Motherhood & Careers: Top Executives On Mastering Both

By Jane Hanson

Five impactful women from the retail, beauty, finance and media industries were honored this week at the 44th annual Outstanding Mother Awards. The women were celebrated for mastering the “struggle with the juggle,” successfully balancing highly influential careers with the daily demands and rewards of motherhood, family and community. Proceeds from the luncheon benefit Save the Children’s U.S. programs and emergency fund for children displaced by the ongoing war in Ukraine.

The women each took the stage to share what has enabled them to be so successful at both their careers and motherhood, and all agreed that it is in fact possible to be a great mom and have a fulfilling career. Here’s how:

Nancy Berger, Publishing Director and Chief Revenue Officer, Hearst Youth & Wellness Group

Prioritize being present in your children’s lives. “While I did miss many things, including weekday dinners together, I made a promise to each of my boys that I would never miss anything that they told me was important.” This included band concerts and basketball playoff games.

If you’re thrown a curveball, all you have to do is adjust to the pitch.” This advice came from Berger’s son Jacob. She described the pivots her family made – and the silver linings they discovered – while adapting to these curveballs, which included two diagnoses of type 1 diabetes, some personal health challenges, and of course, the Covid-19 pandemic.

Use your magic powers. “Motherhood has given me my own magic powers,” Berger says. “The ability to function with no sleep, to find a solution to any problem, to never take ‘no’ for an answer, to love unconditionally and to build a world filled with the most amazing friends, family and colleagues who magically appear whenever you need them.”

Bianna Golodryga, Senior Global Affairs Analyst and Anchor, CNN

Stop saying “I don’t deserve this.” Whereas most men graciously accept honors and willingly take credit, women often feel unworthy, says Golodryga. She recommends we stop underselling ourselves and, instead, simply say “thank you – I’m honored!”

Thank your mom for the lessons she’s taught you. Golodryga’s parents brought her to the United States from the Soviet Union when she was 3 years old, with $270 in their pockets. Only after having her first child did Golodryga begin to appreciate the sacrifices her mom – an IT executive – made and the commitment she still makes to help Golodryga balance family and career. “I have no idea how she was able to do it. Not because she didn’t have the talent and not because she wasn’t gifted but because she never made me feel neglected or that I wasn’t anything but her top priority.”

Phyllis Newhouse, CEO, ShoulderUp Technology Acquisition Corp. and CEO of Xtreme Solutions, Inc.

Pack your bag to the land of motherhood. Newhouse asked all working moms to always have on hand a few things that are needed to be good moms and good executives: determination, laughter, opportunities, joy and honor. And to be prepared for the 3 D’s – detours, distractions and disappointments. “Enjoy the trip because on the other side is the wonderful land of motherhood.”

You don’t need to be a perfect mom. Newhouse’s mother often reminded her that “good mothers are perfect, great mothers are not.” She says it’s ok when you fail, as long as you try.

Marisa Thalberg, EVP, Chief Brand and Marketing Officer, Lowe’s Companies, Inc.

Women need a sense of community, camaraderie and support. “Nothing perpetuates a feeling of self-doubt the way isolation does,” says Thalberg. Since she couldn’t find a community to join early in her career, she created one. Thalberg started Executive Moms, a support community for women who are both professionals and moms. The organization is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year.

Appreciate your successes at home. Thalberg’s two daughters are proof to her that women can be good mothers and successful executives. “Seeing the exceptional, I mean really exceptional, young women they have become is for me the ultimate gratification and, frankly, validation of the very thesis that is at the core of Executive Moms.”

Priya Venkatesh, SVP of Merchandising, Skincare and Hair, Sephora

Find an “A+ village” to help raise your children. Venkatesh credits her extended Indian family, including “doting grandparents” for helping raise her daughter. She says she was raised to depend on the help of her extended family and continues that tradition today. “The support of my mom allowed me to travel the world freely knowing [my daughter] was in the best of hands.” She also includes colleagues at Sephora as part of her village, sharing a story of a colleague who showed up to take her to the hospital when she thought she was in labor.

All the women agreed that working moms shouldn’t be too hard on themselves. Accept that you won’t be perfect at either job – and that’s ok. But always treat yourself kindly. As Berger told the group, “Me as a happy mom means me as a better mom.”


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