WHO SHE IS: Jennifer McClanahan-Flint, Founder, Food On our Table, a Family & Career Strategy Firm

SUCCESS STORY: Launched her own successful coaching business designed specifically for working mothers.

WORK SCHEDULE: Flexible yet full-time. I work 6 – 8 hours a day but around my daughter’s kindergarten schedule.

KIDS: Zoë, 6

SANITY VICE: Watching the show The Biggest Loser – I know it is sad but I find that show so inspiring.

Editor’s note: I’m excited to announce that Jennifer will be guest blogging with us on a regular basis, providing valuable advice to women as they navigate their careers and need help remembering and promoting their value. I’m grateful that we can all benefit from Jennifer’s smart, sensitive, and practical encouragement. You can read her first post with us, Journey to Rediscover Your Courage, today!

How she got here…

After graduating from college I moved from the Bay Area to New York city with $300 in the bank. I wound up working on Wall Street recruiting Investment Bankers. I loved it. I enjoyed the hard work, the hours and the satisfaction of getting the job done. I believed in working hard in order to earn respect.

After a few years in New York, I decided to move back to the Bay Area and transitioned to attorney recruiting for Skadden. The long hours and hard work in New York primed me to work for this firm. The office was new and, eventually, I began managing the day-to-day operations and administration for the office. Work was my life and I enjoyed it.

By my mid-30s, I was managing the Northern California offices of the firm and started thinking about the rest of my life. I decided to transition to a firm with a less intense work environment.

Two months after I changed jobs, I got pregnant with my daughter. Surprise!

When I first had my daughter, I was working full-time and pushing the envelope between family and work. Like many good San Francisco families my husband and I hired a nanny to take care of our daughter. I was tired and felt like I was constantly running around to get things done. I was running to get to work and running to get home. I was hurrying to get dinner done so I could get her to bed. I wasn’t really enjoying motherhood.

Then my husband got laid off at the end of 2008, when our daughter was almost two-years old — it was the best thing to happen to us. He embraced being the primary caregiver for our daughter and as he excitedly told me about their days together, I realized I was missing out. I became determined to leave the office by 5:30 pm everyday so that we could eat dinner together as a family, even if that meant working after my daughter went to bed. I started focusing on what I enjoyed doing at work and let go of the superfluous stuff I did because I thought I was “suppose” to. I began focusing on my genius work and made more money, got more recognition and more flexibility.

Many of my friends wanted to know how I managed to cook and eat dinner with my family nightly, so I started teaching moms how to create a family dinner ritual. After working with moms for over a year, I began to realize that the challenge wasn’t how to make dinner happen every night, the real challenge for working moms was learning how to manage their careers.

So last year, I quit my job and started coaching and mentoring working moms full-time. At the heart of my work as a law firm administrator, I felt that the success of the attorneys with whom I work was an essential part of my job. And now I feel that way about the women I support in my practice. The essential part of my job is to help working moms navigate their careers and the ever-evolving stages of motherhood.

I help working moms embrace and leverage their value. I see them asking their employers for what they want in order to define their success and build flexible, fulfilling and financially rewarding careers. The best part is that I get to do all of this while thoroughly enjoying my daughter’s first year of school.

Maybrooks Q&A

MB: What kind of advice/coaching do most working moms come to you for?
JMF:  The moms I work with are high-achievers, they want successful careers but their lives are leaving them out of breath. They literally find themselves panting their way through the day.  They are looking for a way to make good career decisions that give them the time and resources to enjoy motherhood. They want to figure out how to ask for what they want. 

I am amazed by the number of brilliant women who underestimate their value. They think anyone could do what they do. Whenever I hear a mom say that, I ask her to tell me three people she knows who does what she does as well as she does it.

When working moms realize how much value they bring to the companies for which they work, they can begin to get comfortable asking for they want whether it is more money, responsibility or flexibility.

MB: What’s the biggest innovation you’ve seen at the companies you work with in terms of their approach to hiring and retaining women? Are there any companies you particularly admire?
JMF: Honestly, I don’t think there has been enough innovation around retaining women at most companies.  Part of the challenge is that women are less likely to negotiate for what they want, so companies try to craft flex policies that don’t meet the true needs of working moms. Innovation comes when enough women feel comfortable asking for what they need and enough companies think creatively about supporting those needs. 

MB: What’s your best advice, as a career coach focused on working mothers, for women as they think about, and worry about their careers?
JMF: I tell all my clients to focus on their strengths. I have a client who digs data analysis and pays close attention to detail. We talk about how she can use those skills to build influence in her organization. For instance, her boss is not a detail person so we are concentrating on how my client can use her love of data and details to complement the strengths of her boss. She doesn’t need to learn how to be like her boss, she needs to demonstrate the value of her strengths to her boss. 

MB: What advice do you live by as a working mom?
JMF: The advice I give all my clients is to manage your energy.  Moms are consumed with productivity at work and at home.  However, we rarely stop and think about our production capacity.  Before I had my daughter, I was able to make things happen just by the force of my will.  If I wanted something bad enough, I would make it happen regardless of the cost.

Now I don’t fight for every detail, I had to learn to build and save my energy to fight for the details that matter.