In the last several months, I’ve written one chapter and posted several blogs on what I’ve found is a level of tension between being a mother and being a leader. My finding is grounded in nature not nurture, which renders it politically incorrect, which, in turn, marginalizes it. For it does indeed imply that women who are mothers have a hurdle that is difficult, if not impossible, entirely to surmount.
Because my finding is such a hard sell, I seek support wherever, whenever, and from whoever I can get it – most recently in a book by Melissa Schilling titled Quirky: The Remarkable Story of the Traits, Foibles, and Genius Innovators Who Changed the World. Schilling writes about innovators who achieved multiple breakthroughs in science and technology – but of the eight cases she describes only one (Marie Curie) is a woman. Schilling tried to find more women who fit her criteria, but she could not.
In exploring the paucity of women innovators, Schilling writes that the “politically correct” cure for what historically has ailed us includes men and women dividing more equally responsibility for child care, and businesses and governments doing more to make affordable, quality child care widely accessible.
But she goes on to acknowledge, to admit really, that she for one did not want to relinquish her caregiving to others. “From the moment I first gave birth,” she writes, “I felt a deep, primal need to hold my children, nurture them and meet their needs.”*
Schilling hastens to add that having a strong maternal instinct does not preclude professional success. “But it might get in the way of having the almost maniacal focus that the most famous serial breakthrough innovators exhibit.” Just as it might get in the way of having the almost maniacal focus that the most famous serial breakthrough leaders exhibit. Being a serial innovator and being a serial leader are, in other words, tasks so utterly consuming that they leave room for little if anything else. Such as, for example, parenting that is largely hands-on as opposed to largely hands-off.