Starting a business is never easy, and it’s particularly difficult if you happen to be on maternity leave with a three-month-old at home.
But as many of my employees demonstrate every day, it’s not impossible to be a mother with a rich professional life – it’s just a decision that requires the ability to handle a whole lot of inevitable trade-offs. There are days when I feel like a great mom and days when I feel like a great CEO, but it’s always an immense challenge to get those feelings to coincide.
Fortunately, I’m used to trade-offs. When I decided to start my B2B marketing firm, the Ricciardi Group (RG), I was the chief marketing officer at the New York Stock Exchange – a job that provided a level of security and stability that a new business owner can only dream of. But I launched my agency because I knew there was a lack of nimble, highly personal marketing firms out there, despite the fact that companies are increasingly demanding that type of service.
From my years as the CMO at the New York Stock Exchange to my experience advising companies like Goldman Sachs, Omnicon, and Morgan Stanley, I’ve spent my entire career helping business leaders diagnose and solve problems. One of the biggest problems I’ve noticed in the marketing world is the misalignment between service providers and clients. That’s why we always build a team around a company’s unique needs instead of trying to draw upon the same talent pool for all of our projects.
As my company has grown, I’ve learned so many lessons about how to build my team and make sure everyone is in the perfect position to succeed for themselves and our clients. I’ve also learned a thing or two about being a mom with a high-stress job in a rapidly changing industry. Now I’d like to share a few of those lessons with you.
Why my company is an ‘open kitchen.’
If there’s one thing you learn growing up in a huge Italian family in Brooklyn, it’s the value of the kitchen table. There’s nothing better than a home teeming with loved ones, and getting everyone together for a lively discussion at dinner time is always the best part. In a world of smartphones, 24-hour news, and a never-ending torrent of distractions from every direction, it’s easy to forget how much you can learn and grow simply by talking to other human beings.
That’s why I’ve tried to replicate the concept of the open kitchen within the four walls of my agency. By inviting a bunch of talented, hardworking folks with different backgrounds, abilities, and outlooks to the table, we’re able to provide clients with dynamic services that are focused around their specific needs. This doesn’t just mean finding people with the right skills for a project – it means providing an expert who’s genuinely interested in the work a brand is doing. In other words, it requires a constant pursuit of the “alignment” I mentioned above.
For example, one of our clients is a major automotive brand. We have a ton of employees who are experts at telling brand stories, but we also have one who loves cars and works on his Mustang every weekend. An employee can have all the talent in the world, but there’s no substitute for the energy and insight that come with real passion.
Although we have 10 full-time employees, we also have a network of more than 1,000 freelancers who do everything from content strategy to design to writing and editing. This allows us to deploy specialized, bespoke teams that can help a brand allocate its capital as efficiently as possible.
This is consistent with one of my most important business principles: Spend your clients money like you would spend your own. That means having the right people in place to do the job.
Moms belong in the kitchen.
While the title of this section may sound like it belongs in a bygone era, don’t head for the exit just yet! If you’ve been paying attention so far, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about: The open kitchen of your business. Never assume that a working mom will be a less engaged or effective employee than someone else – in my experience, the opposite is true.
I don’t hire working mothers because they need my help – I hire them because they’re often incredibly productive. And don’t just take it from me – a working paper published by the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis in 2014 found that, among academic economists, moms were generally more productive than their colleagues without children. While the study found that moms take a pretty serious productivity hit when their children are young (which won’t shock any parent), they more than make up for it over the rest of their careers.
It’s possible that this isn’t true of working mothers in other fields, and a sample of respondents with PhDs in economics isn’t representative in a whole lot of other ways. But the study should call into question many of the complacent assumptions about working mothers just “looking for something to do” or refusing to put in the hours necessary to do good work.
But there’s no doubt that these unfair assumptions persist in many different fields. In a summary of research on discrimination against working mothers for Harvard Business School, Amy Cuddy and Elizabeth Baily Wolf cite “published findings showing that, in the workplace, mothers are judged as less competent and committed than other kinds of applicants and employees, and as a result are less likely to be hired and promoted.” It’s depressing that so many companies are depriving themselves of talented employees for spurious reasons.
We don’t just hire working mothers, we provide them with the autonomy and flexibility they need to take care of their kids and do their jobs. It isn’t enough to bring as many brilliant employees as possible into your kitchen. You also have to put something valuable on the table. When you do, there’s no end to what your team can accomplish.