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Moms Who Lead

This Mother’s Day we celebrate the working moms across the globe who juggle the demands of career and family, and let’s be real, it isn’t glamorous or for the faint of heart. The art of prioritizing, multitasking and mindfulness requires daily practice and fine tuning.

We reached out to two powerful working moms to get their real perspective. Carolyn Rodz has helped raise billions of dollars of capital for innovative organizations, created a luxury retail line that sold in over 400 stores worldwide, and later launched a global marketing firm that supported specialty product launches within Fortune 500 enterprises and startups positioning themselves for industry leadership. Rodz now serves as an advocate for women entrepreneurs, connecting them to sources of capital, strategic partners and mentors to create businesses that scale as co-founder of the AI platform Alice. Co-founder Elizabeth Gore serves as president of Alice and was the entrepreneur-in-residence at Dell Technologies. She has been named by People as one of the “Top 100 Extraordinary Women,” is one of Fast Company’s “Most Creative People in Business,” and Entrepreneur Magazine’s “Women to Watch.” They are moms who lead.

“Instead of wondering if we are enough, we must decide the role we aspire to when it comes to raising our children. For me, I decided early on that I want to raise boys who respect the capabilities of men and women equally, who understand that hard work, commitment and a desire to impact the world matter. I want them to love me not only as their mother, but also as a dreamer, innovator and believer of change. It is this decision that I must make myself remember every time guilt rears its ugly head.” – Carolyn

You are both mothers of young children and leading entrepreneurs. How do you do it?

Elizabeth: Have a co-founder! Carolyn and I are a team. We both prioritize our kids, so if either of us have to miss work for the kids, the other covers. We are also building a flexible culture at Alice. If you get your work done and meet deadlines, we are OK with schedules that allow time with family.

Carolyn: One of the benefits of being an entrepreneur is getting to dictate your own schedule, and determining your own priorities on a daily basis. I tend to work more efficiently late at night, after my kids are asleep, which means I can spare a couple of hours in the middle of the day, when my brain needs a change of pace, to pick my kids up from school and hear how their day went. Being a working mom requires maximizing every minute to its best use, and that can change on a daily basis. It also requires some independence on the part of my kids, who have learned to entertain themselves while I’m on a conference call, or what the true meaning of patience is, but I’d like to think those are good lessons to learn. We’re also fortunate that Elizabeth’s and my kids are the same ages and get along really well, so park dates and afternoon barbeques can turn into strategy sessions quite regularly, and our kids couldn’t be happier to be together.

What’s the hardest part?

Elizabeth: Unscheduled interruptions. It’s hard when kids or aging parents are sick. It tends to throw everything off. You just have to take a deep breath and recognize that the day has gone to shit but that tomorrow is a new opportunity to right the ship.

Carolyn: Knowing where to focus my attention. We are lucky in that there has been so much interest in Alice from the start, but that also requires saying “no” to a lot of great opportunities, which is so difficult for both of us. I’ve learned over the years, though, that keeping our team fully aligned and not taking on too much results in a much stronger company over the long term. 

Do you have certain rules or boundaries for family time vs work time?  

Elizabeth: Try to mentally be where you are. If you are with the kids, try to stay focused on them. If you are at work, stay focused on the task at hand. NO phones at meals!!! 

Carolyn: I wish I could say yes…but that would be a total lie. My life blends quite a bit, because sometimes there are work emergencies and sometimes there are kid emergencies, and I focus my energy on whichever is more important at that moment. I think rules in my life tend to get broken as soon as they are made. That said, I love nothing more than spending time with my kids, so it’s easy to push everything else aside when we have planned something together. And those afternoon hours are pretty sacred for me, whether it’s to eat ice cream or build robots out of boxes. I do feel really fortunate to have a co-founder who values family as much as I do, and who truly understands what it is like to juggle both, because for both of us, there is never a hesitation to cover for the other when time away from the office is needed.

What’s the best and worst moment you’ve had recently as a working mom?

Elizabeth: My daughter wants to be an entrepreneur so we did a class project to create products. I was so proud. Flu season was brutal with all of our kids sick off and on. We have both been judged lately for being working moms with a growing company. That is very unmotivating. So, we have to trust that we are both good parents and good executives. There will always be judgement on both sides.

Carolyn: I get tired of being in charge all week, so I love letting the kids play boss every once in a while, when they get to choose all of the details of our day, from our activities to what we eat. It’s so fun to see what really matters to them. This past weekend, we caught flies for our Venus fly traps, had a jelly bean blind taste test, built Lego tunnels for a train set, and ate popcorn and ham for dinner — certainly not what I would have chosen, but watching them “cook” was totally worth it. My worst moments are always when I have a tight work deadline or am running late and need to get some work done with the kids around. Sometimes it goes well…and, as any mother knows, sometimes it goes horribly awry.

In your careers you have worked with incredible leaders. Are there any that have shared what it’s like for them to juggle work and family or certain instances that have stuck with you?

Elizabeth: Be present where you are in the moment.

Carolyn: No matter how successful a leader, juggling work and family never seems to go away. I do believe there are phases of life that are just more difficult. When my kids were toddlers, for example, I felt like I could never spend enough time with them. Now that they are in school and involved in activities, things just feel a lot more balanced, and this seems to be pretty consistent among a lot of people I talk to. Kids’ needs change, and work responsibilities change, but every mother who runs a business that I’ve ever met still struggles with balancing the needs of their teams, their cash flow, and their families, whether it’s a billion dollar corporation or a scrappy little startup.

What advice will you have for your daughter or sons when they are grown up, working and have children?

Elizabeth: Do what you love. Work hard and be present. 

Carolyn: Build your life around a mission. It will help answer the big career questions about what you should be doing or where you should be working, and it also sets an example for their own children about how to make an impact on the world. My kids are growing up blessed beyond reason, with their health, education, financial means and a family who supports them, and we talk a lot about their responsibility to pay that forward to others. I never forget that it is a luxury to get to do the work I do, and I want them to choose something that not only provides for their own livelihood, but also supports others by making the world better in some way. I want them to set the bar high for themselves, but even more than that, I want them to enjoy the journey getting there.

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