Thursday, May 01, 2008

Mojo Mom on the Executive SWAT team

I'd be blogging about Sue Shellenbarger's Wall Street Journal article "How Stay-at-Home Moms Are Filling an Executive Niche" even if I wasn't personally involved. But I am proud to say that I am the "Stanford University Ph.D. in neuroscience" in Shellenbarger's piece.

Last year worked for an experimental project at UNC's Kenan-Flagler business school. I was one member of a team of about a dozen management role-players and assessors. We were trained to play two roles, a manager and a subordinate, and we'd run scenarios with the MBA students. The scenarios were quite realistic, as if the students were prepping for a meeting and trying to reach a specific goal while interacting with a difficult co-worker. These scenarios gave the students a realistic experience that went beyond book learning.

This project was valuable on several levels. Kenan-Flagler was able to assemble an incredibly talented for a low cost. One of my co-trainers, Donnabeth Leffler, named us the SWAT team, for "smart women with available time." The simulations only take place a few weeks a year, so Kenan-Flagler needed executive-level talent that could assemble at a moment's notice to work on an intense but brief project.

MBA program associate director Meghan Kelley-Gosk (whom you may remember from her profile in Mojo Mom) recruited the team of assessors from her local contacts, which included several women from our neighborhood.

Stepping into the executive role was a revelation for each of us. When we practiced role-playing with each other, I saw a whole new side to my friends. In real life I knew them as patient, kind mothers, yet they convincingly adopted the persona of an assertive and deliberately difficult executive.

This project was not going to provide a steady job for anyone, but it was the kind of opportunity I dreamed of women having when I wrote Mojo Mom. I got such a confidence boost by getting trained for this new job and then doing it well. When you think of "stay-at-home Mom" versus "MBA student," a stereotypical image might be minnows swimming with sharks. It was good to confront that image because when it came right down to it, I actually felt more like the shark. Because the MBA students are very smart, we might forget that most of them have not been in the working world for more than a few years. Compared to a twentysomething, I have come to appreciate the life experience I have accumulated through every work and family challenge I have faced.

So whatever you are doing in life, I hope your path includes opportunities that teach you new skills, and remind you how smart and talented you really are. With all the work-life challenges we face, I really feel that the tide is beginning to turn, and that employers are starting to see parents for as the workplace asset that we really can be.

The project I participated in was so successful that Kenan-Flagler expanded it this year and made it mandatory for their leadership training.

Need help in your office? Think about calling in the SWAT team.

(For more information, check out Balancing Professionals, CultureRx and MomCorps.)

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