“A missionary gave me this prophetic word. She said, ‘you will be a Mother to Mothers.’ And I was like, this is heavy. I love it. Let’s do it! And so, I thought I was going to wear kaftans, float and have this Motherhood sixth sense. But in the trenches, it was not innate,” said Dr. Tyra Gross. Professor, Mentor and Maternal Health Researcher. She received these words of wisdom before having kids. And Tyra admits, “Then, I was knocked off my little pride horse. When I emailed her, because I named my daughter’s middle name after her I asked, ‘do you remember saying this to me?’ And she’s like, ‘Yeah. We usually think it’s going to come in a different way.’ Despite that, I knew I had something to share with others.”
Women are often drawn to giving. And show up in full force, from the fundraisers and meal trains, to non-profit board rooms. But unchecked, this desire to help can drain your reserves. The new McKinsey & Lean In Women in the Workplace research explains the problem. The invisible-yet-invaluable work of culture building tends to fall to women. Although many organizations say that diversity and inclusion is a priority. They rarely reward the mentors, ERG leaders and empathetic managers who do it. Not surprisingly, in the past year “the gap in burnout between women and men has almost doubled.”
Notice What You’re Drawn To
Mentorship evolved from a calling, that Tyra was naturally pulled into, with her students. To becoming part of her career and growth. She explained, “When I when I was a postdoc, I taught one class at a predominantly white institution and students of color saw themselves in me. Whether it was a Bangladeshi young man, an Ethiopian girl or anyone from a melanated background. I think it’s because I noticed them. And I intentionally tried to notice them and my students in general. Because, when they know that you know their names, it makes them come to class. And so, some students were coming under my wing organically.”
And Connect it to Your ‘Why’
Her mentoring role became more formalized over time. Tyra said, “I went to a lot of workshops for the mentoring program on campus. It was like, free lunch and socializing? Looks good! Then they asked me to do a talk on self-care.” She was excited to contribute in this way. And realized that this was part of her purpose.
“When the director was transitioning to a different role on campus, she handpicked me to lead the mentoring program. She said, ‘I only want you to do this.’ And there’s something called “other mothering” in different Black cultures. Where it’s literally the village who raises a child. So, it may not be your blood Mom but it’s your Aunt or neighbor. I realized, that’s my pedagogy! This is my mentoring philosophy,” Tyra said. Beautiful.
Develop Firm Boundaries
Tyra explained, “Some of my first research students came up to me after class and said, ‘I’m interested in what you’re working on.’ So, I’m like, what do you want to do about it? Now, I have some students where it’s more formal. And we have a mentoring contract with deliverables because they have a thesis to write.” When developing others, the guidelines can become fuzzy. And many mentors struggle to set limits. She said, “There are students that come knocking on my door. Or write the most beautiful things, like ‘here’s a paper I wrote on Black Maternal health if you’re interested.’ But I can’t always say yes.”
And Master the Respectful “no”
Some people, particularly socialized-to-please female people, will say yes to everything. Because they don’t know how to say no. Or perceive it as impolite. But that skill is also an important part of growth. You’ll need it to protect your energy and make space for new opportunities.
Tyra said, “I used to worry, that I crushed their little spirits, when I said that I can’t take on another student.” A common fear that can make boundary setting uncomfortable. She added, “Now, I say thank you so much for your kind words. I’m not taking on new students at this time. But I’m happy to be a member of your support network. I want to be thoughtful and not make anyone feel rejected.”
Enlist Partners to Help Your Career Growth
Access to mentors and sponsors is one of the most prescribed solutions to the stubborn wage and leadership gaps for women. But finding one isn’t always intuitive. And the process, of matching and meeting, is often informal. And iterative.
Tyra echoed this about finding her own mentors. She said, “It’s like, ‘oh hey, how are you? What’s your name and what department are you in?’ So, a lot of them are peers who maybe a year or two years ahead of me. We have that sisterly support. And I also have a new mentor through an Urban League program. And I’m looking forward to working with her because she’s been in Higher Ed and she’s from this area.”
And Remember, Capacity is What You Build
Tyra invests heavily in developing others. As a Professor, Mother, Mentor, Volunteer and aspiring Life Coach. Because she recognizes people need support to realize their potential. She said, “I’m practicing my life coaching skills on my little sister. And recently one of the things she said to me was, ‘I realize that I don’t have the capacity.’ And I’m like, well capacity can be grown. And she kind of looked at me. I said, I didn’t have the capacity to Mother three kids before I was the Mother of three kids! No one necessarily has everything innately. Some things come from experience. So, don’t close that door if it’s something you desire. And after talking with her about that, I realized how far I’ve come.”
So, go on! And build your capacity in all the ways that work for you. And don’t forget, stay open to finding that mentor, sponsor or coach, to help you navigate new territory.
Many thanks to the talented Dr. Tyra Gross!
Grateful to the many amazing parents who have participated in the research study. Have you chimed in yet? Share your pandemic experiences! How are the latest changes affecting your life? It’s quick and the results from this study are used to advocate better support for parents.
Employers, let us help you transform your workplace into an environment where caregivers thrive. Learn about Allies @ Work.
Dr. Tyra Toston Gross is an Assistant Professor of Public Health at Xavier University of Louisiana, where she has worked as a public health instructor, researcher and mentor since August 2015. Her research expertise is in maternal & child health disparities. Prior to joining Xavier, she completed a postdoctoral fellowship in reproductive women’s health at University of Texas Medical Branch. Given her interest in maternal & child health, the majority of Dr. Gross’ research has focused on the health of reproductive-age women. Her current research projects include exploring the health of Black postpartum women in Louisiana, and smoking cessation needs for low-income pregnant women. Dr. Gross is a member of the American Public Health Association (APHA) and Society of Behavioral Medicine (SBM). She is a proud wife and mother of three spunky kids and also an aspiring entrepreneur and philanthropist.Tags: Achieving Goals, Career development, Career Development for Moms, leadership, learning, mentorship, professional development