Motherhood and Leadership: Research Invitation

I’ve usually done things with my career in response to something I’ve seen as not right or fair. Sometimes it’s because of something that I’ve experienced directly. Like my experiences with bullying were what drove me to connect Human Resources people to come up with ways of making workplaces more humane. That was the social community NZLEAD. Sometimes it’s because of something I’ve seen that has made me very uncomfortable. Like walking out on a job for a profit mongering company that quibbled over small increases to the pay of their minimum wage and vulnerable employees. It’s always been a process of moving away from something that doesn’t serve and towards something that does. 

And my PhD work is no different in that respect. My experience was my inspiration to begin this research. When I returned to work after maternity leave, when my son was 1-year old, I struggled to reconcile work and leadership with the embodiment of motherhood: breastfeeding; sleep deprivation; the revolving door of daycare illnesses; squeezing my post pregnant body into now too small professional clothes; and, wrangling my often crying baby out the door and into the arms of strangers. 

My experience wasn’t helped by some of the informal, unspoken, mechanisms of work that left me feeling an outsider to the behaviours that got rewarded and recognised. Despite part-time hours I felt pressured to work longer than contracted and be contactable after I had left for the day in order for my contribution to be ‘seen’. And although I exceeded all objective measures of work performance, I was passed over for a leadership position in my team, and kept out of the loop on interesting projects that might require travel. After over a decade carving out a career and being told that I could ‘have it all’, I found that even ‘doing it all’ meant I wasn’t going to be recognised as a legitimate worker and leader. 

I started out doing my PhD in order to make sense of what I perceived as my own failure at balancing work, leadership and family. But where I got to was unravelling cliches, so much like my own story, that point to the struggles women face progressing to leadership positions in New Zealand. 

I now have so many more questions and I need your help. The next stage of my research is to explore the stories of women on their embodied leadership and motherhood journeys. More specifically how mothers make sense of, and engage with, norms and assumptions around embodied motherhood (e.g. pregnancy, birth, breastfeeding) and embodied leadership (e.g. what we normally ‘see’ as leadership, the masculine ideals). One of the practical intentions behind this exploration is to uncover opportunities for women entering and sustaining senior leadership positions.

With this in mind I am conducting 2-hour focus group sessions with New Zealand mums who have children less than 5 years old and are in positions of leadership, either formal or by influence, or have leadership aspirations.

The focus groups are designed as a research tool and as a leadership development experience. In that participants will be facilitated through an exploration of their own leadership awareness and action in a safe and supported way. The focus groups are also a space to meet a group of beautifully courageous mums who are potentially experiencing similar challenges navigating work/life/leadership and motherhood. Times and dates will be organised around participants as much as possible, refreshments provided, and child care will be organised for those who need it.

More information about what is involved is on the participant information sheet.

So, how can you help? 

The more participants I get the more women I can reach for an important conversation about leadership. But also, the more participants I have, the more robust and high quality research I can produce, and the greater impact this research can have. 

A little bit about me….

My name is Amanda Sterling, I am a Doctoral student in the Department of Management and International Business, at the University of Auckland. I am a mother myself, with a 3 year old son, as well as a practiced coach and facilitator, with 15+ professional experience working in leadership development for large global, and small local businesses. 

And to find out more about this research…

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