The skills one develops and hones as a mother are some of the most important skills needed to flourish at work. Think about it — moms give and receive feedback, constantly. They spend many days failing first and fast, then learning what works and what doesn’t. They constantly adapt. Mothers never give up. They are willing to say and do what others won’t. And moms will suspend their self-interest for you. Isn’t that what we want from our leaders?
As a part of my series about “C-Suite Moms” I had the pleasure to interview Diana O’Brien. Her goal is to align customer data, creativity, and innovation with business strategies to accelerate Deloitte’s ability to solve customers’ most complex issues. Diana is also chairman and founder of IMPACT Autism, a philanthropy supporting people with autism and their families. She serves on the boards of the American Marketing Association, the Ad Council, IMPACT Autism Foundation, and the Advisory Board of the University of Cincinnati Advancement and Transition Services programs. A proud Cincinnati native, Diana lives there with her husband David and children.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us the “backstory” behind what brought you to this point in your career?
My “backstory” didn’t become clear to me until well into my career. But after serving clients, leading the life science practice, running Deloitte University, and achieving a number of global and executive roles, I realized it was never the role, it was always about living my purpose in whatever role I had. For me that purpose is to create environments for people to thrive.
Can you share with us how many children you have?
I have triplets, Andrew, Megan, and Kelly. They are 23 years old.
Where were you in your career when your child was born/became part of your family?
I was a senior manager. I returned to work part time 8 months after they were born. I made partner 2 years later on a part time schedule.
Did you always want to be a mother? Can you explain?
Yes, always — I wanted six children! I had the most extraordinary mothers in my life with my own mother, grandmothers, and great grandmothers. Mothers were special people in our family.
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?
Becoming a mother took a lot longer than I thought. We tried for 8 years, and we tried everything. And finally, I was pregnant with triplets. It was a difficult pregnancy; I was on bedrest at 16 weeks, and in the hospital at 20. I delivered my babies at 35 weeks, which is considered full-term for triplets. Because I was at a teaching hospital, daily, the rotating interns, come in at 5:00 am to wake me and ask the standard learning questions: why are you here? What are your symptoms? At 30 weeks, the nurses took pity on me and hung a sign that said, “No rounds in this room, this woman has given enough to medical science.”
To others experiencing infertility, I would say that I know it’s hard. Hard on your body, hard on your mind, hard on your soul. It impacts your self-worth, and your marriage; it is hard to know what to do. Know, that you are brave to stick with it, and you are brave to say “enough.” But no matter the path, be more and more kind to yourself.
Can you tell us a bit about what your day-to-day schedule looks like?
No day is the same, but a few regulars; planes, whiteboards, conference calls, my computer, and a desire for a good night sleep. But regardless of my sleep, my best days involve exploring possibilities, brainstorming solutions, learning something new, and creating something special with and for people I deeply care about.
Has being a parent changed your career path? Can you explain?
Yes, being a parent made my career path bigger and wider than I could imagine. When my children were diagnosed with autism at 2½, I was devastated and thought my path would be narrow and defined by their disabilities. Rather, it freed me from the one specific path I thought I wanted and knew, and allowed me to be more open to change and more willing to consider alternatives. And those alternatives, changed everything.
Has being a mother made you better at your job? How so?
Definitely. The skills one develops and hones as a mother are some of the most important skills needed to flourish at work. Think about it — moms give and receive feedback, constantly. They spend many days failing first and fast, then learning what works and what doesn’t. They constantly adapt. Mothers never give up. They are willing to say and do what others won’t. And moms will suspend their self-interest for you. Isn’t that what we want from our leaders?
What are the biggest challenges you face being a working mom?
Like many moms, finding more time for the important things is a challenge, not letting laundry, grocery shopping, etc. be all consuming. I’m fortunate I can outsource some of that. The biggest challenge by far for me, has been finding good people to care for our children. While I know that is true for all parents, it is particularly acute for parents of children with special needs.
Are there any stories you remember from the early days of parenthood that you want to share?
For me and my husband David, other parents’ understanding and support saved us so many times.
On a family vacation 10 years ago, my son melted down at a restaurant on our way to Boston. I don’t know why he erupted into a rage at that moment. He grabbed my hair, ripped my shirt and bit me. I tried to contain him all the while trying to protect his sisters. When my husband returned to the table with the food, together, we managed to get them to the car before there were any more battles. Once the kids were inside the car, safe, my husband and I stood outside and cried.
A man, who had been in the restaurant, came up, and asked “Are you all okay? Does your son have autism?” He then handed us the food we had left in the restaurant — all wrapped — and said, “You both are amazing” No judgement, only kindness. That made a big impact on us both.
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?
My family has history of giving back and making our community better. It’s why we started our charity. My hope is that my nieces and nephews and their children will carry that forward and continue to find meaning and make impact through public service.
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?
I have to give my husband the credit here. I constantly feel pressure to be everywhere and do everything for everyone. He on the other hand, lives in the moment. When I would be running down a list of things to get done. He would say something like: “But first we have jump on the trampoline.” Or “I will do that if right now we can make each of these kids laugh.” That filled our days with the best memories. So, my advice is choose someone that lives in the moment to be your life partner.
How do you inspire your child to “dream big”? Can you give an example or story?
The best thing we’ve done is to work with the University of Cincinnati to create IMPACT Innovation. It gives them access and opportunity in an inclusive environment to find their best selves. It also creates the added benefit of helping their peers without intellectual disabilities have experiences that show them the rewards of inclusion.
What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources that inspire you to be a better parent? Can you explain why you like them?
For me, my resources have been other parents — particularly parents who went before me in raising children with disabilities, but honestly all parents. The only constant for parents is prayer, and all those parents that went before have lessons to share.
When my children were first diagnosed, there were few, if any, online resources. I called the Autism Society and the woman who answered the phone had a son with autism. She had been through everything we were now going through. She knew our hospital, our community, and could point me to the resources I needed. She became a good friend, and her son is now in the IMPACT Innovation program at UC with our children.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote” that you share or plan to share with your kids?
“The secret of life, though, is to fall seven times and get up eight.” Paul Coelho.
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?
- Don’t question how much syrup your husband puts on your kid’s waffles.
- Accept the fact that brownies with ice cream can count as dinner.
- Laugh more, worry less, and hug a little longer.
Thank you so much for these insights! We really appreciate your time.
Thank you — enjoyed talking with you.
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.