World-First Research Highlights Need to Support Mothers in Leadership

With the motherhood penalty continuing to be a leading cause of gender inequity in senior leadership, expert leadership consultant Dr Amanda Sterling has released a new report on the experiences of mothers in leadership.  

“The report highlights what is holding mothers in leadership back, the ways this can be addressed, and the possibilities in doing so,” shares Amanda.  

Published through the University of Auckland’s Business School, the report summarises Amanda’s groundbreaking doctoral research into the experiences of 48 women with children under five in the workplace.  

Coming from a range of prominent corporations, community-based organisations, and innovative start-ups throughout Aotearoa New Zealand, each woman shared their experiences of pregnancy, childbirth, nursing, and caring for young children. The participants all either held leadership roles or were on a path to leadership. 

The research revealed that mothers feel pressure to meet leadership norms that are modelled on the experiences of men or women without children, regardless of what is happening within their body or at home. Mothers in positions of leadership experience these pressures to a higher intensity than others, due to the high visibility and responsibility of their roles.  

While the report’s findings provide clarity around the challenges faced by mothers in leadership, they also highlight how organisations can better support inclusive, impactful leadership for women whose experiences do not fit into current leadership models.  

“The research shows that a focused approach to supporting women in leadership could lead to better outcomes for women as well as the organisations that employ them,” says Amanda. 

The research’s findings challenge normalised workplace assumptions around leadership and reveal the ways participants were able to enact a more inclusive, vulnerable form of leadership. 

Participants shared how connecting with their embodied experiences as mothers enabled them to step into their leadership, creating both structural and cultural shifts within the workplace.  

Amanda says the report reveals how organisations have an opportunity to better recognise and support the experiences of pregnant women and mothers, and to build capability for vulnerability and connection into their leadership.  

From this research, Amanda has developed three pathways to support organisations in realising their leadership and gender equity goals. 

Dr Amanda Sterling’s full report, Rebirthing New Life to Leadership, is available to read here.