Opinion Piece – Is Motherhood The Greatest Leadership Asset?


I often look across the pond at NZ Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern as a bit of a marvel … amazing multi-tasker, empathetic powerhouse, devoted wife, dedicated mum, oh and twice elected Political Leader (to boot) – the fact that she makes it look effortless with a toddler in tow is quite frankly … inspiring.

As a working mum I am often in awe of people like her at the top their game – their drive, energy and determination to get the job done. My dad often says to me “if you want something done, ask a busy person’! I guess there is some truth in this. But as I get older, and with children (saddled with preoccupied schedules of their own), I marvel at how such busy people, with manic ‘to-do’ lists manage to get so much done and seemingly make it look so easy.

I have no doubt that the New Zealand PM is absolutely fallible (and trips up like the rest of us), it is obvious that she gets ample help and support where needed, she and others like her have demonstrated that working Mums have no time to apologise for gender equality or asking for the tools needed to allow them to successfully manage work and home, and this …. I sense is key.

It should be noted that my admiration is not just excluded to political leaders, CEO’s or Managing Directors. I am constantly in awe of friends who manage a team of ten at work, juggle a busy household, help their kids with the science assignment, walk the dog daily, do Pilates and manage to volunteer as soccer manager and coach on the weekends. The  everyday heroes and normal parents who keep plugging away at life and making awesome contributions to home, work and community.

In a previous STUFF article, Darren Levy, Human Synergistics NZ consultant, attributes the reason as simple .. “motherhood makes for an amazing leadership asset”. In fact, this belief that being a parent may actually make leaders better at their role is now something being discussed by many, and an opportunity to examine just what we here in Australia should take into consideration on the value we place on parents juggling both parenthood and paid-work commitments post-pandemic lockdown.

Accordingly, working Mums develop hugely useful leadership skills, particularly for those in flexible arrangements balancing a workload around their kids. They show up as the most productive members of the workforce, given they know how to prioritise and manage their time better as a result.

Darren has worked alongside many women in roles as leaders and duly notes their capability. “The talk around being a leader means creating an environment for others to be their best. Mums do that in both the home and work context.”

Unlike the draconian employers of the 1960’s, current firms can see the value in what working parents bring to the table, and are including more working mums as part of their recruitment drive given their ability to time-manage efficiently holds such potential. However, and it must be highlighted, flexibility and the removal of stigma in asking for it has to be part of the mix! Most of us driving the dual work bus know that while some make it look easy, it is anything but. There is a lot of struggle and sacrifice required – and it is important to note the connection between parenthood as an asset and the need for workplaces to jump onboard and provide what is required for them to thrive.

Whether you have kids or not … part-time, hybrid and flexible working arrangements, particularly for employees who can work from home and at odd hours need to be viewed differently. In eras gone by, workers juggling both paid work and parenting were often and unfairly labelled unambitious or perhaps not as dedicated as their fulltime and office-based counterparts. Covid, if it taught us anything has demonstrated that change does not need our permission. Managers and Leaders who continue to see employees through an ‘hours based’ lens versus an ‘outcomes based’ one do so at their own peril as they run the risk of being left behind, particularly in a very tight labour market.

When I look at female politicians I admire closer to home, I think of leaders the ilk of Penny Wong, Tanya Plibersek and Jacquie Lambie whom have not only demonstrated they can wear both dual capes well, they are, in fact, appreciated all the more for illustrating the very human side of their journeys in undertaking both. Straight-talking Jacquie Lambie has been fearless in trying to remove the stigma of being a single parent during her time as Senator, and in the process she has endeared herself to many supporters. Her honesty in overcoming her own personal and familial struggles is testament to her approach when in 2015 she historically addressed both in parliament. How refreshing that she was lauded for being so front-and-centre about the issues she faced!

Covid has helped to shift the stigma with hybrid working and increased flexibility now being a norm rather than a workplace inconvenience, and as a result there is no doubt that the pandemic has meant the lines between work and homelife have been inextricably blurred for the foreseeable future. One of my favourite moments of Ardern’s endearingly self-titled #bedtimefail when addressing her nations response to Covid was interrupted by a sleep-adverse 3 year old on FB live stream. It warmly demonstrated first hand what out-of-hours work is like for parents in professional work juggling a family.

This new working normal has reminded us what it is to be human, getting the footing right between a work/life/hybrid balance is important. All leaders, particularly men who demonstrably set the example of being both an effective worker and a caring and responsible parent themselves offer fellow employees a sense of freedom and trust by allowing to follow suit. This is duly important to note because the difficulties women have historically endured are now also issues for new dads who wish to spend more time with their family and children as well, particularly around the amount of parental leave they can access. The need to acknowledge that childcare and home responsibilities are a ‘community’ owned problem is paramount.

Levy says he encourages new working parents he coaches to carve out time for themselves between high-pressure roles and their family lives. Simple things such as outsourcing cleaning, gardening and splitting chores between your partner will mean spending more important quality time with the whole family.

There’s a super-highway going back and forth between being the best I can be for my family, being the best I can be for my kids and as a leader at work. They’re like playing cards leaning against each other and they stand up most of the time but they wouldn’t take much to fall over if you don’t have the triangle at the bottom which is time for yourself, physically and mentally.”

Some additional Culture Bites podcast episodes that touch on some of these points are:

  • Dealing with big life changes
  • Spot light on men’s mental health
  • Family systems and LSI


By Melissa Jones



Edmunds, S. (Jun 21, 2018). Stuff.Co.Nz, So You’re Going To Be A Working Mum, https://www.stuff.co.nz/business/104895856/so-youre-going-to-be-a-working-mum


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