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C-Suite Moms: “Being a mom makes me better at everything.” with Molly Gravholt and Jessica Abo

Being a mom makes me better at everything. I think I’m much calmer now as a mother — it certainly puts all drama and crises into perspective. I also think I’m more empathetic now than I was. By nature, I’m a deeply analytical and objective person and didn’t used to like mixing business and personal — but having kids […]


Being a mom makes me better at everything. I think I’m much calmer now as a mother — it certainly puts all drama and crises into perspective. I also think I’m more empathetic now than I was. By nature, I’m a deeply analytical and objective person and didn’t used to like mixing business and personal — but having kids and a family just naturally spills over into every aspect of your life. For me at least, it has given me more opportunities to connect with people in the workplace. Another big way that being a mom has made me better at my job is that it’s made me better at celebrating the individual. My kids are all so different and my husband I have put a lot of thought and effort into understanding each of their unique drives and needs. It has made me much more aware of those unique drives and needs in our employees, and to celebrate the individual.


As a part of my series about “C-Suite Moms” I had the pleasure to interview Molly Gravholt, Chief Financial Officer and Chief Operating Officer, Community Health Charities. Molly is a CPA with over 15 years of experience in nonprofit financial management. She began her career at Clifton Gunderson (now CliftonLarsonAllen) and served as an Audit Manager with a focus on nonprofit audits. After leaving public accounting, she assumed the role of Vice President of Finance with AchieveMPLS, a nonprofit partner of the Minneapolis Public Schools. Then, as Vice President of Finance with the Minnesota affiliate of Community Health Charities, Molly oversaw the creation of the Minneapolis Service Center when the national office implemented a shared services model for their state affiliates. She moved to Washington, DC in 2011 to assume the role of CFO at the national office of Community Health Charities and took over management of all four local shared Service Centers and ultimately oversaw the full legal consolidation of 30+ state affiliates into a single national organization. Today, she serves as COO of that consolidated entity, overseeing accounting, human resources, operations, and IT/data services.


Thank you so much for joining us! Can you share with us how many children you have?

I have threechildren. A daughter, age 15. And two sons, ages 12 and 9.

Where were you in your career when your child was born/became part of your family?

I had my first child while still in public accounting in Southern Arizona. I had just been promoted to manager and absolutely loved my job but the inflexibility of client work, coupled with a grueling travel schedule, quickly made me question my future in the industry. Our partners at the time were almost exclusively men and there was no precedent (at least not in my office) for accommodating working moms — especially not those on the partner track. Thankfully, my niche practice area had been nonprofits and I had long noticed a high level of flexibility and work/life balance enjoyed by many of my CFO clients. So when I left public accounting, I knew making the jump into the nonprofit sector was the perfect next career step.

Did you always want to be a mother? Can you explain?

Yes, definitely. And I also always wanted a fulfilling career as well. And I think because I had that awareness from the start that children would be part of my future, I was on the lookout for opportunities and career paths, even before kids were actually in the equation.

Did motherhood happen when you thought it would or did it take longer? If it took longer, what advice would you have for another woman in your shoes?

It actually happened sooner than I was expecting. I was still quite young, only 25, when I got pregnant with our daughter. I’d already been married a few years but had very specific career goals I wanted to achieve before starting a family. Looking back on it now though, I think it was the best thing that could have ever happened to me. I am a very goal-oriented, focused person (classic type-A personality) and I had my whole life planned out. The little 9-lb bomb that was dropped in the middle of my perfectly plotted life forced me to become infinitely more flexible.

Can you tell us a bit about what your day-to-day schedule looks like?

I get up every morning around 6:30 to be showered and ready before my oldest heads off to High School at 7:30AM. It gives us a few minutes alone over breakfast to talk about her day. Then my boys wander down soon after and between my husband and I, we oversee the breakfast-eating, lunch-making, teeth-brushing madness. We’re lucky in that the boy’s school doesn’t start until 9:15 allowing them to wake up naturally every morning and not have to rush. Our old school had a much earlier start time and the pressure to get everyone fed, clothed and out the door really had a negative impact on everyone’s start to the day. Then I head to the office about 8:15 once I know everything is under control and the morning routine is underway. Thankfully, my husband and I are on slightly different schedules. He is a late riser like the boys and is home with them until they head to school, which then allows me to be home most days with the kids in the afternoon. Now that my kids are getting older, after-school activities dominate most evenings. My oldest two are very involved in Tae Kwon Do (my 15 year old daughter is a second degree black belt and now an instructor at the school, and my 12 year old son is a new first degree black belt) and we all spend many hours at the studio. I’m grateful to have a job that allows me to work from almost anywhere so I’m on a first name basis with all of the baristas at the next-door Starbucks — I call it my office away from the office — and take advantage of those extra hours each day to do my strategic thinking… and keep my inbox at a manageable level.

Has being a parent changed your career path? Can you explain?

Absolutely. I don’t know that I would have sought out nonprofits if I hadn’t seen a higher focus on work/life balance through my exposure in public accounting. Knowing that I would more likely find a place that would accommodate a working mom factored heavily into my decision to make the move.

Has being a mother made you better at your job? How so?

Being a mom makes me better at everything. I think I’m much calmer now as a mother — it certainly puts all drama and crises into perspective. I also think I’m more empathetic now than I was. By nature, I’m a deeply analytical and objective person and didn’t used to like mixing business and personal — but having kids and a family just naturally spills over into every aspect of your life. For me at least, it has given me more opportunities to connect with people in the workplace. Another big way that being a mom has made me better at my job is that it’s made me better at celebrating the individual. My kids are all so different and my husband I have put a lot of thought and effort into understanding each of their unique drives and needs. It has made me much more aware of those unique drives and needs in our employees, and to celebrate the individual.

What are the biggest challenges you face being a working mom?

Balancing the demands of job and family is always a challenge. But I really love the fast pace. I’m honestly more anxious about how I’m going to fill my days once the kids are gone. I always joke with my husband about where my excess energies will go once we are empty nesters, because I don’t think he can handle the full focus of my attention. And he agrees.

Overall though, I’m just really blessed to have the full support of my husband and kids (he uprooted his life and career to follow me out here to Washington DC) even though I know it’s sometimes difficult on them. I work a lot of hours. I’m rarely unplugged from the office. But I’m so grateful that I’ve been able to keep working and progressing in my career while also being able to focus on being a mom.

Are there any meaningful activities or traditions you’ve made up or implemented that have enhanced your time with your family? Can you share a story or example?

We travel a lot. This year, we’re planning a trip to Austria. Last year, it was Spain. We do beach Christmas every year in lieu of presents. We also head out west to visit my parents and in-laws several times a year. Plus, my husband and I take turns taking quick weekend getaways with one of our children. Every kid gets at least one alone trip a year. I was just in Austin, TX last month with our 9-year-old son.

One of the main reasons that travel works for us is because it really forces everyone to unplug. And the kids are all still of an age where they like to spend time with us so we figure we need to make the most of it while that’s still the case!

We all live in a world with many deadlines and incessant demands for our time and attention. That inevitably makes us feel rushed and we may feel that we can’t spare the time to be “fully present” with our children. Can you share with our readers 3–5 strategies about how we can create more space in our lives in order to give our children more quality attention?

● Take plenty of meaningful time away. I’m lucky enough to have a lot of vacation days — I make sure to take them.

● Protect your time outside of work and with your family. I’m not going to stay up late baking for a school class party when I can buy it.

● Be aware of your own mental and physical health. I don’t sweat the small stuff so very little gets me down but if I start to feel overwhelmed, I’m good at asking for what I need and practicing self-care. My husband always says I’m shark and I’ll die if I stop swimming but that’s not always true. I just have to be aware of when I’m about to hit a wall and take steps to get back into the right frame of mind.

How do you inspire your child to “dream big”? Can you give an example or story?

What we try to inspire our kids to do is to know themselves. Know what makes them happy. And then we try to instill the tools they need to succeed at whatever it is that will make them happy.

What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources that inspire you to be a better parent? Can you explain why you like them?

After we moved to a new house four years ago, which necessitated a school transfer for the kids, we started seeing a Cognitive Behavioral Therapist just to help everyone with the transition. It was a wonderful experience and I am still in touch with her from time to time as little things arise, and I need advice. The work we did with her was so practical and common-sense, but it had a big impact on the overall tone of our family.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote” that you share or plan to share with your kids?

I have a few that the kids hear again and again. One is that our family practices “radical inclusivity” — everyone is in. We talk often and passionately about inclusion and acceptance. We don’t hide a lot from them as far as current events. We talk about uncomfortable things because I think awareness is key. Like Maya Angelou said, “when you know better, you do better”.

I also am a huge believer in apologizing when you do any harm. I feel very strongly about accountability. And what we teach them is that you apologize early and without qualification. I tell them often that crow is a dish best served warm.

Then several years ago, the kids actually made up their own family rules and quote them to each other quite often. I love them and think they perfectly illustrate our family dynamic. The first rule is “do not hurt” — with words or actions — and I think it shows their compassion. The second rule is “never trust a fart” — and I think that one speaks for itself.

If you could sit down with every new parent and offer life hacks, must-have products or simple advice, what would be on your list?

Just trust yourself. There’s a lot of noise out there, especially when it comes to kids, do your best to tune it out and do what works for you.

Thank you so much for these insights! We really appreciate your time.

About the Author:

Jessica Abo believes no matter where we are in our careers, relationships or level of activism — we are all a work in progress. Her debut book, Unfiltered: How To Be As Happy As You Look On Social Media was released in August 2018 and sold out on its first day. Women’s Health Magazine named Unfiltered #1 on its list of self-love books and it was selected to be in the official GRAMMY Awards gift bag. To bring her book to life, Jessica launched a collection of statement tees and hoodies at New York Fashion Week. Jessica has spoken about her research and #liveunfiltered movement on The TODAY Show, Access Hollywood, ABC News, KTLA and in dozens of publications including Forbes, Fast Company and SHAPE.

A multi-award-winning television journalist, Jessica spent 15 years working as a television anchor and reporter. She started her own production company, JaboTV, in 2013, which profiles athletes, celebrities, CEOs, entrepreneurs and changemakers. Her videos appear weekly on Entrepreneur.com.

Jessica’s nationwide speaking tour has taken her to Facebook, Microsoft, Delta Airlines, Weight Watchers, TEDx, the United Nations and hundreds of conferences, nonprofits, universities and schools. In her spare time, Jessica is a passionate philanthropist, having raised more than a million dollars for several causes by organizing her own galas. Jessica sits on several boards and committees and contributes to their recruiting and fundraising efforts.

Jessica received both her bachelor and master degrees from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. You may have spotted her, cast as herself, in several shows and movies including: House of Cards, Gossip Girl, Nurse Jackie, Girl Most Likely, Delivery Man and The Amazing Spider-Man 2.

A New Yorker at heart, Jessica now lives in Los Angeles with her husband and their daughter.

www.jessicaabo.com

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