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This Working Mom Overcame Decades of Employment Bias to Become The CEO of Her Own 6-Figure Company. Here's How She Did It. She overcame adversity to become the CEO of her own successful company, and now she wants to share empowering advice with all the other working mothers out there on how to overcome adversity and thrive in their careers.

By Beth Newton Edited by Maria Bailey

Key Takeaways

  • Tip 1: Change starts at home
  • Tip 2: Take matters into your own hands
  • Tip 3: Think long-term, act short-term
  • Tip 4: Look for opportunities
  • Tip 5: Be open
  • Tip 6: Remember that actions speak louder than words

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

It's no secret that working mothers still face discrimination in the workplace. With few legal protections in place, many moms are pushed out of workplaces (laid off or fired) and subjected to stereotypes about their competency. I've faced discrimination as a working mother several times since 1997. I've been passed over for a promotion and stepped down from a leadership role because of the discrimination I faced.

From the moment I saw that little blue plus sign, I've been fighting for equality at work and home. A lack of paid leave, exorbitant childcare costs and discrimination made my early career difficult at best, and for the majority of Americans, makes it nearly impossible to have a family.

I was just 24 years old when I became a mom for the first time. I was new at many things then: adulthood, marriage, and home ownership. I had no idea that the statistics were so stacked against me. Gender disparity didn't cross my mind—that's just the way it was. Little did I know that I was stepping into an entirely new world—one that would continually discount me.

As it turns out, new mothers who take fewer than eight weeks of paid maternity leave are at higher risk for depression and experience poorer overall health. My husband and I were a young couple starting out, so while I desperately wanted more time with my newborn, my mind reasoned that the six weeks of paid maternity leave my employer offered me would be enough — we couldn't afford for me to take additional time away from work without pay. We weren't alone. Two-thirds of workers don't take needed leave because they cannot afford it. They're also unable to afford daycare. For infants, the average cost of center-based childcare is more than in-state public college tuition in 34 states.

On my first day back from maternity leave, I learned that the young man hired a few months prior had been promoted over me. When I asked my boss why I'd been overlooked for the promotion, she told me she disagreed with it, but it was out of her hands. According to a Pew Research Center analysis, 16% of working parents have been passed over for promotion because they have children, and mothers are more likely than fathers to report this experience.

My company's office hours were 8:30 am to 5:30 pm. I had to walk out the door at exactly 5:30 pm every day to pick up my son by 6 pm or pay $1 for every minute I was late. Still, I was pulled aside and talked to about always leaving on time when other employees were staying late, as though it spoke to a lack of work ethic or drive to succeed on my part. I wasn't alone. Mothers are 40% more likely than fathers to report that childcare issues harmed their careers.

There are so many lessons I learned during those early years. Looking back now, it's easy to see where the bias was and what changes were needed to create equality. My only recourse was to take matters into my own hands. Here are six tips for recognizing and navigating adversity to build a thriving career.

Related: Why Women's Entrepreneurship is Booming Right Now

Tip 1: Change starts at home

If you carried a baby for nine months and gave birth, you've done 100% of the parenting work so far; don't let your partner assume you'll continue to do so.

Like most infants, ours didn't sleep through the night for many months. So, I went to work exhausted every day. One day, a few weeks after returning from maternity leave, I fell asleep at my desk. The owner of the company walked by, saw me and sent me home. When I told my husband about it and asked him to help, he responded, "I can't. I have a job." Not only was I devalued at work, but I was also devalued at home by the one person who mattered most.

When a couple is deciding who will take more time away after the birth of a baby, it makes financial sense for the one who makes less money to take more time away. That means maternity leave typically falls to mothers because women make less than men. If companies paid men and women equally, this conversation would be eliminated as part of the decision, and it would make more financial sense for each partner to take equal time off work. That would, in turn, change the perception at home.

Tip 2: Take matters into your own hands

When my son was about eight months old, my husband and I decided to move closer to family. When we found our new home, I began searching for childcare. Daycare centers were insurmountably expensive, so I interviewed several moms who provided daycare in their homes. I walked away from every meeting deflated.

I couldn't find trusted care for my son, and I continued to be overlooked and undervalued at work. That's when I decided to join the 43% of women who leave the workforce after having children. I quit my job and started my own in-home daycare. I used my marketing background to get the word out, and within two weeks, I was caring for three toddlers and an infant full-time with an expectant couple on a waitlist. I spent the next six years taking care of little ones and raising my own.

Tip 3: Think long-term, act short-term

By 2005, I'd earned my writing degree and was freelancing as a copywriter. Two years later, in the midst of a recession, my husband and I separated. With two school-aged boys and a two-year-old daughter at home, I was forced to go back to work full-time.

Finding work in a recession is difficult enough, but having a nine-year lapse on my resume didn't help. It was virtually impossible to land an interview and, much less be offered a job that paid enough to afford childcare. Unsurprisingly, women who took just one year off from work earn 39% less than women who did not. Desperate for a full-time job with health benefits, I took an account manager position. The salary wasn't enough to cover daycare costs, so I held onto my freelance clients. I'd work all day, and then after tucking my kids in at night, I'd tuck into my freelance writing projects. It wasn't something I wanted to do forever, but short-term, it paid the bills, and long-term, it would set me up to start my own business.

Tip 4: Look for opportunities

In 2011, the recession hit the marketing industry, and companies dropped their ad agencies in favor of working with freelancers to ease budgets. My number of freelance clients more than doubled, while at the same time, our agency's roster of clients was cut in half. That allowed me to negotiate to work on my freelance projects during business hours in exchange for a percentage of my freelance revenue. I was able to take on more clients without giving up all my evening hours so that I could still be a present parent to my kids and get enough sleep at night to face the day ahead.

By 2013, my freelance business was thriving, and on August 1, 2013, I quit my job to work for myself full-time. That decision changed my life and our home. It's not surprising that a whopping 75% of self-employed women love their job. Working for myself allowed me to put my priorities in order and plan my working hours around my family, not the other way around. I worked late into the night but also took hours off for after-school trips to the park, family dinners and homework time.

Tip 5: Be open

In 2015, I was offered the role of content marketing director for a freelance client. While I loved the flexibility of working for myself, it was an incredible opportunity to build and manage a content writing department from the ground up. I accepted the role and learned all I could. A year later, traveling and late nights became too much, and I needed to be more available to my kids. I gave my notice and negotiated a 12-month freelance writing contract in exchange for hiring my replacement. Within a few months, I launched a marketing agency.

Related: What Do We Tell Young Women Considering Entrepreneurship? Here are 6 Key Messages to Share

Tip 6: Remember that actions speak louder than words

In 2021, my previous employer offered me another role. This time, it was a C-suite position and a stake in the business for bringing my agency into his company as the social media arm of the business. I said yes, knowing that, at the very least, I'd learn something, and at best, I'd grow the agency much quicker than I could on my own. While I enjoyed the stable income and benefits, I was drowning in work, and no matter how hard I tried, I couldn't change the culture. I began looking for support through networking groups and was invited to join CHIEF, a powerful network of women executives. This was an incredible opportunity to learn from other female executives, network with peers and get in front of potential clients; all things my male peers had in spades. I laid out the benefits and requested that my company sponsor the membership. They declined.

Deciding it was well worth the investment, I paid the fee myself. When I published a LinkedIn post announcing my membership, the CEO expressed disappointment that I hadn't mentioned his company in my post. That's when I decided I could no longer work with or for companies that refused to invest equally in male and female executives. In June 2022, I gave my notice and pulled my agency out of the merger.

On Mother's Day, we celebrate moms — and companies do, too. It's no secret that brands are increasingly jumping on the bandwagon of social causes, but consumers aren't fooled by the many that pay it lip service. They want to see real change.

Want to celebrate moms? Offer paid maternity, paternity and family leave so that working parents can take the time they need to give their children and their families a healthy start. Normalize paternity leave so that fathers can be equally responsible for and able to bond with their children.

More than 120 countries, including most industrialized nations, provide paid maternity leave and health benefits by law, according to an International Labour Office (ILO) report. The United States' failure to do so leaves 80% of the workforce without any paid time off after the birth of a child. Nearly half are not even guaranteed unpaid, job-protected leave through the Family and Medical Leave Act.

The answer isn't to leave the workforce. The answer is for the government to join nearly every other nation in offering paid family leave. Until then, taking matters into our own hands is the only answer.

Maya Angelou said, "When someone shows you who they are, believe them." The same is true for companies. Work-life balance issues cause conflict for an astonishing 72% of women. Don't share your time and talents with a company that doesn't support you.

Beth Newton

Entrepreneur Leadership Network® Contributor

Marketing Strategist + Writer

Beth is the co-founder of alpha | BRAVO, a social media marketing agency that works with service-based B2B tech, logistics and professional service brands. She is a published author and an award-winning marketer with 30 years of experience.

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