#11: A Mom On A Mission Walks Into A Coffee Shop
About The Episode
Being in the parenting space, we’re surrounded by passionate women on a mission to improve the lives of parents in the workforce.
We all have stories to tell about why we’re so passionate about making a difference for those who come after us based on the experiences and challenges we faced throughout our parenting journeys.
Today’s guest is no exception.
Blessing Adesiyan, founder and CEO of MH WorkLife, has such a unique story to share – from being a single parent climbing the ranks in corporate America to finding her passion and launching a company about “mothering honestly.”
In this episode, Blessing walks us through her early parenting days and the challenges she faced as an ambitious working mother – and how she paved her own way to build the career she has today.
We also talk about how the idea for Mother Honestly came to life and what’s in store for MH WorkLife.
Links & Resources
- Follow MH WorkLife on Instagram
- How one mom went from corporate America to launching a caregiver platform
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Disclaimer: This podcast transcript is autogenerated and may contain minor errors or discrepancies.
Allison: Hi, Blessing, thank you so much for joining me here today.
Blessing: Thank you so much, Allison, for having me. I'm so excited.
Allison: I can't believe that this is the first time that we are meeting. I am such a huge fan of yours and I feel like our paths have sort of crossed, but we haven't actually spoken live together. So we have a lot to cover today. I wanna start, I obviously wanna focus most of our time on your company, which is incredibly impressive, but you wouldn't have a company, I imagine, had it not been for your experiences in motherhood.
I want to take us back to when you had your first child. I read an article where you were quoted saying, I believe everyone assumed since I was ambitious and driven that I would wait to have kids. You didn't wait. You had your first child in college basically before you had started your career. Bring me back to that time. What was that like starting a career as a mother?
Blessing: It was scary. You have to imagine it was a very, very wild experience for me because a lot of people go into the workplace, right? First day of work, you're excited about, you know, everyone you're gonna meet, and your boss, your new desk, your new office.
Allison: Right? Yeah.
Blessing: And here I was, you know, you're probably looking really nice, right? Short skirts and all. And here I was, you know, with a baby in hand, like I literally walked into my, you know, my company with my child. I was looking for childcare. So I said, you know, I'm so sorry. I'm just here to pick up my badge, just so you know that I'm coming and I'm not like, not going to show up for work, but I need to take my child to the city because I worked for, I was a chemical engineer and it was a manufacturing plant. It was right outside of the city. And so I had to take my daughter in the city to drop her off at the childcare that I had just found. I literally flew into Pactisburg, West Virginia. This was maybe like a Saturday and on Monday morning I was to start this work. And so I had to go find childcare and then I came back. So. My manager was like, what is going on this new hire? This college graduate is showing up with a baby. So that was my first day of work. And I think that just sort of set the precedence for what my career was gonna look like for the work that I ended up doing with MH.
Allison: Yeah. How did you make decisions differently as a mother in that career stage? Because actually, you know, when I read this quote from you, I thought this is such a perfect quote for this podcast around, it's almost like people assumed you're either going to be a mother or you're going to be career focused and you are breaking that false trade off and you started I think almost a decade, right? So you did follow this really impressive corporate path, but you switched jobs a few times between then. What was it that happened that convinced you that you should move on to the next role? Ignoring family considerations? Was it just career? Was it a family decision? What was it that moved you from Pepsi to DuPont, for example?
Blessing: It was my career, right? So when I started off with PepsiCo, I was an intern. So it was more of an internship position. I did it with them for like three years. So I was literally known as the intern queen. And it's actually funny, my last internship, I went with my three month old. So I went in my three month old and I was, you know, I was also learning how to drive at the same time. So you can imagine putting a baby in a car and learning how to drive at the same time.
So I feel like my life is a movie at this point. And so got a full-time job with DuPont. And the job that I got with DuPont, believe it or not, was a rotational job. And so when I actually started, my manager, the first thing that came to his mind was, oh my goodness, how are you going to do this as a mother? Because you know that you have to move every two years. So it's basically a position where they place you in, and they want you to rotate every two years, and then prepare you for your managerial position after the third run.
And I said, I'm fine. I'm okay. So what they ended up doing was, look, blessing, we know you think you're okay, but let's do the two rotations in the same company. I'm sorry, in the same location. And I was very lucky. I was very lucky because the location I was in was the largest DuPont site in the world. So thousands of employees and there were thousands of businesses. So I ended up going from sort of like a capital group, a project management group, to more of an operations group.
Which was good for me. And then my third rotation was a global role. I had to move to our Ed office in Wilmington, Delaware, and that required another two years there. So that was where I ended up leaving DuPont and taking a job. And the only reason I left DuPont was because I had no childcare. I had no childcare. So I told them, I said, I'm going to have to live because I have no childcare. So I got a job with BASF at the same time.
And yeah, so that was really the, you know, the career was really what was moving me around. And I was grateful for that opportunity because I think because a lot of people assume that because you're a mother, you don't want to move for a job or because you're a mother, you don't want to progress your career. And I'm glad that I was able to show that that's not true because I did end up living in Packersburg, West Virginia, Philadelphia, moving to Philadelphia, from Philadelphia to Houston, from Houston to Detroit, from Detroit back to Houston with different companies.
And I wouldn't be able to achieve that if I wasn't mobile enough. And I felt like my role as a mother did not stop me from doing that. I had to make demands. And that, a lot of time, Alison, you know this, while we're saying it's not women that need fixing, it's the society, it's the workplace that needs fixing. Like if we can just fix everything, then women won't have to feel like they're trading anything off or they have to make a difficult decision.
So if you can just make it easy to say, yes, we're going to move you. And oh, by the way, there's childcare where you're going. And oh, by the way, you get X, Y, and Z paid leave to get your kids acclimatized in school and do X, Y, and Z, then it makes the decision even much easier for the parents to make.
Allison: Yeah. How, so then when you went to BASF, did they provide child care? How was that a better solution for your family structure?
Blessing: So when I was with DuPont, my job was a global consulting role. So I was traveling all over the world. And I remember flying my father in from Nigeria. My father met me at the airport, and I exchanged my five-year-old at the airport. And when I got to Morocco, I got to Safi, Morocco. It's somewhere between Spain and Morocco. It's like a middle ground between Morocco and Spain. When I got there, I remember calling my boss and saying, hey, like, you know, I literally had to fly my father in, which cost about $2,000. And you know, and it's a lot of money. And the company is the one benefiting from this travel. I would like, you know, some kind of support here. And I think, you know, looking back that lends to some of the things that we are building at image, right, like the care wallets that say, okay, you can actually use this money for whatever you need.
And I remember my boss saying, well, sorry, we can't afford that right now. Like we can't even entertain that discussion because there's so many of them men on the team that are not asking for this accommodation. Why are you the only one asking for the accommodation? And so I kept traveling. I missed my daughter's first week of kindergarten, actually the first two weeks, because I was traveling a lot. And I didn't actually mind traveling. What I minded was the fact that I didn't have a solid plan.
I didn't have solid childcare. So I came back and I said, look, if we cannot fix childcare, then I'm sorry, I can't just be jetting off and down, up and down. And I remember my boss saying, no, we can't. And then when I called him from Morocco, I said, Brian, where are you? He said, oh, I'm in Perth, Australia. I said, great. Are you standing or are you sitting? He said, well, I'm standing. I said, well, I quit. And I quit not because I don't like my job, not because I don't like the company. And because I don't want you all spreading rumors. I said,
Blessing: I quit because there's no childcare. And we need a soul for care. It's so simple. If we want women to continue, women and men, to continue doing this work, where we have to literally leave our family behind for two weeks at a stretch to do some great work around the world, then you need to provide childcare. And it was like, oh my God, let's talk about it. We're probably gonna be able to figure something out. I said, well, that's too late. Because I made this request a couple of months ago already.
Blessing: And so that was how I went to BASF. So with BASF, obviously my job no longer requires travel, which was good. And they weren't providing childcare, but they had backup childcare, which was, I have my issues with backup childcare, but it was something. It was something. It showed that at least the company was making some efforts. And I think DuPont now has backup childcare as well.
Allison: Yeah. I think what's so interesting about your story is oftentimes there's this assumption and bias that mothers just don't want to be away from their children. They don't want to travel. They don't want to work more than a nine to five. You know, they really want to be focused on their kids at all times. And I think your story highlights a really important nuance, which is it's not that. It's that I literally can't take a work trip because no one is there to watch the child.
And that is very different. It's not you saying, and there's nothing wrong, by the way, for people who say, yeah, I do want to have a nine to five and be really focused on my child, but there are plenty of women and men that the childcare need isn't even standard childcare. It's not necessarily the nine to five. It is the work travel, the backup care, the emergency situation type stuff.
Let's get on to MH, Mother Honestly. So at what point did you come up with the idea for what used to be called Mother Honestly?
Blessing: Absolutely. So we still call it Mother Honestly. So if you call us Mother Honestly, we're fine. That's why we kept the MH, because we really wanted to make sure that, and you know, Mother Honestly is still basically the DNA of the organization.
So MH started when we moved, when I moved, you know, to BASF and two years later, I had moved to a new place somewhere in Michigan, right outside of Detroit. And I remember having, you know, getting pregnant and having my son at that time. And I was just really, I think because I had forgotten what it was like to have a newborn. At that point, my first child was a nine-year-old. And so I was like, ooh, this should be a breeze. You know, we'll just keep flowing through. And you know, there's a little different energy when you're 22 versus you're 32, okay?
And so when my son came around, I was like, ooh, how am I gonna go back to work? Because now, remember, as a young engineer or a young college graduate, your life is still in front of you. But now as a 32 year old, I was already a senior leader in the workplace. And, you know, I had this expectations. I had this profit and loss lines. I have, you know, people that are counting on me, businesses that are counting on me. At that point, I was the global sales operations manager for three different plants, you know, in U S Canada and Mexico. So I was thinking, what am I doing? Why am I having a child at this age?
I literally broke down crying. And my husband was like, well, you just have to, so I had all these different ideas. I sat my husband down and I said, I'm gonna try this, I'm gonna try that, I'm gonna be working from this time to this time. And my husband was like, well, you just have to find a very honest way to do this, something that feels good to you, something that feels natural, that allows you to do your best work and live your best life. And I was like, oh, so basically like…mother honestly, like parent honestly. So it just, and it was like, yeah, like mother honestly, mother the way you want to mother. And I was like, I like that.
So I wrote that down and I, you know, went on Instagram. This was when Instagram was still very new. And you know, people were in, there was no algorithm then, thank God. And so I said, you know, I said, I would love to go back to work. I just have a baby, I just had a baby and I would love to go back to work with confidence and resilience. And I said, I'm trying to find how to be the best mother that I can be. I had a mother, honestly. And I went to bed. Oh, I always have a call to action back then. So I said, if you would love to have coffee and talk about this in the Detroit area, let me know. And I went to bed and I had tons of DMs and comments. And I said, okay, let's pick a date. So I picked a date and I posted a flyer. Back then, I wasn't trying to charge for anything. I had a good job. So I'm like, I'm not gonna charge for anything. So I just put, meet us at this cafe at 2 p.m.
And that was the following day. So I didn't think anything of it. So I got to the cafe at 2 p.m. and literally the whole place was full. And I was like, oh, there's a party, you know? I walked in and everybody was like, oh, there she is. And I was like, I'm confused. What? Where did you all show up from? And so the coffee owner, the coffee place owner was like, he came out and was like, you know, you should have booked this place before you posted it on a flyer. And you know, now everybody's here. So we had about 60, 80 women.
Allison: Oh my gosh.
Blessing: This conversation about returning to work with confidence, confidence and resilience. So we ended up just ordering coffee. We couldn't all fit into this small coffee shop so some people stayed out in the snow because my son was born in the winter. And so we had this great conversation and it was so powerful that people were like, let's have more conversations. And I will never forget. We had our first conference three months later, downtown Detroit with over 300 parents from all over the country. We had companies like the University of Michigan, the Detroit Pistons, Google, sent their employees. This was in 2018. And I just remember being so floored by it.
So my husband was like, well, I think this is a company now. What is this? Maybe you need to go register this as an LLC or something. So that was when I was like, OK, I guess Mother Honestly LLC. And that was how we started. And we started off with 60 people in a coffee shop. And now we reach over 25 million parents, caregivers, employers across the country through all of our social media platforms.
Allison: Yeah, I think this is a thing, right?
Blessing: And it's something that I'm really proud of because up until this moment, we have not spent a dime in marketing. It's really just been word of mouth from various people. So it's truly been a great journey.
Allison: And in the beginning, it was very much a newsletter, social media conferences, right? It was pretty much I don't know if I would call it a media company, but it was right. It was like this very organic media company. And at some point you started to experiment with what else? And I imagine the mission then changed, at least from an outsider's perspective, following you across all these channels, being on your newsletter. It feels like at some point, maybe during Covid, you realized, OK…We don't just need to be the voice of mothering honestly. There's so much more we can do. I mean, this is my impression, but I wanna hear from you is like what happened then because all of a sudden you were doing so much more and your conferences got bigger and better. And how do you tell that story?
Blessing: Absolutely. Absolutely. So when COVID started, right, at first, you know, I was also working. I was working and I don't know if you know this, but I was breastfeeding. I was pumping in between. By this time, I already had three kids. And I was trying to work. My husband was trying to work. We were all, everybody was in a state of panic. But at the same time, we had hundreds of thousands of mothers following us on various channels and we needed to show some support.
So we started hosting these daily Zoom calls and the Zoom calls became, you know, people were writing pandemic letters. So I came up with a series called Pandemic Series and mothers were sharing their own stories. And that was when it became very clear that we were basically asking women to do more than they shoot. So one of my very close team members, we sat down and we're just talking about what can we do beyond just sitting here and complaining?
So it almost felt like we were always complaining. People would come on our page and would say, you're not giving mother's paid leave, and you're not doing this, and you're not doing that. And moms, go say this. Mom, do this. This is a letter. Tell your boss to do X, Y, and Z. And it just became very, very, I didn't like that approach, because my training, I'm a chemical engineer, I'm supposed to be a problem solver. And I said, this doesn't feel like me anymore. I wanna go from complaining to actually solving the problem.
So we basically sat down and we said, where does the solution lie? And what we realized was that the solution did not lie with women. Women were already doing everything right. Women were already taking care of the home front. They were already attempting. A lot of women were out there making money, building businesses, climbing up the corporate ladder, even with all the challenges that they were facing.
Blessing: And here we were saying, we may go advocate, we may need to be an advocate in the workplace, go do more of X, Y, and Z. And so we said, you know what? We need to take our energy straight to the workplace leaders. We need to take this complaint, this energy, straight to their doorstep. So that was one. The other part was we needed to talk, speak more with policy, you know, groups, right? Legislators. So we started having conversations with various legislators through some of our partners, like Mom First, National Partnership for Women and Families, the National Women Law Center. We were basically just having meetings with those women every single day.
And then I co-founded the Care Force, which is basically a group, right? It's a group of about 300 leaders across the country in the private and public space to talk about how we elevate care in America. So we co-founded that.
And then I co-founded the Chamber of Mothers. And it just became very clear that a lot of people were trying to galvanize more and more women, but not enough people were actually solving for the care. So we said, you know what, why don't we just, you know, see if we can solve for care, right? And help with the work. Yes, exactly. Like, let's just see if we can get more leaders to pay attention to what we are seeing and what we are doing and see if we can create change.
Allison: Just that small little thing. Just fix the whole care system. Yeah.
Blessing: So, and then we, you know, we met a lot of great people along the way like you and so many other platforms that are already out there, you know, solving for care and really getting companies and leaders to listen and pay attention. So it just became very clear that that was where we needed to operate. But we also wanted to keep that community peace, right? Because we are great at convening, you know, leaders. We are great at convening even the community of women. And so we wanted to keep that energy as well. So now we have various products, we have the Care Academy, we have the Care Wallet, and we also have what we call a Care Coverage. So we have those three products that we continue to push within the workplace. And we have our Care at Work summits, which has now grown to over 500, you know, plus employers, parents, and caregivers coming together once a year to talk about how we elevate care in the workplace.
Allison: Mm-hmm. And so tell me about when you went on, you were on the stage at TechCrunch, right? What was that experience like? Because that was right when you announced, that was when you announced MH Worklife.
Blessing: Yes! Yes, yes, yes! It felt amazing. Yes, that was when we really announced our expansion, basically. I don't like to call it a pivot. I think it was more of an expanded focus for us. And it was, you know what? So TechCrunch was one of those, you know, platforms and organizations that I look at and I'm like, oh, we're never going to get there, you know? And, you know, it's huge. And when we applied, we were still building the product. We didn't really have anything, but we had the conviction. We knew we were trying to solve for care, you know, using technology, using the power of our community.
Allison: Yeah. I mean, that's huge.
Blessing: And so we went out there and, you know, we literally just sold this idea to TechCrunch. And it was so funny. And this is why we need more women in these spaces, because the woman that was in charge of MH, when our application and everything was a mother as well. So she was like, yes, you know, she helped us refine the page. She was like, you know, a lot of companies are wasting all this money on employee assistance programs. Let's go find the data. We found all this data. I mean, she was really into the mission.
Blessing: And being on stage, so we started out as top 200 company. They got tens of thousands of applications and then we went down to the top 200 that came to the conference in San Francisco. And then eventually they widowed it down to the top 20 and we were part of the top 20, which is very, very exciting for us.
So we got to go on stage to pitch various investors. And even though we weren't really trying to look for investors, because mother honestly till today is still very much self-funded, we just wanted to at least share care on a stage like that, right? And I think it's a, you know, when we talk about care, a lot of time people think about, you know, childcare and aging care and all those things that don't need technology. But then when they saw how we were going about trying to solve for care, you know, innovative ways they became...
They were like, wow, this is, you know, so it, it, it was a great experience. And I honestly, it's still one of my top three moments in life. If you want to know, it's the one of my top three moments in life. I really, really enjoyed being on stage and sharing to the world, you know, the business case for care and why we need care in the workplace.
Allison: So share here what is, you work with businesses, right? When you talk about the care wallet, what is that? What are people buying? Cause we have a lot of HR leaders who follow us. So I'd love to hear from you. What is that? Who should come talk to you? Who are you looking to sell that to?
Blessing: Absolutely. So we have what we call the care wallet or the care fund. And the way it works is that companies can set aside money to basically help employees catch unexpected care costs. It does not replace the backup care. It does not replace any of the benefits if you don't want it to. Even though we do advocate that you can basically replace a lot of these benefits because 5% of employee assistance programs, only 5% of employee assistance programs are being utilized, which means that you can replace a lot of this silly perks that people are not interested in and give people great benefits, like the service that that parentally provides and so many other organizations that people actually need, right? 78% of the workforce identify as caregivers.
So the Care Fund basically allows companies to place this money aside. And now the employees have access to a dashboard that we've built called the Work Life Dashboard. And they can access these funds directly. And the way they access it is that they link their bank account to our platform. And we automatically reimburse for care expenses up to the amount that they have in their wallet.
So if they spent $50.at care.com, for example, we will automatically flag that transaction as a childcare expense, and we would then reimburse that. So now they don't have to go find a receipt somewhere. They don't have to remember that they spent $50.atcare.com and go find all the paperwork and type all the things. These are all so many ways, right, that are inefficient for a parent or a caregiver. And so we basically reduce that to a very, very minor step for the employee. So that's how the Care Wallet works.
Allison: That's great. We only have a few minutes left. We want to end this with some hot takes. I love this. I love hearing your story. I think it's just so fascinating, but I also want to get your hot takes. So I am going to say a few things. I'm going to throw it out there and give me one sentence reaction. So we're looking for what comes into your mind right away. All right, here we go. Another company in the parenting space that you think is doing cool work. Company or organization?
Blessing: Acompany organization doing great work. Oh my goodness, there's so many of them, but I would have to go with Bumo. Bumo provides on-demand or long-term backup childcare to employees, and I love their model because it works. It's very straightforward. Again, it's all about reducing the time that people actually get to the support that they need.
Allison: What is the best benefit you have received as an employee?
Blessing: I would say my tuition assistance. I got BASF paid for my MBA. That was probably around $250,000 if you add my travel expenses to various countries for my MBA. So that was a great expense that would have definitely netted me debt if I had paid myself, yes.
Allison: Yeah, that's incredible. Your thoughts on return to office mandates?
Blessing: I think it's bogus. I think it's not necessary. I think we need to figure out what works for the type of job. We know that there are so many jobs that require in-office, and if it requires in-office, because there's machinery that needs to be, you know, worked on, what have you, then it should be in-office. But if it's something that doesn't, if it's a job that doesn't require in-office, let people do it hybrid or remote.
Allison: Love that. What is your best parenting hack?
Blessing: I would say my best parenting hack is to honestly get some rest. I know that a lot of people come up with all these different, you know, checkmarks and, you know, color coding and time management skills. And I'm like, look, just rest, just, you know, if you feel like you've done enough for the day, let that be enough. Let it be enough and, and, and just get some rest because you, there's no, nobody, nobody is excited about a burnt out wife or a burnt out.You're useless to yourself, you're useless to everyone. So we need, we need people to get some rest.
Allison: Your favorite song, TV, or character that your kids are currently obsessed with.
Blessing: Oh my goodness. So those kids, you know, I have three kids and they're interested in so many things. But right now all three kids at the same time are interested in space. So they're interested in all the Neptunes they have there. I mean, I think it's my older boy that is getting the girls to do this. But anyways, I caught my two-year-old singing Neptune, Mars and all this different, even the dwarf planets. I'm like, girl, you know the dwarf planets too?
Blessing: You know, so very excited that they are able to at least learn while they watch YouTube. It's a great act.
Allison: Yeah. Yep. Okay. Two last hot takes. One is, do you have any desire to relocate back to the U.S. permanently?
Blessing: I think that our life is fluid. So I would say yes. I think our life is very fluid. For right now, this is where it works for us. The kids are thriving. I have great childcare. In fact, I'm doing a documentary right now that is basically all about my life in Nigeria. And I think it's important for us to realize also that the world is a global village and we all need to get used to the idea of just finding new horizons and contributing from wherever we are.
Blessing: So I'm excited about the possibilities that lie ahead.
Allison: Love it. Last question. If you had to come up with a big, outrageous, change-the-world type goal or thing that could happen to MH in 2024, what would that be?
Blessing: Just give us more money, pay women, give us more money, give us money. We need money to change the world. I know you agree, Alison. We need money to build businesses. I think honestly, it's just investing in women, investing in these solutions. Unfortunately, the care space is still largely flooded by women and because women are the ones wanting to solve for care because we are the ones going through the pain points the most. But we need more investors. We need the community, we need legislators to pay attention to this space, the care economy, and just fund the heck out of women. So please fund MH.
Allison: Well, thank you so much for your time today. I am wildly impressed with you and your work and your story and everything about you. You are a wonderful advocate for so much of not only what you're doing, but also what the rest of us are doing in this space. And I, that doesn't go unnoticed. I see you holding people up, holding especially other female founders up all the time. So I really appreciate your time today and I'm really cheering for you. I love what you're doing there.
Blessing: Thank you so much. I'm so excited. I can't wait to hear this episode here.