How working moms can rise to the c-suite

Lisa Lambert, executive director of Upward, poses for Reuters in Santa Clara, California
Lisa Lambert, executive director of Upward, poses for Reuters in Santa Clara, California January 23, 2015. Thanks to Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg and her mega-bestselling book, Lean In, the gender-disparity debate has been front and center for years now in Silicon Valley. But Lambert believes she is taking that concept one step further with her own organization, Upward. Her take: focus a little less on working harder, and a little more on old-fashioned meeting and greeting. Picture taken January 23, 2015. REUTERS/Elijah Nouvelage (UNITED STATES - Tags: PORTRAIT BUSINESS SOCIETY) - RTR4NAH6
Photograph by Elijah Nouvelage — Reuters

MPW Insider is an online community where the biggest names in business and beyond answer timely career and leadership questions. Today’s answer for: If you’re a working mom — have you experienced workplace bias? If so, how do you respond? is written by Lisa Lambert, vice president of Intel Capital.

One of the biggest biases that working mothers face is the belief that rising to the executive ranks means doing more when, in actuality, it means doing things differently. According to recent research from Catalyst, women hold only 25% of senior-level positions at S&P 500 companies and the situation is significantly worse at the CEO and board levels. Women are certainly qualified and capable to lead, so why aren’t we given the opportunity? Bias against women does exist in the workplace, but I suspect that we also sometimes press pause on our own career advancement. There’s the notion that executive roles are too demanding and its impossible for those in these positions to have a family – it’s not.

The competing demands of career and family can feel overwhelming at times. I’m a working mother and have felt this feeling many times myself. I understand why the prospect of more responsibility may sometimes cause us to shudder. But, having worked closely with many corporate executives (both moms and dads), I can tell you it’s an imminently achievable lifestyle. Hear me out.

Executives have administrative assistants and technical assistants who keep their schedules balanced and orchestrate their activities so that they have plenty of time for personal commitments. They have more control over their “to do” lists and they have teams they can depend on to help them. Executives also have the financial means to delegate mundane tasks such as grocery shopping and house cleaning. That’s time freed up to spend with their families. I’m sure there are workaholic exceptions, but the 24/7 executive workweek is a myth.

We start our careers believing the way to get ahead is to take on more and personally deliver. And initially, this works. It’s how we establish our reputations, gain valuable experience, and expand our skills. But, leading requires a different approach. Leaders must hire the right people, empower them, chart and communicate a strategic path, and hold their employees accountable for results. For example, as I moved from being an individual contributor to a team leader at Intel Capital, I had to assume the role of coach rather than deal maker. I had to learn how to teach and motivate my team so that they could become competent in their trade.

A 2012 study by the Credit Suisse Research Institute shows that greater gender diversity in the corporate ranks contributes to better corporate performance. That said, gender diversity at executive levels won’t be fully solved unless working moms aspire to these positions and are given the opportunity to achieve their dreams. Let’s face it. Most of us need to work. Many of us enjoy working. And so many women (moms included) are terrific at what they do and would make amazing leaders. My advice to working moms is to ignore the 24/7 executive lifestyle myth. Figure out how to change the way you work and then go for the c-suite. Corporate executives actually have more control over their time and more support both on the job and at home. Isn’t that the kind of “more” that working moms need?

Read all answers to the MPW Insider question: If you’re a working mom — have you experienced workplace bias? If so, how do you respond?

Workplace bias: Women aren’t the only victims by Lauren Stiller Rikleen, president of Rikleen Institute for Strategic Leadership.

6 tips to help moms work smarter, not longer by Debby Hopkins, CEO at Citi Ventures.

Family vs. work? How to choose and not feel guilty by Beth Fisher-Yoshida, director of Negotiation and Conflict Resolution Program at Columbia University.

Your boss’s late-night emails: the one time you don’t have to respond by Dawn Zier, President and CEO of Nutrisystem.

Why women will always have to work harder than men by Carolyn Rodz, CEO of Market Mentor.

Female CEO: I won’t give up my career for my kids by Penny Herscher, CEO and president of FirstRain.

Why working dads need an apology, too by Ellen Bravo, executive director of Family Values at Work.

Why working moms should never have to apologize by Jane Edison Stevenson vice chairman, board and CEO services at Korn Ferry.

Working moms: Stop pretending everything is perfect by Erica Galos Alioto, vice president of Local Sales at Yelp.

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