How mothers shape their daughters’ careers
The main lesson Persephone Quarm took from her mother’s terrible legal career was that she didn’t want to emulate it. There was no doubt that he was determined to repeat the level of success. But the demands of being a corporate lawyer? Not that much.
“I saw his work ethic and I thought, ‘wow, I want that,’ but I [also] he saw the hardships he went through,” says 28-year-old Persephone. Her mother, Margaret Casely-Hayford, was the first black woman to become a partner in a City law firm and was director of legal services at the John Lewis Partnership for nine years.
Margaret, who comes from a long line of lawyers that includes JE Casely-Hayford, a politician and influential figure in Ghana’s independence movement, would have liked her daughter to have continued in the profession. “Not only because of family tradition, but also because I love the law,” he explained.
But the legal career has another side: long hours, great responsibilities and, in the early years, intense competition, regardless of gender. In this respect, the City Council can appear equitable. Superhuman work rate was a symbol of pride. But that “go! go! go!” the culture, she says, worked against women with childcare responsibilities.
Margaret recalls that a colleague walked in midway, on her way to a meeting she felt compelled to attend. “We were still the main caretakers [of house and children]”, he says. “We’re still here, but at least society has turned a little to recognize that.”
Fortunately, she had a strong support system: her family – including her husband who helped at home – a nanny and a PA to manage her diary. Many of his comrades succumbed to burns. In one devastating case, a colleague took his own life.
Persephone, events manager at London’s Southbank Centre, who also chairs the art gallery’s wellbeing committee, says hearing these experiences made her an advocate for work-life balance. “Even 10 or 12 years ago, these structures and means of support did not exist,” he says. “What I’ve learned is that, regardless of the sector, I want to incorporate those values wherever I work.”
Both were influenced by Margaret’s mother Lena, who worked for the cultural organization British Council while raising four children. “One of the things she said was, if you give a child your values, then you have a friend for life,” says Margaret. “And the only way to impart your values to a child is to spend enough time with them.”
Persephone says there’s no doubt her ancestors faced discrimination based on gender and race, and she has too. His mother, he says, “taught me that you have to deal with these things in life, even though she tried to protect me. Now, we can face these things together.”
This matches the experience Brooke Hailey, a recruiting executive at Madison-Davis in New York, whose mother, Susan Hailey, is vice president of global talent acquisition at OpenText, a Canadian software company.
And Brooke had not only a working mother in her life, but also an incredible grandmother: Roberta Lyon, a single mother, held the position of vice president of the US bank Wells Fargo in the 1980s, when very few women were working in finance. at any level
This background, Brooke says, has prepared her to be ready if she is singled out or belittled because of her age and gender. “If you know that there are generations of women who have stood the test of time against those expectations, you can fight back a little bit,” she says.
Susan, whose first job was at IBM in the early days of the tech boom, feels fortunate to have had a career in an industry that felt ahead of its time in terms of work culture.
“Growing up with a very responsible professional mother gave me a language. . . and a way to build a career,” he says. Now, he’s inspired by the “more daring” young people he works with: “As Millennials and Generation Z become leaders, it will bring a step change in business.”
Kathleen McGinn, a professor at Harvard Business School, has long studied the effects of a working mother on her offspring. His 2018 research, learning from mother that daughters—but not sons—were more likely to be employed, to hold more senior positions, and that their mothers earned more than their counterparts who did not work, largely resulting in more equal gender attitudes.
If children raised by working mothers perceive certain gender roles at home (for example, seeing mothers do most of the caregiving in addition to their work), then they will develop ideas based on what they see, she says.
And, if they conclude that what they saw is not acceptable, “it can lead to the desire to create change and to reduce inequality, as much as you can, through your own actions”.
This seems to be true for Dana Denis-Smithwho left a career at top City law firm Linklaters in 2007 to found legal services provider Obelisk Support.
It was a logical solution to a problem, he says. Law firms were outsourcing their work to foreign firms, while in the UK, highly skilled women were struggling to combine hard hours with raising a family.
The challenge, as Dana sees it, is that working mothers “want to be present”. “They want to be in their children’s lives and there’s a lot of emotional involvement at home,” she says. “And being a leader also requires a lot of emotional energy.”
Dana, who grew up in Romania under the communist regime of dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, saw her mother, Margareta Armean, barely surviving on sleep. Life was a night shift at a “horrible” factory job, getting three daughters ready for school, cooking meals, and farming hours.
Dana’s daughter Alma-Constance, 12, has already developed an interest in the law that began when she learned that the age of criminal responsibility in England is 10. He now hosts a podcast, Children’s Law.
“I’m really proud of my mom, especially because she’s so special in what she’s doing,” says Alma-Constance. “I can talk to everyone not only about the law, but also about women in general.”
Dana, who also created the project to celebrate 100 years of women being able to practice law, says she tries to make her daughter aware of the challenges women faced in the past, but not burden her. However, he worries about the dangers facing his generation, such as misogynistic influences and artificial intelligence.
They recently decided to meet chatbots together and started by asking one to name some great world leaders. It only listed men. “Why did you only tell us the men’s names?” they asked
The chatbot apologized and named female leaders such as former German Chancellor Angela Merkel. They repeated the question, and then the chatbot offered women and men. Dana enthuses, “We educated the chatbots about equality and leadership.”
Essay Contest: Win a Free EMBA
The FT launches its annual Women in Business essay competition in partnership with the 30% Club and Henley Business School. The award is a fully funded place on Henley’s part-time Executive MBA programme.
This year’s question is: ‘Affordable and flexible childcare is a challenge we all care about. What role can employers and political leaders play?’
The deadline will be May 22
More information: hly.ac/WiLscholarship