Being fully present with our children begins with being fully present ourselves. It always begins us. The first strategy is to tune in on a consistent basis. When we take the time to tune in, everyone and everything around us benefits. I spend a minimum of 15 minutes in the morning and evening in quiet time and reflection.
As a part of my series about C-Suite Moms, I had the distinct pleasure to interview Chinwe Esimai. Chinwe is an award-winning lawyer, author, and speaker who is passionate about inspiring generations of immigrant women leaders. She is Managing Director and Chief Anti-Bribery Officer at Citigroup, Inc. She is the first to hold this title at Citi. Her role covers all of Citi’s lines of business and over 200,000 employees worldwide. Prior to Citi, she spent a combined five years at Goldman Sachs, in various regulatory risk management roles. She was a law professor at the University of St. Thomas School of Law. She began her career as a corporate associate at LeBoeuf, Lamb, Greene & MacRae, LLP. She obtained a B.A. in Political Science, summa cum laude, from the City College of NY, and Juris Doctor from Harvard Law School.
Thank you so much for joining us Chinwe! Can you tell us the “backstory” behind what brought you to this point in your career?
The seeds of my passion for anti-bribery work were sewn at an early age. I grew up in Nigeria and relocated to the United States in 1995, right before college. Growing up in Nigeria, conversations about anti-bribery and corruption dominated conversations in politics and at the dinner table. I love my work because it raises the standard on how countries around the world do business.
I first had the opportunity to do anti-bribery work as a law professor when I taught law and finance in emerging markets. I subsequently returned to Goldman Sachs and had the opportunity to work in their anti-bribery group. Citigroup hired me from Goldman, and this led to my current role as Chief Anti-Bribery Officer, which is one of the most rewarding roles in my professional life.
My commitment to serving immigrant women leaders was born while I was a law professor. One of my law students, an immigrant from China, was brilliant, but lacked confidence. After an unsuccessful quest to find resources to support her — resources focused entirely on inspiring immigrant women leaders — it became clear to me that I was being called to serve. I created resources I wish existed — actionable tools to help American Dream Queens live a life of purpose.
Can you share with us how many children you have?
I have three children: a 13 year old son, a 10 year old daughter, and a seven year old son.
Where were you in your career when your child was born/became part of your family?
My first child was born after I began practicing law and had made the transition from being a corporate associate at a large law firm to an in-house role.
My second and third children were born while I was serving as a Vice President at Goldman Sachs.
Did you always want to be a mother? Can you explain?
Yes, I always wanted to be a mother. I’ve always loved children. I love their energy and playfulness. As a high school and college student, and in law school, and as I began on the path towards becoming a lawyer, I fully expected and believed I would be able to balance work and a successful career. While that belief remained, my expectations have been adjusted with regard to specific jobs and career opportunities.
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?
Motherhood did happen when I thought it would. My first son was conceived shortly after my husband and I got married in 2015.
Can you tell us a bit about what your day-to-day schedule looks like?
Part of the beauty is that no two days are exactly the same. I also travel a fair bit for work.
When I am not traveling, I wake up at 4:45 am, spend some time in reflection, and prepare for the day. I have a 50 minute bus ride from New Jersey to New York City. During my commute, I read, write, and spend more time in reflection.
I’m usually in meetings as early as 8 a.m. and throughout the work day.
Lunch and coffee breaks are usually spent with my team, or involve networking and mentoring.
I check in with the family throughout the day.
On a great day, I’m home before 7:30 p.m. for dinner or a workout.
After the children are in bed, I write blog posts and social media engagement pieces.
Some evenings I speak at events, participate on panels, or attend after-work networking events.
Weekends are family time, including kids’ activities such as birthday parties, play dates, basketball or football practice, play practice, and church. I cook for the week, write, and make time for date night with my husband and moms’ night out to connect with friends.
Has being a parent changed your career path? Can you explain?
Being a mother has impacted specific career decisions. For example, the decision to transition from a role as a corporate associate at a law firm and take on my first in-house role at a company was influenced by consistently pulling all-nighters at a law firm for a number of months while I was pregnant. For the first time, my unqualified belief in my ability to balance a successful career with being a mother was challenged. The routine all-nighters were inconsistent with my intention to have a family. I was physically and emotionally drained.
Has being a mother made you better at your job? How so?
Being a mother has made me better at my job. It has taught me a number of skills that are not only transferable, but are invaluable in the workplace. I’ve learned to radically prioritize and focus. Being committed to professional excellence and a remarkable family, I regularly revisit my schedule to ensure that the use of my time aligns with my most important priorities.
What are the biggest challenges you face being a working mom?
For most of my kids’ early years, finding reliable childcare was a challenge. At a time when my husband and I worked an hour away from home, delays at work or in traffic added layers of stress. Paying late fees to the daycare provider was not as stressful as the disappointment on the children’s faces when we showed up half an hour too late.
As they get older, it’s technology. As parents, we monitor their time on devices and online, in order to keep them safe and ensure that technology doesn’t become a distraction from their key priorities.
Are there any stories you remember from the early days of parenthood that you want to share?
Seven years ago, a number of months after I’d returned to work at Goldman Sachs from maternity leave, I was in a lactation room when I received a call from an executive recruiter. He called with an opportunity to join the Anti-Bribery group at Citigroup. As I rinsed off my Medela breast pump accessories, I recall thinking that a transition to a new company was the last thing I wanted. After going through the interviews and discussing with mentors, I realized it was indeed the right career move for me. As working parents, we navigate a lot of responsibilities and sometimes this makes us risk averse. We fear change, but the best experiences of our lives are often on the other side of our fears. In the words of Tony Robbins, “learn to dance with your fears.” That is how we continually make our lives beautiful.
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?
I recently asked my children about this. At the top of their list were family vacations, family movie nights, our made-up bedtime games (gratitude and “guess where” games), and power walks around the neighborhood in the summer.
Last year we went on a Disney Cruise to the Bahamas. While WIFI was mostly available, we imposed a no-WIFI rule. After some initial protest from the children, we were immersed in the experience. The children explored more, experienced more, and left with more memories they couldn’t make at home. These included pirate night, water slides, Broadway-style shows, and beach time. I dare say this is why family vacations topped the list of the kids’ favorite traditions — immersing ourselves in the experience allowed us all to connect more deeply.
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?
How do you inspire your child to “dream big”? Can you give an example or story?
I encourage my children to follow what interests them. With three children, you realize just how varied those interests can be. As an example, my daughter is drawn to singing. She has loved singing since she could speak. We’ve supported her passion by finding activities that nurture it. She sings in the school honors choir and in the church choir. She also participates in school plays and musicals. We enrolled her in private singing lessons. As she nurtures the skill, she learns dedication and resilience, and is on her personal journey to mastery.
The second way to inspire children to dream big is to model dreaming big. When children see their parents living their dreams, they get real-life pictures of what dreams are made of. They are also encouraged to dream big. The combination of fully supporting children’s interests while pursuing your own is powerful.
What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources that inspire you to be a better parent? Can you explain why you like them?
1) Mindset: a New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck. Dweck explores the contrast between fixed and growth mindsets. In a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work — brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment. In contrast, in a fixed mindset, people believe their basic qualities, like their intelligence or talent, are simply fixed traits. They spend their time documenting their intelligence or talent instead of developing them. They also believe that talent alone creates success — without effort. Dweck’s book is impactful because she applies the principles of the growth mindset to thriving in business, relationships, and the education of children.
2) Rise Together Podcast by Rachel and Dave Hollis. The podcast is about their life together as parents of four and as business leaders running the Hollis Company. They also explore a number of challenges couples face, and how to create an extraordinary relationship through communication and traditions.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote” that you share or plan to share with your kids?
Follow what interests you.
In our unique interests, passions, and deep-seated curiosities; in our unrepeatable stories, therein lies the magic we are called to bring to this world.
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?
Three simple pieces of advice:
1) What you don’t know, you will figure it out. Your children’s needs will change and your needs as a parent will change, but you will find the answers. Whatever question or challenge you face as a parent, you never walk alone. Seek out resources to support you. If you don’t find the right resources, create them.
2) As with any worthwhile endeavor, you will make mistakes. Learn the lessons, be compassionate with yourself, but keep moving forward.
3) No matter what happens, let your children know they are loved.
Thank you so much for these insights! We really appreciate your time.
About the author:
Jessica Abo is an award-winning TV journalist, social media navigator, author, and speaker. Her debut book, Unfiltered: How To Be As Happy As You Look On Social Media, sold out on its first day when it was published late last year. Jessica spoke about her research and her #liveunfiltered movement on The TODAY Show, Access Hollywood, ABC News, KTLA, and in dozens of publications including Forbes, Fast Company and SHAPE. Women’s Health Magazine named Unfiltered #1 on its list of self-love books, and it was chosen for the official GRAMMY Awards gift bag. Jessica celebrated her book launch with an Unfiltered collection of statement tees and hoodies that she debuted on a runway at New York Fashion Week.
With her savvy insights, practical advice, and heartfelt humor, Jessica appeals to people of all ages and stages, resonating with millennials and their parents. She is sought after nationwide as an inspiring keynote speaker and thought leader, and has presented at Facebook, Microsoft, Delta Airlines, Weight Watchers, TEDx, the United Nations and hundreds of conferences, nonprofits, universities, and schools. She speaks authoritatively on career building, entrepreneurial challenges, leadership, digital transformation, living and parenting in the digital age, creating community, effective philanthropy and activism, and many other topics.
A passionate philanthropist who believes “affluence is not a requirement for influence,” Jessica has raised more than $1 million for causes by organizing her own charity events. She sits on several boards and committees and contributes to their recruiting and fundraising efforts.
A multi-award-winning television journalist, Jessica was a successful television anchor and reporter at several media outlets, including NY1 News, for 15 years. She has appeared as a social media and relationship expert on The TODAY Show, ABC News and KTLA. As a VIP contributor for Entrepreneur, her empowerment, leadership development, and employee productivity and wellness videos appear weekly on Entrepreneur.com. Through her production company, JaboTV, she creates branded content for companies and profiles athletes, celebrities, CEOs, entrepreneurs and changemakers for her YouTube channel.
Jessica received both her bachelor and master’s degrees from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. A New Yorker at heart, Jessica now lives in Los Angeles with her husband and their daughter.