Have you ever thought about managing a two-person career search with your partner? Or wondered how you should approach compromising on whose career gets priority at different points? Or how you will split up responsibilities once kids come into the picture to ensure both people remain fulfilled in their careers?
These are questions MBA students might encounter at some point of their lives but are not necessarily discussed enough or given sufficient coaching when we are at business schools. As part of the Women’s History Month celebrations, Chicago Women in Business (CWiB) and Mothers at Booth reached out to alumni who are 8-10 years out of business school and asked them to share some stories about how they’ve approached navigating their dual career lives. Following the prior post, we have Anat Gotfried, 14’ here!
Tell us a bit about yourself and your experience at Booth.
I’m going to blend my professional and family background in this introduction because that will make my experience come to life. When I began my MBA , I had a background in computer science, equity research and consulting; I was married and had a four month old baby boy. With my blend of diverse experiences and knowing that I didn’t want to travel extensively, I chose to get into marketing and joined Kraft Foods after my MBA. Instead of taking some time off between my MBA and my new job, I joined Kraft immediately and went on maternity leave again with my second child. I continued pursuing marketing in a smaller wine company where I would have a bigger impact (and a built in social life). Although it was convenient, I found myself missing technology and data as well as surrounding myself with people that were experts in their respective fields. It was then that I decided to join McDonalds as part of their Global Digital Customer Engagement team. With the increased investment in technology and consumer experience, this was the perfect career transition. I think that Booth played a pivotal role in my network and I try to join Booth events whenever possible.
What were some of the specific considerations you had before deciding to start a family? Did it affect your career choice post Booth?
I think it boiled down to how I viewed my future. After I got married, I tried to imagine the following scenario: You are 50 years old and making reservations at a nice restaurant and they ask you how many people are in your party…what is your response? For me the intuitive response was five. Additionally, I tried to think of what would make me happy in the future and knowing that I travel a lot, I thought that three kids would keep my life interesting and vibrant and I would have a lot to keep me “full” emotionally and really busy as I function best when I’m 100% busy. Then, I tried to think of what kind of parent I wanted to be and decided that I wanted to be a young mom; done having kids by 35 so that I had plenty of time to enjoy after my kids left the house. It wasn’t easy to think of these things at 29, but I knew that if I didn’t have kids soon, I wouldn’t be able to say “party of five” to that restaurant host. Just like anything else, you envision the outcome and back into what you need to do to accomplish it.
It certainly affected my career. I think that is partially because we are a dual career couple which makes everything more difficult. My husband’s job included a lot of travel and meetings at odd times of the early morning and night. There is no doubt that I took a career hit in favor of a family, but, now that my kids are a bit older, I feel a second wind in my career and I’m glad that I don’t have any more pregnancies on the horizon. No regrets whatsoever.
Since you and your partner are both working and moving up the ranks, what were some of the conversations you had to make sure both of you experienced a well-balanced family and work life?
My husband is the Chief Commercial Officer of a startup and I am a Manager at McDonalds in a hyper growth team. We realized early on that we needed as much support as we could afford so that we could focus on work, enjoy our kids, and have some time to ourselves. You can’t be perfect in every aspect of your life so you need to outsource what you can’t handle. For us, it was getting au pairs from other countries to help with the childcare, living with us with a flexible schedule. It was important for us to reduce the stress of managing a household and family as much as possible so that we could focus on high quality time with our kids and at our jobs without worrying about logistics quite as much.
As a dual career couple with children, what do you think works well for you?
I definitely take on the majority of the kids’ work and my husband takes care of the house work. Of course, I have help with childcare but I’m still the one making the doctor’s appointments and signing them up for classes.
I would like to say that we split everything 50/50, but that view came crashing down pretty early on as we settled into our roles as parents. It also makes sense because I travel less and transferring knowledge of everything from one parent to the other is too much work.
Did you feel at times that being a mom restricted your access to opportunities at work? How did you mitigate that?
Yes, it did. I felt it most when I was pregnant and looking for a job. I could tell what people were thinking when they saw my bump and I don’t blame them. If you are looking for someone to hit the ground running, the last thing you want is someone who can’t do that or, if they do, will then lose all of the momentum they had. I traveled every week while consulting until I was eight months pregnant and it was horrible—I was nauseous on the flights, and I took forever to get ready in the hotel because I would get hot from the hair dryer. All this while trying to maintain my professional facade was exhausting. I tried to prove to myself that I was the same instead of accepting my current situation which, to me, felt like defeat. I don’t recommend this to anyone and I think that pregnancy is the best opportunity to get efficient with the time management that is needed when you are no longer pregnant. The trick is change an attitude of “working hard” to “working smart and efficiently,” which is key when you work and have kids.
Any advice for students who are considering when would be the perfect time to start a family?
This is so specific to each individual and dependent on so many variables. We also lack the ability to look back and say that having kids at time X was a bad decision because humans aren’t wired that way.
My best advice is, look at your age (sorry, but it’s a factor), the number of kids you want one day and work back from that one day. Things find a way of working themselves out and when you become pregnant and have kids, your ability to prioritize becomes easier. I took definite advantage of grade non-disclosure having a four month old at home. Wanting to make use of my time and money as best I could, I made sure to take harder classes and learn as much as possible, even if that meant a B instead of an A. I tried to perfect the 80/20 rule and always considered the marginal effect any effort would have on my grade vs. marginal impact that it would or wouldn’t make.
How has Chicago Booth supported you as a mother and a student?
Right off the bat, they allowed me to attend the leadership retreat with my baby and my mom! My son was the token baby and Booth helped make that happen.
The Mothers at Booth group was so helpful to connect with others who were in the same situation and I took my son to music classes at University of Chicago as well. The flexible schedule is phenomenal because I could sign up for evening and weekend classes if I needed extra nanny hours for school work and group study. There is always more that can be done but I was lucky enough to have a nanny and aside from some FOMO due to missing social events, I wasn’t negatively impacted.
Any tips for moms applying to MBA programs?
I took on a consultant. Personally, I work well with a coach and it brings out the best in me. I currently have a coach for fitness and a life coach. Knowing that both you and your spouse are likely very busy, it’s a luxury to have someone dedicated and focused 100% on you and bring out the best in you. It’s worth it and will keep your focused and put things in perspective.
How has this current time period caused you to reevaluate your priorities?
I’m in a unique space now where I want to continue working from home a few times a week but also have a strong urge to travel. My priorities are the same but I think that it’s possible to balance them better. My priorities have always been family and then work but now I think experiences, travel, and seeing loved ones will take center stage once we get out of this pandemic.
How do you stay connected to the Booth community and how do the Booth network and skills you learned here continue to serve you in your career?
I live in the northern suburbs of Chicago so I’m lucky enough to be able to attend events. I’ve done high tea with Booth Alumni women and various panel discussions. I love coming back to campus; I get motivation just being in the building. It’s amazing how much energy you get from being at Booth.
Anything you would like to share regarding the value of women in your network?
I specifically remember writing an article for the Booth Magazine about having a baby at Booth. I think that was the single most impactful thing I did while I was at Booth to bring awareness to the fact that there were parents amongst us. There were many unofficial mentors along the way but one that stuck out for me is a woman who has four girls, has a wealth management career and supports her whole family, but also runs marathons and is on the board for a non-profit. She inspired me to shoot for a Boston qualifying time and she makes it all look easy even while she is complaining at times. I always seek out those people who push forward in life on all cylinders (work/family/community) and do it with an elegance that I can only wish I had.
Anything else you would like to share?
Remember that things won’t always go as you had planned. I know people who had a plan for the optimal time for having kids and what their career would look like but things don’t always go as planned so you need to be flexible. I recommend starting early if you can because the experience of having kids teaches you so much about yourself and shows you what you are capable of. Also, the work efficiency of a working mom is unparalleled so I view it as an advantage.