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Joann Lublin: How executive mothers navigate work and life

WSJ veteran and author Joann Lublin writes about 5 decades in the workforce, what's changed for women and what challenges remain, especially for mothers.

5 min read


Joann Lublin: How executive mothers navigate work and life

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When Joann S. Lublin entered the workplace in the 1970s, it was very much a man’s world. Male managers made decisions about the workplace rooted in their worldview, namely that it’s a man’s world. Nowhere was this attitude more prevalent than in how women would advance their careers in this world. Such a bias challenged women to make choices about their career and their family life.

Five decades later, women still have the same choices, and while biases persist, women in management have challenged workplace rules, women have greater freedom to make the choices that work best for themselves and their families. Lublin, a long-time reporter, editor and columnist for the Wall Street Journal, writes about this in her newest book, “Power Moms: How Executive Mothers Navigate Work and Life.”

Lublin, a winner of the Pulitzer Prize in 2003, interviewed 86 mothers from the two generations and 25 adult daughters of the baby boomers. She learned from each demonstrates how the workplace has changed and how things are much better for women – yet, careerwise, are more challenging than for their male counterparts.

In a recent interview for my LinkedIn Live show, “Grace under pressure,” Joann shared insights on how mothers make the right choices in today’s workplace.


On “poor mothering”

Unconscious bias of what motherhood should be like often gives women guilt.

“It’s the idea that we all have sort of fixed notions of what a successful mother is,” says Lublin. “And as a successful mother, someone who is working real hard to be successful in her career for many years in our society, these were diametrically opposite roles. And while a lot has changed, and it’s what I observed in reporting this book, we still have these gender stereotypes. And they affect men as well as women.”

Getting rid of the guilt

Self-care is essential. “Taking care of ourselves is not a selfish act,” says Lublin. “It is a selfless act, even if it just means that you set your alarm 10 minutes early, and you meditate where you watch the sunrise because that’s all you have time to do.

Lublin continues, “It could be more significant in that it can be negotiating with your partner, with your significant other to trade-off blocks of time in the middle of the workday, where you get to go for a walk or the bike ride.” This practice is very important when working from home.

Lublin also notes a story that one of her interviewees takes a vacation day to have a “special day” with each child once per quarter. It is something that Lublin herself did when she was in London and with her two children. One time, Lublin laughs, her son insisted on spending the entirety of his special day in a toy store.

Advice to young women

Preparing for work-life means thinking about the right spouse.

“If you want an engage in a long-term relationship with me and you want to have children, we need to be taking a co-parenting attitude towards how we raise our kids,” says Lublin. “And we need to talk about these issues before we have kids, after we have kids and while the kids are growing up, because our needs, their needs, our careers are all going to be in a constant state of flux.”

Choosing the right employer

Lublin suggests that women choosing an employer should look past the gloss and adopt a “deep dive” approach.

“Don’t look at the slick videos at the recruiting website that are showing all these happy parents playing with children. That means nothing. It means that they’re really good at producing slick videos. You need to reach out and talk to people who are working there.”

Further, Lublin advises applying due diligence by talking to retirees, finding out about the employer’s employee resource groups and website ratings. Working Mother Media maintains a database of the best workplaces for mothers and fathers.

“Secret weapon”

As part of her research, Lublin also interviewed adult daughters of Boomer mothers. While some daughters had a tense relationship with their mothers as teenagers, those that entered the workforce saw their mothers as an advantage.

“These adult daughters suddenly saw mom as their secret weapon. She was their career coach who could help them open doors, who could make networking connections, who could coach them about that job interview,” Lublin says, “and who could guide them when they had to make incredibly difficult decisions as first-time supervisors. And then when it came time to move on to another employer, repeat the whole process all over again.”

Gender equity in management remains a challenge. Voices like Lublin’s, who have lived the struggle and now write about it, enable us to see with greater clarity the issues before us and the action steps necessary for further progress.


John Baldoni is a globally recognized executive coach and leadership educator. ranked John a Top 50 Leadership Expert and Top 100 leadership speaker. Trust Across America awarded John its Lifetime Achievement award for Trust and Global Gurus ranked him No. 9 on its list of Top 30 leadership experts. John is the author of 14 books, including GRACE: A Leader’s Guide to a Better Us.

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