I'm once again, finally seeing people are interested in having in-person events. And so I'm starting to actually show up live to talk about Power Moms, which is great. And I remain a regular contributor to the Wall Street Journal. Lately, I've been writing a lot of columns for a newsletter called the Workplace Report. My latest column was one all about companies that employ something called the Dream Manager, which is a really cool idea. Because the dream manager works with you to try and help you fulfill your most dreamed about personal dream.

And the irony is in reporting that story, several of the dream managers I interviewed, emailed me afterward and said, I'm gonna help fulfill your dream, Joann. I'm gonna go out and buy a copy of Power Moms.

Allison: Oh, I love it. Well, thank you so much for your time today. We could, there's so many interesting topics here. And I think I personally loved reading your book because I think one of the things I struggled with when I was first pregnant with my first child is, I just didn't see any examples. I didn't see these stories. And so while the examples in your book are of course not the norm, they are wildly successful mothers.

I think that there is a lot of power in reading about that and seeing it and really internalizing some of those lessons that are in the book. And so thank you so much for coming today and sharing just a small preview of what folks can find from your book.

Joann: Thank you so much for having me. And just remember, you know, if companies recognize that it's hard for women in executive roles to be good parents and be good executives, that should be a clarion call for why they need to pay more attention to men and women at all levels and have parent-friendly practices that are actually happening and aren't just on paper.

Allison: Couldn't have said it better myself. Thank you so much.