Double Duty

Double Duty

Women who make it to the top in business carry the burden of society's expectations

By Barbara A. Walsh | Photos by Heather Perry '93


 

Along with juggling work, home, and child care, professional women must also wrestle with guilt as they compete with stay-at-home mothers who bake gourmet cupcakes, volunteer weekly in the classroom, and attend every field hockey, soccer, and football game.

“There is a lot of talk about finding the healthy balance between work and home,” said Kimberly Gorton ’87, president of the Boston-based seafood distributor Slade Gorton & Co. “But I don’t think there is a perfect balance. There are days that go well and days that don’t.”

Gorton recalls, soon after becoming president, taking a conference call with an important customer while driving to New York with a friend and their combined six kids.

The call went smoothly until she forgot to hit the mute button before scolding the children: “Get your hands off her! Keep your hands to yourself!” she shouted.

“Excuse me?” Gorton’s customer interrupted.

Kim Gorton '87
Kim Gorton ’87, above, in her office at Slade Gorton & Co. in Boston. Gorton is president of the multi-million-dollar seafood distributor and at the same time is raising three children. Preceding page, Christine Petersen ’85 at work at TripAdvisor. The screensaver photo keeps her daughter, Charlotte, 4, close while Petersen is at the office.

Gorton laughs now but has also concluded: “It was ridiculous to think I could pull off a conference call with six kids in the back seat.”

She has learned that balancing motherhood and a company with $330 million in annual revenue requires a lot of organization, flexibility—and humor. “I have a great management team and I’ve learned I have to use that support,” Gorton said. “It’s difficult for a lot of hard-charging women executives to rely on others. They think you have to do it all—but you can’t.”

When Gorton became president of her family-owned company in 2006, she knew it was important to talk honestly about her responsibilities as a mother (to Brinley, 12, Lily, 10, and Will, 8). “I am the president of this company,” Gorton recalls telling her leadership team. “But I also am the mother of three young children who need me, and I view that as my number-one job.”

Though her employees respect Gorton’s honesty and devotion to her children, she said, there are moments when her parental duties prompt difficult decisions. “I’ll have a board meeting, and someone wakes up at four a.m. throwing up,” Gorton said. “I am constantly having to react quickly and roll with the punches. But it’s not always easy to hear disappointment in someone’s voice when I have to cancel a meeting because one of my kids is sick.”

"The challenge is to feel good about the things you are there for. ... They know I’m doing the best I can and that has got to be good enough."
—Kimberly Gorton ’87

Despite support from family, a nanny, and her ex-husband, who takes the children for half the week, “I feel,” Gorton said, “like I’m pulled in a million directions.” School assemblies are followed by quick exits back to work. Some business trips are avoided or compressed.

Still, racing from the minute she gets up until the retail reports, homework, bedtime stories, and goodnight kisses are done is sometimes not enough. There are phone calls, Gorton said: “We don’t want the nanny. We want you!” or “Mom, you missed it! I scored my first goal!”

They sting, but the seafood company executive knows she cannot let guilt overwhelm her. “I try to remind myself that two months from now my child isn’t going to remember that I didn’t see that goal,” Gorton said. “The challenge is to feel good about the things you are there for.”

She takes comfort in knowing her kids see her as a role model, someone passionate and proud about leading a business that employs 170 people and buys and sells more than a 100 million pounds of fish annually.

 
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