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Do Moms Make Better Leaders? Gillibrand Seems to Think So.

Vivia Chen

January 18, 2019

Kirsten-Gillibrand-2018-Article-201901181511Was I the only one who cringed when Kirsten Gillibrand announced her candidacy for the presidency?

I’m not talking about whether she’s a viable candidate or otherwise worthy of the office. Whether you agree with her positions or not, find her charming or annoying, there’s no question she’s a qualified candidate. I mean, she’s a U.S. senator.

My unease with Gillibrand, who started her career as an associate at Davis Polk & Wardell, stems from the answer she gave to Stephen Colbert on his show about why she’s going for the top job in the free world: “I’m going to run for president of the United States because as a young mom, I’m going to fight for other people’s kids as hard as I would fight for my own.”

On its face, that explanation seems fine (you could quibble whether Gillibrand qualifies as a “young mom” at age 52, but whatever). But here’s the thing: It suggests that moms are uniquely situated to lead the country into the future.

And that reference to motherhood wasn’t just a passing theme. In fact, it looks like Gillibrand is making  mommydom a center piece of her campaign. One of her new promotional videos shows the word “mom” being typed on a computer screen, followed by photos and footage of her with her husband and their two young sons, including homey scenes of her cooking up a storm in the family kitchen.

And I’m not the only one who’s noticed that Gillibrand is playing the mommy card. As HuffPo’s Amanda Terkel notes: Gillibrand highlights in her video “her work securing funds for 9/11 first responders, repealing ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’ and opposing Trump’s agenda. But even those accomplishments subtly seemed to play to her emphasis on being a mom, stressing that she can get things done.”

So we’re back to that familiar trope: Being a mom is some kind of super skill and a qualifier for leadership in its own right. It also suggests that men (and perhaps women who are childless) will never have the same priorities, insights or talents that moms do.

It also plays to the notion that women make different, arguably better, leaders. Because of their experience with motherhood, women are more empathetic, patient, intuitive and adapt at juggling competing demands. And if they can handle children’s tantrums and negotiate all the mess that life throws at them—Bingo! They’re natural leaders!

I’m sorry but I have a hard time buying this sell. I also find it ironic that Gillibrand, who’s made such a big deal about promoting gender equality, is resorting to old-fashion stereotypes about the nurturing mother hen to make her case.

I’m not anti-mommy but I am tired of the mother superior stuff.




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Motherhood is tricky when discussed professionally. On the one hand, people try to reduce women to being mothers and on the other hand, women who are mothers are judged when they bring their whole selves to the conversation and say, "Being a mom makes me better suited because of..." I think it's an unfair criticism of the senator to judge her for mentioning being a mom. She's been a committed advocate for families and moms in particular during her terms. Former athletes laud their athletic careers when running for office. People are the sum total of their experiences and should play their own hand. So, if she thinks being a mom gives her an added something, it probably does.

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About The Careerist

The Careerist takes an inside look at how lawyers shape their careers and manage their lives. The blog aims to dissect developments in the profession, provide useful information and advice, and give lawyers a platform to voice their views. The goal is to provide a fresh, provocative take on the state of lawyering.

About Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen, The Careerist's chief blogger, has been covering the business and culture of law firms for a decade. A former corporate lawyer, Chen is fascinated by those who thrive (as well as those who don't) in the legal profession. Her take: Success in the law (and life) doesn't always travel a linear path. If you have topics you'd like to discuss or information to share, contact her: VChen@alm.com

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