At the heart of the Grand Rapids Chamber leadership programming is connection. As a member of the Chamber team, I have had the privilege of participating in some of our programs and experiencing these connections firsthand, including the Emerging Leaders Series, Leading Edge, and a marketing-focused Management Roundtable.
Through each of these experiences, I have learned more about our community, challenged myself to grow personally and professionally, and most importantly, connected with peers and met some incredible business leaders.
Last year I participated in the spring cohort of Leading Edge. This was a long-standing Chamber program designed specifically for women leaders. (In 2023 the program was re-envisioned and reintroduced as Women in Leadership. The core of the program remains the same: as women in the workplace, we face a unique set of challenges and opportunities, and throughout the curriculum, participants elevate their leadership capabilities while forming relationships with fellow women leaders.)
When the program kicked off, I was 10 weeks pregnant, dealing with morning sickness, contemplating how and when to share the news with my team, stressing about maternity leave, and worrying I was already too late to join daycare waiting lists. There couldn’t have been a better place for me to be than in a room with fellow women professionals – including one who told us she was also expecting her first child.
Although I didn’t share the news with my cohort immediately, simply being in the room with other women, many of whom were moms at various stages in their career, gave me comfort and confidence in navigating my way forward. And when I did announce my pregnancy to the class, it was quickly met with excitement, support, and encouragement. I now had 16 more cheerleaders in my corner.
Our cohort wrapped up in early May. In June, my fellow participant gave birth to a beautiful baby girl. In July, another participant announced her pregnancy, and in September, I gave birth to my son, Charlie.
Following the program and maternity leave transitions, we have now formed a subgroup of new moms from our cohort. There are five of us with children ranging from one month to 6 years old, who meet monthly for lunch. We catch up to discuss the various issues top-of-mind for working moms – the bittersweet and complicated feelings that come with returning to work; nap schedules, sleep training, and day care; the juggling act of balancing work, motherhood, and relationships; children’s sickness, allergies, and doctor appointments; and the everyday obstacles and opportunities that come with each of our professional roles.
For too many women leaders, one of the biggest challenges we face is tackling imposter syndrome and a lack of confidence. Establishing a group of peers to support each other is one of the best things we can do to combat that. Whether you’re a new mother or not, there is power in having a go-to group to share best practices, find advice and encouragement, and simply to know you aren’t alone in the challenges you’re facing.