I am passionate about my leadership in the healthcare field. I also love being a mother. Being a working mom has its challenges, and the decision to invest in my career and my family at the same time has brought the occasional judgmental comment—from colleagues, other parents, and even my own family. Some have offered encouragement, telling me that being a mom is just as important as anything else I could do. And while strides are being made for gender equality in the workplace, I don’t feel that motherhood is valued equally in the workplace, or in our culture.

A shift in our culture.

I mentor MHA students at the University of Washington. The question I get most often from female students is, how practical is it to be a healthcare executive, and have a family? I believe there are brilliant women who are strong leaders who choose not to pursue executive roles in our society because they’re not sure these two desires are compatible. They’re not sure they will get the support they need to be successful in the workplace and at home. Our culture has work to do.

When I found out I was pregnant with my daughter, I was terrified to share our news with my Board of Commissioners. Settling into life with a newborn was going to require a few months of maternity leave, as well as time away from the office once I returned to work full time. It was going to complicate things for our organization. I was fortunate to have the full support of my board, but my hesitancy tells me that as a culture, we haven’t made it to the place where being a mother and being an executive are equally valued.

However, in the past eight years as a mother and an executive, I have seen cultural shifts toward supporting women who are choosing to embrace motherhood and their professional lives. For example, after returning to work at the end of my maternity leave, I needed to pump milk several times a day, but there was no designated place for me to do it. I was fortunate to have a private office where I could sequester myself, and hope that no one would ignore the “Do Not Disturb” sign on my door. But when we built our new hospital, a nursing space was thoughtfully included as a peaceful, private place for nursing female employees to have time and space to care for their families.

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Author: Renee JensenRenee Jensen is an executive leader and performer with over 19 years of experience developing and leading strategic transformation, innovation, change management, and optimization efforts for healthcare organizations. An expert in public hospital district operations and integrated healthcare systems, she is a trusted and effective leader who values transparency and exhibits the ability to implement cultural change and drive financial results.