Nicola Mendelsohn, head of Meta’s Global Business Group, was enjoying the perks of a four-day workweek before it became popular.
A cornerstone of Mendelsohn’s career has been striking a balance between her personal and professional obligations—and never letting work take the upper hand. When her kids were young, she said at Fortune’s Most Powerful Women Next Gen conference in San Diego on Wednesday, she took a pay cut to work a four-day workweek, so she could be around her children more and help raise them.
That did impact her career, she told Fortune’s Emma Hinchliffe: She turned down several CEO jobs offered to her at that time, which she didn’t take because she didn’t believe she could do a good job both for her family and for those companies concurrently.
“At some point [with your career], you’re really pushing on other points,” she went on. “What I’ve learned as I think back on that period is that I have four children. Every time I went away and took six months of maternity leave, I actually grew as a person through that time.”
Those six months gave her a new perspective, she said. “If you grow as a person, it means that you grow as a leader as well in terms of what you come back on.”
It’s not always so easy. The odds are heavily stacked against working moms, especially those who take any time away from work for childcare. Nearly half of working moms report struggling with depression and anxiety. There’s also the “motherhood penalty,” in which women’s pay further decreases when they become mothers. No wonder flexible arrangements—like 4-day workweeks—are so popular among working moms in particular.
Mendelsohn is proud of the fact that she’s promoted many women over the years while they were on maternity leave, because she could clearly see the path they were on. She didn’t believe in the idea that you must be present for another six months after leave in order to be considered for a promotion. “If the person is good enough, it doesn’t matter if they’re on maternity leave or not. They should go forward,” she said. “So yeah, [taking time off] was the right decision for me at that time.”
She brought that same approach when she was diagnosed in 2016 with follicular lymphoma, a rare and incurable blood cancer, and knew her career would have to take a temporary backseat so that her health would have to come first. The typical follicular lymphoma patient will have between six and eight relapses in their lifetime, Mendelsohn said, adding that it motivated her to evaluate her life.
“I looked around and thought, what do I do? I love what I do. So I want to continue to do [that]. Because I knew how fortunate I was, I also know how unfortunate many others are,” she said, adding that bosses should support their employees when they are their most vulnerable.
As for how to find employers who can recognize and appreciate workers who prioritize their own needs and health, Mendelsohn said, “I think if you believe in yourself, you’ll find the right partners and the right employer,” even if that idea is hard to grasp while early in your career.