Is being a mother and a CEO just too hard?

In this guest posting, Lara Thom, who has just launched Conceive Productions, takes inspiration from NineMSN’s outgoing CEO Joe Pollard, who resigned to spend more time with her children.

I am sure that Mumbrella didn’t intend for this to be the biggest message I walked away with after Mumbrella360. But it was. So let me explain. We sat watching Mumbrella Question Time with four of the biggest heavyweights in our industry. Joe Pollard, the CEO of NineMSN was asked a question about work/life balance.

Her answer was straight and to the point. Her mantra was to seriously re-think things if she didn’t want to go to work three days in a row. Her decision to resign from NineMSN was inspired by her two little boys who were her priority.

Cue the violins. No seriously, cue the violins and give this woman a medal. I wanted to get on stage and hug her. Her response was raw and honest. I tweeted my admiration instead.

I don’t know Joe personally. But I do know a lot of people who know her. They admire her, they respect her. She is also known for being a tough lady who is a strong boss, a serious operator and a tough negotiator. I recall the day only recently when it was announced that Joe had resigned, and presuming she must have been offered a huge job elsewhere. Why else would she leave?

I had never thought of her as a mother.

There’s no doubt that Joe is considered one of the top CEO’s and marketers in the country. We can now add to that, a compassionate mother who gets that there’s more to life and puts her kids above all else. Bravo Joe, Bravo.

Why do I care? I speak from experience. As MD of an agency, it was with great trepidation that I emailed the bosses with the news: “I’m pregnant, baby due in June, business won’t be disrupted, it’s my 4th baby so I know what I’m doing. I’m so sorry.”

Neither of them emailed back.

Instead they walked from their offices into my office and gave me a big hug. Neither asked about work. I was shocked. They may have uttered the odd expletive after they hugged me (being 100% honest, I too have been guilty of using the “f” word when a valued staff member has announced a pregnancy).

The guys were 100% supportive and to this day, I’ve had nothing but support from the most senior of male colleagues and bosses. When I recently turned on the tears in front of my boss “I…want…to…spend…more…time…with…my…kids” I too realised, it’s bloody tough trying to mix motherhood and a big career.

As women, it’s hard to escape the tag we get when we have kids. “This is Lara Thom, she has four children”. People are amazed that someone can produce that many children, have a big job and ‘do it all’. The truth is, I can’t. Even with incredible support and help, I can’t buy time. Time is what the kids need most from us.

The question of women in leadership is constantly raised at government level and in corporate boardrooms [in a recent opinion piece, Mango PR’s Simone Drewry discussed the lack of women in senior roles in the communications industry]. It’s time we gave the blokes a break. Yes, there are men who will give a promotion to a man over woman because she may get pregnant. But they are few and far between. With the exception of one idiot years ago, all my male colleagues have always been supportive of the fact that I am a wife, mother and yes, a woman.

We have a female prime minister (okay, no kids which is why she can balance it), our governor general is a woman, Gail Kelly is the CEO of Westpac. Every state in Australia except SA has had a female state premier. Women are getting the chance to step up, many are simply making the choice for the kids to come first.

We should be celebrating our amazing right to choose. We should not be creating issues about females in leadership positions. In my opinion, the ongoing debate of why there aren’t enough females in senior leadership positions in Australia is a bit overdone. When senior and talented women, like Joe Pollard choose to be with their kids, we can’t blame corporate Australia or the government.

We need to applaud Joe, the people who appointed her to that position and applaud her again for putting her kids first – they are, after all, are future leaders.

Lara Thom is CEO of Conceive Productions. She has four children, aged six, five, three and one.


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