The needs and rights of career-loving parents continue to be part of our cultural dialogue on a daily basis, thanks in part to a number of working moms with celebrity status—think Sheryl Sandberg, Michelle Obama, Jennifer Garner, and Jessica Alba. We can learn a lot from these women, and their contributions to the conversation about the rights of mothers in the workplace are important. But, of course, we all know that their lives are not exactly representative of a “typical” parent. They have resources that many of us won’t ever have.
We’re seeing slow but steady change in the cultural perception of career-driven mothers, and that progress can largely be attributed to the on-the-ground battles waged by us “everyday” parents. So, in the spirit of celebrating everyday victories, I’ll share some advice from women who, though high-profile, are certainly flying under the radar. We can learn a lot from them.
1. Cathy Lanier, Chief of Police of Washington, DC
Cathy Lanier was appointed DC Chief of Police in 2007. Her story—teenage mother who was pregnant at 14 and dropped out of high school at 15, then turned her life around and rapidly rose through the ranks of the DC police force—earned her a great deal of media attention. She’s led DC through a number of crises (like the Navy yard shooting) and groundbreaking changes in law (most recently the legalization of marijuana use).
Lanier has never let her role be defined by her gender, but she has certainly allowed her personal values as a mother and caretaker to shape her policing style. Early in her career, she urged patrolling police officers to forge relationships in the community and generally be more empathetic—to avoid petty arrests and focus more on developing trust. That compassionate style of community guardianship has continued, and Lanier is known for staying at the scene of a crime well after the investigation is over, talking to residents, giving hugs, and offering support.
2. Dawn Hudson, Chief Marketing Officer for the NFL
When the NFL brought Hudson aboard when the Ray Rice arrest and a number of other “scandals” were still in the headlines, critics immediately called it a PR tactic. But her track record, specifically at Pepsi, where she reportedly spearheaded the effort to replace Coca-Cola as the NFL’s soft-drink sponsor, proves that she’s more than qualified from the job. And Hudson hasn’t shied away from discussing how her experiences as a mother and daughter shape her career. In an interview with HelloLadies, Hudson firmly addresses the question of work-life integration, saying, “I have two daughters. They have to go to the dermatologists; they have to go to pediatrician appointments. I cannot wait until 7 or 8 o’clock at night to make those appointments. I just put them in my list and do them. Why? Because I’m going to be more productive for the company if I take care of these things in a timely manner when they need to be taken care of […] And I try to tell that to anybody who works on my team or works in a company I’m involved with, to integrate the to-do lists. Don’t have them separate because life doesn’t separate out that simply.”
She also acknowledges that her role as one of the few women in a senior position in the NFL puts her in a particularly strong position to bring about change: “What I was surprised about, entering the NFL, is that there are more women there than I thought there were—and frankly a lot of really dynamic, talented women at the mid level. We don’t have enough senior women and I think that one of the reasons the commissioner hired me is to help change that.”
3. Rebecca Traister, Senior Editor at New Republic
Traister made headlines in March for making an appearance on MSNBC with her newborn baby in tow. She was on maternity leave, but, when asked to comment on the developing story about Hillary Clinton’s personal/professional email account, she simply brought her baby along and held her (sleeping) throughout the interview. Randye Hoder of Fortune pointed out that the most revolutionary part of the interview wasn’t that she was holding the baby, but that she didn’t make a big deal about the fact that she was doing so.
The tacit conclusion: Being a breastfeeding mother does not preclude you from responding quickly to important professional demands, it just might take a little accommodation. In Hoder’s words: [This situation] reveals a simple but powerful lesson: It doesn’t take a whole lot to create a supportive work environment. But it sure makes a huge difference for parents trying to juggle a multitude of demands.
Part of changing workplace culture—in all industries—is celebrating individual victories and, in a sense, “sharing best practices.” These three working mothers, in vastly different professional arenas and with vastly different methods, are moving the needle.