Think you know what it means to be a working mother? Try again. While everyone probably has some kind of stereotypical image, there’s no one-size-fits-all scenario of what working parenthood looks like. Work-life balance? Juggling schedules? Having it all? Toss those passé clichés aside and look at the at-times-messy, real-life accomplishments all around you.
Each year, She Runs It honors women who have achieved outstanding business results while also serving as strong role models or mentors at work, at home and within their communities. This year’s winners will be celebrated on February 26 at a luncheon at Cipriani 42nd Street in New York City.
We asked this year’s honorees to share their first hand insights from the intersection of work and family as well as how they make the most out of frenzied, gratifying lives. Check out the following pages for what they had to say.
Global Chief Talent Officer
Based in the agency’s New York headquarters, Prota ensures employee experience and corporate culture are top priorities across KBS’ offices in the U.S., U.K., Canada and China.
How motherhood helps her succeed at work: “Motherhood is a superpower. Quickly after becoming a mom, time seemed too precious to waste. I was forced to get comfortable trusting my gut, my tenacity muscles grew stronger, I developed more empathy and I’ve learned not to sweat the small stuff.”
The difference between being a manager at work and at home:
“At home, I most enjoy watching and listening. I take the back seat and my son micromanages me, which I guess is something I should talk to him about soon.”
Paying it forward: “I feel a great responsibility to help change the game for new and future parents in our industry. Our current climate is an invitation to help redefine the rules for what it means to be a successful parent with a career.”
Deborah B. Curtis
VP of Global Partnerships and Experiential Marketing
American Express Company
At American Express, Curtis spearheads strategic marketing alliances, engagement platforms and experiential events in sports, fashion, film, music and theater.
How work success helps her succeed at motherhood: “Every day I have to be the voice of the customer, truly ingrained in their mindset. That has helped me to be a mother with empathy who constantly listens, doubles down on understanding and digs deeper into her intrinsic motivations and feelings, not just relying on what is on the surface.”
The difference between being a manager at work and at home: “Being a manager at home runs deeper emotionally—their pain is your pain, their joy is your joy. It’s more of a roller coaster, which makes the ups and downs of work often seem like a walk in the park.”
The working parent misconception that she’d like to go away: “This whole notion of balance. Let’s face it: We never balance much of anything.“
Director of Innovation
Y&R North America
Working with clients like Dell, Cirque de Soleil and Pepperidge Farm, Catherine leads the agency’s experiential practice, matching emerging technologies and branded content to develop culture-defining activations.
The difference between being a manager at work and at home: “At home, we’re basically an Irish gypsy camp: Authorities are suspect, ideas are brilliant and essential, everyone talks, laughs, jokes, loves language and ideas and shouts over each other on the regular. More decorum at work is the rule. But I like to bring a little smidgen of that happy anarchy to the shop; it helps lighten the mood and allows us to be bold.”
Best piece of work advice from her kids: “To be strong, to be kind and to take hilarious delight in every day.”
The working parent misconception that she’d like to go away: “That you’re less as the sum of your experiences. I don’t find that to be true at all. On the contrary, I find my life immeasurably enriched as a mother and professional in weird complementary ways I would never have dreamed of. The more we can see each other as being people with nuanced, layered, complex lives, the better it will be for our understanding of the world, each other and the business we’re in, which is storytelling and communication.”
Senior Sales Executive
Focused on growing partnerships with Fortune 100 clients, Bourke looks to leverage the passion point of music to drive business results through customized advertising solutions.
Best piece of work advice from her kid: “Whenever Kayla wanted something that was extremely important to her, she would create a presentation on why she wanted it and the benefits of getting it. While her argument may have been a little one-sided, her use of images minus words kept me focused on what she was saying. Her art of storytelling continues to inspire me in how I craft my work presentations.”
The working parent misconception that she’d like to go away: “The concept of work/life balance cannot be attained. The definition of work-life balance is different for everyone. For me, I’ve made a conscious effort to blur the lines between the two worlds.”
Finding role models: “It is nice to be in an industry that celebrates and acknowledges the success of working mothers. I am fortunate to work with some inspiring and strong working mothers and women whom I can learn from and share similar situations.”
As Zambezi’s fearless leader, Freeman has grown the agency from a startup to one of the largest female-owned businesses in the industry, earning her the reputation for being a top advocate for the advancement of women in advertising.
How motherhood helps her succeed at work: “It has taught me so much about empathy. This transformation has been extremely helpful in how I manage people today.”
How work success helps her succeed at motherhood: “Setting expectations. My kids are old enough now to take on their own responsibilities. Holding them accountable has enabled them to build more confidence and trust.”
Best piece of work advice from her kids: “More snacks at the office!”
Her must-have working parent tech tool: “Our daily schedule is actually not digital, it’s analog. Everyone in the house can see the schedule and chores for the day on our weekly calendar. It’s been great for teaching the kids responsibility.”
Michele Thornton Ghee
SVP of Media Sales
After working for media giants such as CNN, A&E, The History Channel and The Weather Channel, Thornton Ghee joined BET Her in 2012, where she and her team are charged with growing the network’s revenue base.
How motherhood helps her succeed at work: “It’s helped me succeed at life. I have learned to maximize time, prioritize what’s important, multitask, operate with vision and passion, give back to those in need, say no, eliminate time stealers from my life, ask for what I’ve earned, love unselfishly and understand that failure is not an option because it’s now bigger than me.”
How work helps her succeed at motherhood: “I’ve set a tone in my house (with the help of my husband) that hard work pays off. My kids absolutely understand that to whom much is given, much is required. They know that when you rise up, you have to reach back.”
The most embarrassing thing she’s done as a working parent: “I brought my kids to work and allowed them to take off their shoes and make themselves at home. When I couldn’t find one of my children I went on a search to find that child in my boss’s office with his feet on the desk.”
SVP and General Sales Manager
McCarthy masterminds ad sales for NCAA March Madness, the NBA, MLB and the PGA while exposing her family to the power and excitement of the business and sports worlds.
How motherhood helps her succeed at work: “By providing clarity and allowing me to focus on what is important. The life lessons that my children are going through now as teenagers help me with my relationships at work. ‘Work hard, play hard,’ ‘Be true to yourself,’ ‘Make sure no one sits alone at lunch’ and ‘Don’t worry about everyone liking you, they won’t’ are all things I try to follow as well.”
Best piece of work advice from her kids: “Slay the dragons.”
The working parent misconception that she’d like to go away: “That working parents are better or smarter than stay-at-home parents. Many parents who get the privilege of having a successful career are supported by a smart and generous stay-at-home partner. Both jobs are what you make of them, and those who are most successful fully dedicate themselves and use their natural strengths and talents to create an aspirational work or family environment.”
Deutsch Los Angeles
Since joining Deutsch in 2003, Getty has driven the development of new practice areas for the agency, including experiential marketing, music, PR and DLAtino. In her “spare” time she’s an adjunct professor at USC and sits on the board of the University of Georgia’s Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication.
How motherhood helps her succeed at work: “One of the great things about kids is that they aren’t afraid of the unvarnished truth. They tell it like it is: ‘Your joke isn’t funny. Your skirt doesn’t fit well.’ It’s refreshing and a great reminder to put authenticity of communication and connection at the front of every interaction. It brings out the best in you and those around you.”
The difference between being a manager at work and at home: “I genuinely don’t know that it differs. When I set up my Uber app, I erroneously made Deutsch ‘home’ and my actual home, ‘work.’ I’ve never changed it. The mashing together of my work and home life is what makes them both work.”
The working parent misconception that she’d like to go away: “It’s limiting to look at parenting issues as only issues for women. At Deutsch, we’ve expanded our moms’ group to include dads, and when we introduced a four-day work-week policy for returning parents, we made it available to everyone. Broadening our policies and our perspective on parenting to include dads deepens empathy within an organization.”
President of U.S. Beauty
Johnson & Johnson Consumer
Beginning her career at J&J in 1999 as a brand manager for Neutrogena, Freyre now oversees the company’s entire high-profile portfolio of beauty brands including Aveeno, Clean and Clear, Lubriderm and others.
How motherhood helps her succeed at work: “Before I was a mom, I was a flexible leader and could go with the flow. But being a mom really takes it to another level. Children are the best at teaching you about the unpredictable, and because of that, I’m much calmer and completely comfortable with ambiguity at work, which has made me an even stronger leader.”
The difference between being a manager at work and at home: “At work, you focus on making fact-based decisions quickly and efficiently and moving on to the next challenge. At home, I don’t believe in being a manager. I strongly believe that you need to leave your ‘managing’ role at work because situations and decisions require deeper conversations, more emotions are involved, things feel more personal and you can’t delegate problem-solving to other people.”
Really understanding moms: “Before I became a mom, I didn’t understand everything a working mom needed to juggle. But afterward, I was surprised at how little me-time I had to do things like getting a manicure and hair color. This insight has helped me better speak to and serve our consumer and provide her with healthy solutions so that she can still feel healthy and beautiful.”
President and Chief Client Officer
As one of the agency’s U.S. client leads, Knecht, a 20-plus-year agency vet, oversees Starcom’s Performics arm and New York office, in addition to half its client roster. Meanwhile, she stays tuned in to her GroupMe app to keep track of her two daughters’ practices, games and last-minute schedule changes.
Best piece of work advice from her kids: “They’ve witnessed me many times prepare for a new business pitch or a speaking engagement and always say, ‘Don’t be nervous, Mom, be yourself.’”
The working parent misconception that she’d like to go away: “That you can’t do both. Yes, it requires help and a fantastic support system of family and friends, but I would like to think that I’m proof of it being achievable.”
Be accountable to your priorities: “Through the years, I have made concerted choices to slow down in my career and speed up when I was ready. Never once did I feel stalled or overlooked because of having a family. I strongly encourage others to have a voice, be honest about your priorities and don’t sell yourself short. Don’t hold yourself back because of your family. You can do both to your fullest potential.”
President, North America
Over her two-decade-long career, Smith has worked with numerous blue-chip marketers like Coca-Cola, American Express, Verizon, P&G, Johnson & Johnson and Mondelēz. She is also a member of the 4A’s Committees for Account Management and High School Leadership.
How motherhood helps her succeed at work: “My perspective about work and life is much healthier, that’s for sure. The health and well-being of my children are most important to me. This really is the foundation of my every day, which allows me to easily make decisions and focus on the big picture. I’ve learned not to sweat the small stuff and to just get it done, or delegate it!”
The most embarrassing thing she’s done as a working parent: “I went to a client presentation four days after the birth of my third child and dropped him off with our office manager. But this was 20 years ago. I think a client would be mortified today if I did that. But back then, it felt like the thing to do.”
Her must-have working parent tech tool: “Find My Friends—I don’t know how I functioned prior to this app. There is great comfort in knowing where all my family is, regardless of the time zone I’m in. We all track each other, and it’s equally comforting for the kids.”
SVP of Integrated Media
Leading integrated media for clients like Burberry, Ben & Jerry’s and Sonos, Casser also plays a pivotal role revamping the agency’s new business strategy to maximize growth in the U.S. and to elevate its reputation beyond performance and digital.
The difference between being a manager at work and at home: “In my mind, they aren’t different. I’ve always talked to my kids as though they were adults, so I often use the same tactics with them that I use with my teams in the office.”
The working parent misconception that she’d like to go away: “That it’s this huge accomplishment. I am a professional and I have kids. It’s just a fact. Everyone praises me for being ‘wonder woman,’ and while it’s nice to get the acknowledgment that I have an extra set of demands on my time, it’s just the nature of life.”
No compromises: “I think that having a successful career is as gratifying and rewarding as being a parent, and no woman should ever feel that they have to compromise one for the other. I’ve always had the good fortune to work for companies who fully embraced the fact that I’m a single mom and am truly good at my job.”
Ritzcovan joined Bazaarvoice in 2015 after 20 years of experience in print, digital media and software sales. She runs the company’s global field sales organization.
The difference between being a manager at work and at home: “They are very similar. You want to make sure your leadership and parenting styles are consistent. Expectation-setting and overall coaching are constant. In addition, just having continuous progress is key.”
The working parent misconception that she’d like to go away: “That you never get quality time with your partner. Honestly, it’s all up to you two. My husband and I waited over 20 years to extend our family and we really worried about our quality time evaporating. So, we decided to have date night every Friday and a lunch date once over the weekend. It gives us good quality time to catch up.”
Her must-have working parent tech tool: “Vimtag, the camera in my daughter’s room. Because I travel so much it’s a wonderful way for me to check in from any country in real time and see how Mathilda is doing with her nanny or just see her resting peacefully. I just love that face!”
SVP of Global Marketing
Kadlec shapes Visa’s strategy for multiple marketing platforms, including Advertising Agency and Content Centers of Excellence, Data and Tech and Visa.com.
How motherhood helps her succeed at work: “My first global job at Johnson & Johnson opened my eyes to the importance of seeing the world and experiencing it in a meaningful way. Exposure to different cultures and ways of thinking has made me a better person and a better parent. My oldest daughter Lexie majored in international studies and has lived in Santiago, Chile, for the past five years. I hope that my appreciation for the world beyond the U.S. was an influence on the amazing journey she is on.”
Best piece of work advice from her kids: “Put your phone down. When you’re home, be home. Being a mom is forever, but you will never get back the moments you miss at home day-to-day.”
The most embarrassing thing she’s done as a working parent: “I returned an unassembled tricycle because there were only three wheels in the box.”
Deputy Managing Director
A 26-year veteran in the public relations industry recognized for her work with Constellation Brands, Elkay, Master Lock and Turtle Wax, Aaron is also credited for expanding Zeno’s relationship with Sears Holdings to a multi-million-dollar business.
How motherhood helps her succeed at work: “It has put work in perspective for me and vice versa. There are so many opportunities to worry about ‘stuff,’ whether it is timelines or soccer practice, that you’re forced to focus on what matters—making connections, growing relationships and being positive.”
The working parent misconception that she’d like to go away: “I think it’s funny when working moms talk about finding the balance. I often say that the balance I’ve achieved is recognizing that there is no balance. No day is ever the same. Schedules can change at a moment’s notice. The need to be flexible in all aspects of life makes you a better person and a better mother.”
The most embarrassing thing she’s done as a working parent: “My kids and husband have called me on ‘messaging’ them.”
EVP and Global Chief Cross-Cultural Officer, UM
EVP and Managing Director, Identity
In her unique dual role, Smalls-Landau is UM’s first ever Chief Cross-Cultural Officer while also serving as managing director of Identity, a cross-cultural strategy/insights/consulting service within IPG Mediabrands.
How motherhood helps her succeed at work: “It has been an accelerator on my journey to succeed and to live in my truth as I am now a role model for my little ones. Additionally, it has helped me slow down, focus and give my undivided attention to the topic or person at hand.”
Best piece of work advice from her kids: “Whenever I’m getting ready for work, putting my makeup on and dressing up, my girls always remind me that I don’t have to do all these things to be beautiful or accepted. I am perfect just the way I am.”
The difference between being a manager at work and at home: “As a mommy, I feel like I have more flexibility and my family is more forgiving. We learn through situations and are able to be humble and say, ‘Sorry’ or ‘Oops, let’s try that again.’ I’m able to exhale. At work, I have to lead my team toward greatness, and this requires being consistently at the ready.”
VP and Head of Research
DeTraglia leads the development, design and implementation of all research initiatives at Hulu, advising business leads on sales strategy, consumer insights, customer acquisition and product design and experience.
The difference between being a manager at work and at home: “People at work are more likely to listen to me and do what I ask—and I generally only have to ask once!”
The working parent misconception that she’d like to go away: “That working parents are less invested in their jobs than employees without kids or less invested in their kids than stay-at-home parents. Also, my ability to be a working mother is hugely dependent on my husband’s equal contribution as a working father—as the question states, this is about working parenthood.”
The most embarrassing thing she’s done as a working parent: “Over the years I’ve had kids inadvertently end up on conference calls when I’ve worked from home. That’s all the more interesting now since we do more video conferencing.”
SVP, Content Partnerships, Turner
Turner Portfolio Strategy and Solutions
Since joining the company in 2015, Superfin has played a key role in developing Turner’s cross-portfolio content partnership strategy and shaping how the company’s portfolio of brands and capabilities are represented to client and agency partners.
Best piece of work advice from her kids: “Once my 5-year-old caught me in a rushed moment, looked me dead in the eye and in what I can only describe as my own voice said, ‘Mom, I know I’m not the one who’s supposed to be telling you things, but take a deep breath and it’ll all be better in a minute.’ I did. And it worked.”
The difference between being a manager at work and at home: “As I try to think of differences, the similarities keep popping up, especially how your vibe is contagious and can set the tone in the best or worst ways depending on how you show up. Also, how lack of sleep and food is tied to bad decision-making and tantrums, so make sure people get their rest and always have extra snacks.”
The working parent misconception that she’d like to go away: “That family leave is a vacation. It’s the fourth trimester of pregnancy; it isn’t long enough, and we have to continue to fight for the rights of moms and dads everywhere to ensure they’re able to get the paid time off they need and are entitled to.”
Her must-have working parent tech tool: “Baby Connect. It tracks everything and allows multiple people to log/view activity. You’re always informed and the data is stored, making it a great reference tool. Fun fact: I changed 2,257 diapers in 2013.”
VP of Audience and Platforms
The New York Times
While managing relationships and strategy with key distribution partners including Google, Facebook, Apple and Snapchat, Grossman-Cohen also co-chairs Women’s Network, a resource group to help Timeswomen thrive in their work. She’s also a coach for PLandUS, an advocate for paid family leave.
The difference between being a manager at work and at home: “It’s a little easier to keep my cool at work—fewer emotions and fewer Magna Tiles to trip over. At work, I can also find time to take a breather and cancel a meeting if I really need to. At home, I can’t cancel a tantrum, but I can be my full self, wear sweats and still feel like a boss.”
How motherhood helps her succeed at work: “It has helped focus me, enforce deadlines to get me home at a reasonable hour, and it’s been a way to keep things in perspective. The hardest, most stressful issues at work became a little less hard and stressful once I had a kid at home.”
How work helps her succeed at motherhood:
“For my whole career I have had to find creative ways to help organizations stay afloat in a challenged industry, grow a thick skin while bearing witness to difficult news events, come up with innovative new ideas to keep users and customers engaged, learn how to cope with some failure and disappointment and juggle a lot of balls. I’d say that’s all good preparation for parenting.”
COO and Partner
The 3% Movement
Until the 3% Movement came along, only 3 percent of creative directors were women. In just a few short years, that number has climbed to 11 percent. But Stromberg and her partners won’t stop till it reaches 50 percent.
Best piece of work advice from her kids: “My youngest son, Soren, often reminds me to live in the moment. He says, ‘That’s a future-Soren problem. It makes more sense to focus on present-Soren’s issues.’ #Outofthemouthofbabes #WiserThanMe.”
The working parent misconception that she’d like to go away: “That working dads don’t want to be actively engaged parents and don’t struggle with work-life integration, too.”
Keeping valued talent: “We are at a tipping point with brands demanding clients have more diverse teams and talent leaving for greener pastures in other industries because they want better work-life integration. We can’t continue with business as usual. Smart agencies are realizing that. Meaningful maternity and paternity leaves, effective post-partum on-ramping programs, boomerang talent programs (like Y&R’s PowerOn) and other efforts to attract and retain working moms and dads are essential to being competitive.”
Chief of Talent and Operations
Park is Y&R Group’s resident Six Sigma Black Belt, which means she is all about operational excellence. To date, she has trained 1,600 Yellow Belts, 300 Green Belts and two Black Belts, and has overseen at least 50 operational improvement projects.
The working parent misconception that she’d like to go away: “That if we leave at 5:00 we stop working at 5:00. My philosophy is that if I’m not in a meeting, I leave work at 5:15 to start my commute home. Emails can easily be read and answered outside of the office so there is no reason to sit at your desk just to catch up on busy work. I’m happy to come home, have dinner with my kids then sit at the kitchen counter to do our homework together.”
The most embarrassing thing she’s done as a working parent: “I thought I’d arranged for a really fun game that the kids could play and understand what I did at the eighth-grade career fair. But all the other parents just brought fun giveaways and candy. And even though (in my opinion) their careers were not as fun and exciting as mine, I didn’t have many visitors to my booth, other than the kids my son dragged over.”
GM of Global Advertising
Singleton leads the charge for Microsoft’s commercial and consumer ad campaigns for Surface, Windows, Office, brand and Cloud. A rabid Seattle Seahawks fan, she also runs the influential MakeWhatsNext campaign that encourages girls to stay in STEM.
How motherhood helps her succeed at work: “I think I am a better mom because I am happy with my career. Work gives me an extra layer of confidence and mental stimulation that brings out the best in me as a mother.”
The difference between being a manager at work and at home: “I actually find them to be similar in nature. You are just dealing with a different level of crisis management.”
Her must-have working parent tech tool: “For parenting, it is the Find Friends app as it helps me know where my boys are when they are not home. For work, basic productivity apps like Outlook and OneNote are must-haves to keep me organized.”
A self-described Jersey Girl, Spiegelman is now firmly entrenched on the Left Coast, where she raises two Cali boys with her husband and golden retriever Frankie, who also serves as Pitch’s mascot and greeter.
Best piece of work advice from her kids: “If you’re the boss, isn’t it okay for you not to go and to hang out with us?”
Her must-have working parent tech tool: “Evernote. Lists are life. And my husband keeps a dry-erase board in our home office with everyone’s schedule color-coded. Sometimes old school is the way.”
Set a good example: “Young women are watching. In any industry, they are watching. So set the best example ever. If I’m in L.A. and don’t have a conflict at night, I leave the office at 6:00 sharp to have dinner with my family and put my kids to bed and nothing gets in the way. And that doesn’t hurt my success; it actually aids it by giving me the recharge I need. This is the example I set—that it’s okay to choose your life, too.”