In March, I enjoyed a very special moment with my mom. Each year, Accenture hosts International Women’s Day (IWD) celebrations around the globe. This year, my mom traveled to our event in San Francisco with me. Not only was it cool to show off my extraordinary mother to my colleagues and friends, but when captured on video responding to the question, “What does IWD mean to you?”, she delivered one of the most memorable lines of the day.
“In my day, women knew their place, but today women are EVERY place.”
You can watch the video below.
Not only did my mom’s observation create a buzz on social media, but it also led to an important conversation on our back porch about looking at gender equality through the lenses of multiple generations. In the spirit of that conversation and in honor of Mother’s Day in the U.S., I’ve asked my mom, Elaine, and my daughter, Jessie, to share the pen with me today.
So, Mom, I’m handing the pen to you first to share your story and insights – past, present and future.
Thank you, Ellyn. It’s a real pleasure to write this with you and Jessie.
I grew up in a working-class neighborhood in Brooklyn, New York in the 1940s and 50s. After the war, most fathers worked in factories or small retail businesses, and most mothers stayed at home – shopping, cleaning and caring for their children who were expected to follow in their parents’ footsteps. Men went out to work and supported their families. A woman’s place was in the home. When my sister and I were in high school, my mother broke that mold. To help support our family, she took an administrative assistant’s job in the volunteer department of the hospital where she volunteered for several years.
I dreamed of breaking the mold as well. I had always loved school and hoped to go to college. Most of all, I wanted to be a teacher. So many of my teachers in elementary and high school were smart, accomplished women. They were the only educated women I knew and, in addition to my mother, my primary role models.
With my parents’ support, I graduated from college and became a teacher. However, I also got married right after graduation, just as my mother’s friends had predicted when they mocked her for wasting her money on a daughter’s education. Within five years, I had three daughters of my own, a house to manage and a husband whose career in education was thriving. I gave up my own dream and stayed home to raise my family. I believed that was my place.
Then in 1963, Betty Friedan published The Feminine Mystique, and like many other women I began to think about choices. What would make my life more fulfilling? Would returning to work help or hurt my family? How could I make a bigger impact? Could “my place” be multiple places? As soon as my youngest daughter began preschool, I chose to return to teaching. Although life was hectic, it was challenging and productive. I hoped that my decision would inspire my daughters to seek out satisfying careers of their own and that they would have opportunities I never dreamed of.
Although I’m aware of the inequities that still exist between genders, I can’t help but look at my granddaughters and marvel at the confidence with which they make choices and expect to be valued and respected for their decisions at home and in the workplace. They drive our future.
Back to Ellyn … My mom is a tremendous inspiration to me, and she continues to be one of my most important role models. Her courage to break the mold and challenge her place in the world helped fuel my passion to make a difference for the women in my life – as CHRO, that’s the 170,000+ women of Accenture and most importantly as a mom, my own daughter. I think we can learn so much from other generations, so I’ll hand the pen now to Jessie, my 26-year-old daughter, to share her thoughts and hopes for a gender-equal future.
Thanks, Mom, for inviting me to write this with you and Granna. You are both incredible role models, and I’m very grateful for the wisdom and values you’ve passed on. Watching each of you live your lives, here are a few lessons that had a big impact on me growing up and that I’m trying to pay forward.
First, Granna encouraged her three daughters and all of her grandchildren to be as ambitious as they want to be. The sky is the limit. And, whatever path you pursue, that you must always act with intention and kindness. I’ve seen her demonstrate this in countless ways, both big and small. And, in her unique way, Granna manages to wrap her arms around all of us and involve us in her acts of kindness.
Granna is a giver, and she’s generous with her time and talents with various charities. Just recently, she sent all her grandchildren an email asking us to share a favorite charity and why it’s important to us. She then made a donation on our behalf to those charities that matter most to her family – using this opportunity to teach (the teacher in her lives on!) and connect us all through kindness.
Like my grandmother, my mom’s arms also stretch far and wide. Growing up, I watched as she rose in her career. And at each step in her journey, she always brought people along with her. She likes to say, “Lift as you rise.” And I saw that firsthand. She was always reaching down and outward to make sure her teams and mentees rose as she rose – not just professionally, but outside of work as well. Watching her embrace others was a gift, and I’m grateful that many of these individuals are like family to me also.
When I think about a future that is equal for all people, I can’t help but think about the barriers my mom and grandmother faced. Granna grew up in an era where only certain professions were an option for women. My mother’s generation is fighting the wage gap so that my generation might see equal pay in our lifetime. I think one of the biggest hurdles my generation faces is judging other women’s choices. We need to be supportive of each other’s diverse scripts, paths and choices – using our words to boost each other up rather than tear each other down. Listening to Granna’s advice, kindness and intention are essential ingredients to create a gender-equal future.
Thank you, Mom and Jessie, for sharing your stories. And, thanks to all the individuals, mothers and fathers who have blazed a trail – and on whose shoulders we are standing today. While there is much more work to be done to close the gender gap, I think we can learn from the wisdom of our mothers and the hope of our daughters to accelerate progress. And frankly, the questions that women ask about their place are the questions that all people are asking now. True equality means that the answers to questions are accepted and enabled for all individuals – so they have the freedom and support to not only find, but thrive in their place.
Writing this blog together sparked a great discussion that we’ll continue to have on the back porch with our own family – and I hope it starts a conversation in yours. Happy Mother’s Day!