What Happens When A Few Hundred Moms, Babies + Toddlers Take Over The United Nations
On International Women's Day last Thursday, the UN opened its doors to crying babies for what might have been the first time ever. Mindr, the TED talks of the parenting world, invited a panel of trailblazing moms to lead a conversation on how to make the world a better (my read: more opportunity-filled) place for mothers.
What I loved most about the event is that it both created space for a conversation around motherhood and the public sphere AND gave hundreds of moms physical access to a powerful space. Not nearly enough moms sit in that room on an everyday basis. One of the panelists, Leith Greenslade, created the Motherhood + Public Power Index when she couldn't find statistics on how many of the most powerful jobs are held by women. Turns out, in the United States moms hold just 12%. Dads hold 80%.
The space we held in that room was temporary, but I believe the seeds planted there last week will grow in ways that help nudge that statistic towards greater equality. When moms share our stories with one another, we augment each others' beliefs about what is possible. The women who sat on the panel last Thursday are all incredibly accomplished. They're moms who have broken into powerful positions in a world that does not make things easy for moms.
In sharing how they did it, these women made it possible for more of us to imagine sitting in rooms like Conference Room #2 at the United Nations more often. So, what did they say?
When Her Excellency Izumi Nakamitsu, Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations, introduced herself, she asserted that is is an ordinary woman. The advice she offered the moms listening give clues as to how she, an ordinary person, ascended to a powerful position within a powerful organization. She said "Be flexible, create your support network, and don't quit."
I heard: be willing to step outside of convention if that's what it takes to get things done, accept help, and stick with it, even when it seems like there's a reason not to. Remember that the whole "nevertheless, she persisted" quote was born out of people being assholes. People are going to be assholes to moms as we stand in our power in greater numbers, a greater percentage of the time. That's no reason to stop. If anything, it's a reason to keep going. Even the haters will benefit from our success.
Another panelist really drove home the idea that when women are given more opportunities society benefits. Phyllis Johnson, Board Member of the National Coffee Association of America, shared about her work creating economic opportunities for women on multiple continents. She found that one thing is true across the world; "When you give a woman a chance, she will change her community." For better or worse, moms are used to taking care of everyone around us. When moms have more access to resources, we share them with the generation we're raising. Johnson rewrote an old quote popularized by JFK, "Victory has a hundred fathers and defeat is an orphan," to reflect her own experience with the world. She said "Victory has many mothers and defeat is not an option."
Don't quit. Defeat is not an option. The woman who sat in front of us demonstrated that it takes tenacity to get ahead in this world. One thing that won't change is the fact that success will always require a willingness to dig in and get the job done. Here is the crux of the issue: there are moms out there who are willing to work just as hard, but don't feel like they have that choice.
Many, many moms are eager to take up more space in the public sphere, but we have so many hurdles to jump over to get there. Imagine if every mom had access to affordable childcare, flexible work schedules, and paid maternity leave? The Motherhood + Power Index would shift. Certainly, the women sitting on the panel weren't all supported in these ways and they managed to succeed anyway. The issue is that they are a minority, part of the mere 12% of women who made it to positions of power.
In addition to the "don't quit" message echoed by several panelists, another refrain came up over and over again: "For so long, mothers have made the world work. Now, it's time to make the world work for mothers." Amen!
The conversations on increasing moms' inclusion in public life did not begin or end at this event. I hope to find ways to continue the discussion. I'm looking forward to hearing perspectives from other moms in the comments and on social!