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I welcomed my daughter, Palmer, in November and came back to work after 3 months of parental leave thanks to our Stoltz company policy. My anxieties about her future as a female in this state and country are…active. And it’s made me reflect a whole lot on what being a woman in the workplace means to me — and may mean to her in the future.

When Stoltz started its Women in Leadership series, I found myself reading every new set of interview notes searching for something: anything remotely close to an answer of whether you can find true success both being a parent and a professional. Is that goal, as I’ve long feared, just B.S.? 

This notion that we need to find “balance” or “have it all” has haunted me ever since I knew I wanted a career and a family. In fact, I can’t remember a time I wasn’t aware of this push and pull — it’s been lurking in the edges of my experience as a woman since I was a tween.

Clues from adulthood accumulated and the prognosis wasn’t promising. I saw:

  • This scene from Mrs. America that I’ll never forget. (“What is going to happen if you push women out into the workforce is that women are going to find themselves with two full-time jobs, and they’re going to be exhausted and unhappy and feel like they’re not doing either well until eventually they decide not to have children.”)
  • This clip (starting at 3:42) from my dear colleague Deanna in our Gender Gap Confessional that brings tears to my eyes every time I watch it.
  • This spot-on “We’re Americans” social media trend that really hits home, especially the, “We’re Americans. We expect women to work like they don’t mother and mother like they don’t work.”
  • This stat about how breastfeeding a child is the same as a full-time job (1800 hrs/year) and woah do I feel that as I schlepp my pump and breast milk to work and back.
  • And there was a series literally dedicated to exploring this big question: what does successful female leadership look like? Can it include dedicated motherhood, too?

The answer is that there isn’t an answer. And that void is completely unsatisfying — anyone who knows me knows I like results — until I started thinking about it in the frames of my day-to-day as a strategist here at Stoltz. 

Here’s what I’ve learned — and how parenting and marketing find common ground. 

Do your research and stay curious:

While nothing could have truly prepared me for the confusion, joy, exhaustion, and anxiety of parenthood, research really did help. No book can capture it all, but I read my way through some carefully picked titles, asked a lot of questions, and even attended a parenting class. In the midst of the “am I in labor or not” confusion, in the middle of labor, waiting for my milk to come in, and navigating sweating and leaking through my pajamas the week after giving birth, I was super grateful to have some base knowledge of what was “normal” or to be expected. 

In marketing, research can’t tell you everything, but it’s an absolutely crucial step to understand the challenge and opportunities ahead.

Tailor it just for you:

There’s something about injuries, puppies, and babies that makes everyone want to share some advice. While well intentioned, the single best bit of parenting advice I’ve received is that none of it will quite apply, because no other baby is just like your baby. 

No marketing strategy is one-size fits all either.  Knowing what information to take in, vetting it, trying it out, and then ultimately taking the best ingredients that work for you is a great strategy — both for marketing and parenting. 

Stay agile and humble:

Just when my husband and I thought we were hitting our stride with this whole sleeping thing, my daughter woke up 8 times on a Sunday night—leaving us worthless, sleep-deprived zombies who were reminded, once again, that we don’t know anything. What wasn’t working, we asked? While I’m getting more comfortable with the “there is no good answer” path, we looked around, did a little more research, compared that research to our family values, and adjusted our approach. She’s back on track and sleeping better than ever (until the next rough night that’s sure to be ahead). 

We do this in marketing, too. We can’t be complacent. We measure, track, test, iterate, measure again, and keep improving—and always do a gut check to make sure we’re not sacrificing brand core values. Failing fast and learning something is better than not failing at all.

Ask for help:

While my husband and I have a lovely supportive network, we’ve both lost parents — his dad at age 10 and stepdad shortly after our daughter’s birth and both my mom and dad before I turned 27. We’ve developed independence and self-sufficiency in our small family unit…but we knew we couldn’t do this alone. We need friends and family with all kinds of skills and experience—the baby rockers, dog walkers, chefs, cheerleaders, medical experts, and then some. We literally would not have survived our first few months without the overnights, phone calls, and drop offs from our support system.

This “cognitive diversity” and diverse range of lived experience is what makes our team, and our marketing chops, strong at Stoltz, too. We can’t be all things to all people, and we don’t try to be — but we also welcome more perspectives to the table, ask our desk neighbor for help, and believe we’re stronger as a sum of our parts.

Remember human connection fuels everything:

The best way I could describe becoming a mom is that I feel like I’ve been cracked open.  My daughter’s warm body against mine, her curiosity about the world, her sweet smile, and the sound of her voice have altered me as a human being. I have a whole new set of memories and experiences and new definitions of joy, fear, exhaustion, and love to draw inspiration from.

At Stoltz, we do our best work when we can 1) uncover a human-centric insight that inspires a thunderbolt of empathy and 2) ladder that to a strategic creative approach that makes you feel, pause, and act. Making sure we’re making time to experience those feelings ourselves is absolutely essential to being good marketers. And our people-first policies — like 12 weeks of parental leave — help us bring our best selves to work.

Stand for something:

As a new mom, I’m as fired up as I’ve ever been about gender inequity in the workplace, the gender pay gap, and our country’s brazen lack of parental leave support. As my colleague, Mitch, said in his op-ed: “Especially in a state that’s gone to great lengths to champion the rights of unborn children, shouldn’t our support of that child extend beyond the womb?” 

In a world where brands are looked to more and more to show up authentically and act as more of a human enterprise, I believe that the brands that stand for something stand out. And doing the right thing and profitability are not mutually exclusive, they’re symbiotic. We’re encouraging our client partners to uncover, celebrate, and activate their customers, too — so we can change the world for the better, together. 

That’s where the magic of marketing, and I’d argue of any fulfilling profession, lies: knowing, at the end of the day, that you made a positive impact and took care of your family in the process. 

I won’t be able to give my daughter a good answer to the question “can you parent and be a professional, too?” either. And that’s okay. I’m ditching the idea of work-life “balance,” exploring work-life harmony, accepting the imperfection of the day-to-day, asking for help, and staying curious.