Success and Balance: Insights from Mothers in the Public Service

6 minute read

By: Rebecca Hollett, Marketing and Communications Manager, IOG


The second Sunday in May is a special day in Canada; it is a day to celebrate the mothers in our lives. We gather at our favourite brunch spot, select the perfect flowers (yellow roses for my mom) and do that extra favour to say “Thank you!” for everything that our mothers do for us. I’m feeling very thankful right now as I remember the time my mom sat in the emergency room with me for hours because I accidentally swallowed a penny after throwing it in the air and trying to catch it in my mouth (“Sorry, Mom!”).

Pew Research Centre reports that the majority of women with a young child are in the labor force, and more mothers are serving as their family’s sole or primary “breadwinner.” Statistics Canada adds that in the second half of the 20th century the labour force participation rate for women grew steadily, rising from about 24% in 1953 to 76% in 1990.

To celebrate Mother’s Day, I asked a handful of moms who are public servants to share their success stories. These stories remind us that it’s not a question of “Can I be a mom and continue to work?” but rather of “I’m a great mom, I’m a great leader, and I’m amazing at my job.” I find these stories inspiring as I near the time in my life where I might become a mother myself.

Here are a few of those stories to celebrate:

“I began my career as a young single mom, entering the public service in a junior entry role. I succeeded to become a member of the executive in my 30’s and a Deputy Minister in my late 40’s.”

  • Deputy Minister, Provincial Government

“My pride in my career is really around the variety of roles in multiple departments in which I have worked, and the people that I have had the great pleasure to work with and learn from. It has given me such an appreciation for the great work being done by public servants across the country. I am also very proud that I have been able to achieve my professional goals and still be a mom.”

  • Director, Federal Government

“One career success I’m most proud of is how I’ve treated people along the way, and used humour and humanity to try and manage the stress of others around me. As the adage goes, people may not remember exactly what you said but they’ll remember how you made them feel. Even tough conversations can be done well.”

  • Principal Advisor, Federal Government

“My greatest accomplishment is raising two kids that I don’t think I have messed up. In my career as a leader, I spend a lot of time talking with people [and] getting to know people. In my opinion this is time really well spent. I'm most proud of giving people confidence in themselves and hopefully inspiring them to be ambitious and innovative.”

  • Assistant Deputy Minister, Federal Government

Personally, I’m so proud to be a young woman in 2019. While there still exists sexism, ageism, and other pressures and obstacles, I take comfort in the thought that I have the opportunity to be who I want to be. Thanks to trailblazers who paved the road before me I can be a mom, I can have a career, and I can be a great leader.

For this reason, I also asked these successful moms for their advice on how to be a public servant and a mom at the same time. So here you have it, rich advice for expecting and future moms based on the experiences of working women in the government:

  • Find your support system: Make sure you have a boss and a workplace that supports you, and if you’re somewhere that doesn’t do that, go somewhere else; lots of people are looking for talent and who you work for and with will always be more important than the files you work on. Connect with working moms and share your stories, go for lunches, and take the hugs when you need them. These women understand the emotions and challenges that come from balancing working and being a mom.
  • Take time for the important things and focus on the moment: There is access to family leave and flexible work in the public service for the school concerts, dance recitals, and field trips. They are only small for a short time and it really goes by fast. You cannot recreate the special years when your children need you the most, so take care of your job, but remember that everything has its place and what needs your single utmost attention when you are a new mom is your children and your family. Balance the hours in your day, take your maternity leave, and enjoy your special time.
  • Don’t compare yourself to other women: Everyone’s careers spike at different times and it all depends on what is important to you at that time. Don’t spend your energy trying to be perfect, which is exhausting and ultimately futile; when you focus on your goals and nourish your growth, your own path will reveal itself.
  • Take time for yourself: Take the time to recharge and review your career and personal goals. Buy into a school lunch program, even just for a week to take the break. Hire a cleaner for your house every now and again but accept that it will never be done as well as you would do it yourself. Structure down-time into your schedule; nobody can function at 100% forever, and your body and brain need time to recharge.
  • We all have the mommy-guilt: Some days you may feel guilty for not being home with your kids, and other days you may feel guilty for not being in the office. There is no way around this, but don’t forget that you are not alone. Be open with your employer of how you are feeling. Work does not have to be 9 to 5 in the office: telework, set up different work hours, and explore other arrangements that could be healthy for you and benefit your work and home life. It’s not easy; be OK with that. The balance between work and family commitments is hard to manage, and as moms, we have higher expectations of ourselves. Set a schedule and boundaries: it can be something simple like being home for supper every evening. Once the kids are in bed, connect and catch up on work emails, etc. But make the time for your family, just as you would make the time for a meeting with your team at work.

Women now make up more than half the public service. Many of them are moms. They are the foundation of how our homes function and how this country thrives. They add diversity of thought and perspective that can only make us better. Cheers to all moms this Mother’s Day: new moms, single moms, expecting moms, experienced moms, and future moms. Your example and hard work is inspiring.

About the author

Institute on Governance

Institute on Governance

Founded in 1990, the Institute on Governance (IOG) is an independent, Canada-based, not-for-profit public interest institution with its head office in Ottawa and an office in Toronto. Our mission is ‘advancing better governance in the public interest,’ which we accomplish by exploring, developing and promoting the principles, standards and practices which underlie good governance in the public sphere, both in Canada and abroad.

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