For more than two decades, my co-founder and I have built an education business focused on mentorship, transparency and ethical guidance, and are committed to cultivating a culture where working moms of all ages and life stages can thrive. Before I launched this college admissions company, Top Tier Admissions, my professional network in educational television, publishing and as a parenting expert included women who inspired me, personally and professionally, as mentors and colleagues. I knew I wanted to use my position as an owner to empower working parents and create a culture that reflected this, even as we operated virtually. Today, I’m proud to lead a team composed primarily of working moms.
Like many in business, I’ve been watching as the mass exodus of working women shapes conversations around associated policies and leadership retention. According to McKinsey, 10.5% of women in leadership are leaving their jobs — an alarming attrition, and the highest rate in the last five years. The private membership network for women executives, Chief, recently launched a campaign, #MakeWorkWork, to amplify how companies are supporting women leaders. In an interview with Forbes, their CEO, Carolyn Childers, notes that “… over 90% of women say that they would stay at a company if they were just invested in it.”
So how do we invest in women, particularly those who are also balancing caregiving roles? Here are some lessons I’ve learned along the way — as a founder, a mom, a grandmother and a leader of working moms — to connect and support teams while delivering high-quality products and expertise.
1. The importance of flexible work
Post-pandemic, traditional 9-to-5 jobs are declining, and for good reason. By prioritizing work/life balance and flexibility in order to accommodate parenting responsibilities, team members can be better valued and respected as whole people. Our team sets their own hours and works from anywhere. Moms with very young children can choose to take on a lighter client load for a season, for example, waiting until their youngest enters pre-school or the baby is sleeping through the night.
Working mothers make exceptional entrepreneurs, but to set them up for success, it’s key to prioritize independence and control over working environments, hours and futures. The capable and experienced members of our team have this kind of freedom, and so flourish.
2. Supportive mentors and peers
A team is more productive when its members are encouraged and motivated to reach out and share expertise. Regardless of gender or parenthood status, everyone who contributes to the company’s mission should feel seen and valued. Drawing on the experiences of fellow team members fills in the cracks and lifts us up, energizing engagement with clients.
Our philosophy as college counselors is to mentor students and families one-on-one. At the same time, team members mentor each other with casual lunch Zoom drop-ins, by sharing resources, concerns and case studies on Slack, and by imparting more formal expertise when it comes to deliverable reviews.
3. Embrace asynchronous collaboration tools
Dropbox is an obvious asset for any remote business. We appreciate the ability to learn from one another and prioritize transparency for more effective collaboration, and so each counselor’s student folders and files are available to the team. This way, we can brainstorm together, ask for peer review and share resources. We also rely on Slack for day-to-day feedback, quick questions and encouragement and to foster a sense of community and collegiality when we aren’t physically in the same place.
4. Lead by example
When my co-founder and I started Top Tier Admissions, our children were young. We had each other’s backs and cycled work days to match work/life rhythms. I was up early and handled the 5:00 a.m. international calls, while Michele was a night owl and dove into work after her children were asleep. Now, as a grandmother, I am seeing my daughters navigate the same precarious balance that comes with work and home obligations.