Who Says Girls Can’t?

Meet Shelby: engineer, manager, mom, wife.

Please welcome guest blogger Shelby Swango, PE. Shelby is like so many modern women, traveling from Board room to construction site to ballet carpool without skipping a beat.  As the Area Manager at WSP | Parsons Brinckeroff in Indianapolis, Shelby is a civil engineer focused on actively changing and developing our nation’s transit systems.  Her philanthropy work at Keep Indianapolis Beautiful is helping to plant trees and rebuild communities.  When not designing roadways, Shelby can be found camping or hiking with her husband Steve (a stay-at-home dad and former engineer-turned-artist) and their 12-year-old daughter, Lydia.  

Statistics say that roughly 13% of the civil engineering workforce are women and even fewer hold leadership positions within the field. So according to the numbers, I am quite unique in my position as a female Vice President of Indiana Operations for a large international civil engineering firm. I oversee business development and client relationships and I am responsible for the delivery and quality of the services we provide. My 22-year career, including onsite construction work and office management, has taught me many invaluable things – perhaps one of the most notable is that my gender has no bearing on my success.

Shelby with her colleagues.

My friend, Lindsay Watson, asked me to write about my viewpoint as a woman leader in a male-dominated business. I was immediately excited to do it, but I told her that she might be surprised to hear my response. For me, gender is a non-issue; something I don’t really notice that much. I am empowered to be who I am and rarely have felt restrained by the fact that I am a woman. My upbringing had much to do with this.

From the very beginning, my parents told me and showed me that I could do whatever I want – that my gender was irrelevant. I worked with my dad fixing cars. My mother, who was a construction worker, would take me to job sites on the weekends to show me what she was building. They instilled in me an understanding of the mechanical world we live in and a love of practical learning. These principles have overflowed into my adult life and helped me form a set of fundamental guidelines from which I draw as I maneuver through my career.

At a worksite.

1) Do your best to surround yourself with people you like. You cannot always control those with whom you work. However, I have found it is a significant advantage to cultivate environments where people are not homogenous, but are genuinely willing to embrace diversity. When you do this, production, innovation and quality of work is so much better.

2) Don’t defer just because you are a woman. Take a seat at the table. For anyone in a professional environment, but especially a woman, I find it is important to literally and figuratively position yourself at the table. (How many women have you seen intentionally take a seat along the wall and out of the way?) Do not be afraid to talk and offer an opinion. And when speaking, do so carefully. I find it is so much more effective to speak when you have something of value to add, and not just to get a word in. Far too many people (male and female) feel they MUST SPEAK to show they are ‘in the room’. Often due to double standards, talking for the sake of talking tends to backfire for women and less so for men.

3) You do NOT have to accept ‘guy talk’ to show you fit in. This is a fine point. On the one hand, you cannot be so thin-skinned that everything offends you. But at the same time, if there are ‘girly’ calendars hanging on the wall, or lewd jokes about women, you do not have to put up with that type of behavior to show you are ‘one of the guys’. I find that some of the guys are also offended by such behavior, and stay quiet out of fear that they will lose their ‘man card’ by speaking up. I do believe this deplorable type of behavior is a form of intimidation (intentional or not) and it leads to a hostile environment that is NOT good for anyone.

4) Celebrate and embrace the success of the women around you. There are many available seats at the table for men and women alike. Lift each other up! Your career is not a competition to see who can be the coolest woman in a male dominated field. Don’t allow petty, dismissive or degrading behavior go unchecked. Celebrate the achievements of those around you. Most of all, remember that you do not have to be in a position of power to be a good example.

5) You can be the boss and you can be feminine. I like make up, nice clothes and high heels. But I also like putting on boots and getting out in the field. One is not mutually exclusive of the other. We have to stop telling our girls that you have to pick one. Be comfortable in your own skin and you will be successful in doing what you love.

6) Demand respect and equally give it out to the people around you. Thankfully, I love my career and enjoy leading my staff in the successful delivery of exciting engineering projects. I demand respect by being respectful to others, regardless of gender, and expect the same from those I lead. I work hard to live by example. I am confident in what I have to contribute. I listen to others. I make decisions and own them. I do not think that my male peers think of me as a good ‘woman engineer’. They consider me a good engineer.

Shelby, Steve, and 12-year-old Lydia.

We must never designate certain careers for boys and different ones for girls. As a society we have to teach our children to be caring and compassionate with others. We need to encourage them to be confident and passionate about who they are and to choose any path that fulfills them. If we could do this, we will then have people pursuing careers they truly love. Tell your sons and your daughters that they CAN be anything they desire. Their gender does not have to dictate anything about their future. Let’s all work to create a generation that embraces differences, lifts each other up, and creates inspiring and innovative environments – where no child is told they CAN’T.

Want to learn more about women and engineering and what impacts a girl’s decision to pursue science and math as a vocation? Check out this great link.

Going back. And second guessing.

by Jessica

One of the worst Mom Moments of my life happened on a sunny April morning, eight and a half years ago. Starbucks in hand, I was pushing my son in his stroller while out running errands when I ran into another mom I knew through mutual friends.

We had babies around the same age and started chatting about feeding schedules, the great pacifier debate… newborn mom stuff.

“Are you going back to work soon?” I asked her, knowing that my own unpaid maternity leave was ending in just a few days.

“Oh no,” she replied. “I couldn’t go back to work. This is a really wanted baby. I would never give up this time with her.”

My world stopped for a second. Blood rushed to my head. She had a wanted baby that warranted stay-at-home mom status. Did this mean my son was not as wanted? Did this mean something was broken in me that I was heading back to work after 11 short weeks? Why was I suddenly jealous? And heartbroken?

Continue reading “Going back. And second guessing.”

It’s all in the shoes.

Just beyond the bright red door of our cozy little home, a giant pile of shoes tells the story of our days. On Sundays, after an early morning cleanup, the pile is a tidy row of velcro Nikes and ballet flats. By Thursday night, it is a undulating heap of rain boots, broken flip flops, an errant sock, random baseballs, someone’s crusty wet tennis shoe, and swim goggles.

The big, huge, shoe pile.

Each week, we start with the best of intentions and, each week, the shoe pile reflects what our lives are really like: colorful, scattered, adventurous, and nonstop.

Our house is now exactly one month into summer break. We’ve adjusted our schedules, rooted for our Cavs, given up on the one-popsicle-a-day rule, and shivered our way through early morning swim team practice. We have picked berries, hunted for sea glass, played a lot of baseball, and happily accepted Rice Krispies as dinner at least twice. Okay, maybe three times.

Part of me is frustrated – this summer was to be about continuing the momentum of my year, when the kids were in school eight hours a day when I could work and launch MotherBoard, and still be home for the bus every day.

But the truth is that this summer has already become something different.

Continue reading “It’s all in the shoes.”

Stops, starts, and stalls: Finding my working mom path

Welcome to our first official MotherBoard guest blog post by Pam Turos: founder of GoodCauseCLE.com, entrepreneur, writer, social worker, and mother of three.  We met Pam as part of the Cleveland Leadership Center‘s #AccelerateNEO civic pitch competition earlier this year. Pam’s practical, honest approach to working motherhood – and our shared love of our awesome city – made us fast friends.

Sometimes by choice, often by necessity, my career journey has been a winding road of stops, starts and stalls over the last twelve years. One summer, my babysitter took home more of my paycheck than I did. Thankfully, she was worth every penny. But the kids and I walked dogs together in the afternoons and evenings to balance out the cost of child care, so I could continue working part-time in the mornings. There have been stretches of time when the balance sheet (or schedule) was so off kilter, that it just seemed easier to stay home. And as much as I love my family, I spent more time than I’d like to admit crying in the sandbox (or the laundry room) during that phase of life. So I always assumed that as soon as all of my kids were in school, I would go back to work full-time.

We’ve all read articles about the stay-at-home mom who tried to get back into the workforce after ten years and the working mom who tried to do it all at her ow2n expense.  But those articles didn’t apply to me – I have always worked in some capacity, though my availability may have been dependent on night-time feedings and preschool schedules. So once kindergarten registration was complete for my youngest, I reached out to my professional contacts and started asking about full-time jobs. Seems easy enough, right? Except that nothing in life is as simple as we’d like it to be and working motherhood is no exception.

That first year trying to get “back to work” was full of unexpected lessons and introspection, some of which I’m still processing. First and foremost, I realize now that when I was negotiating professional positions, I fell into a trap of believing that
my own time was less valuable than other people’s – think dollar figures here. Because “We have my husband’s insurance” or “I need to have flexibility for the kids” – I was willing to accept any position that met our most basic needs. What I didn’t realize at the time is that I stopped growing professionally as a result, and the women who stayed fully committed to professional development had skills, relationships and experience that I just wasn’t getting on “almost full time” diaper duty. If you take a lower paying job that happens to meet the needs of your family, chances are, you will get treated like an entry level employee.

In my mind I was ready to move forward professionally, and I even offered to take on more hours and responsibility at work. But in my colleagues’ mind, I continued to be “just part-time” and this was most evident when it came to projects and leadership. More than once, an idea I presented at a meeting would be implemented by full-time staff members. When I discussed my desire to do more with my manager, I will never forget her telling me that her own professional goal when her children were young was to just have a job that would let her manage her family. I don’t want to “manage my family” – I want to be fully present in their lives. Women shouldn’t have to choose between having a rewarding career and being an engaged parent, but we each have to decide what that means to us and then surround ourselves with people who have the same beliefs.

family beach
Pam Turos is MotherBoard’s first guest blogger, a working mom of three, and the founder of GoodCauseCLE.com.

When it became increasingly clear that my employer and I had different ideas about the meaning of “potential to grow” – I took a leap of faith and decided to create my own full-time job. I’m now working more than I ever have as a freelance writer (at a professional rate I deserve), and I’m managing other professionals who also freelance on my client’s web development and video projects. This summer I can afford to pay the babysitter and also enjoy an afternoon at the pool with my kids once in a while. And with the upcoming launch of GoodCauseCLE.com, I’m in the position to offer other women opportunities to contribute in ways that are flexible and meaningful to them. It’s the best of both worlds. My family, my clients and my colleagues all get to know the best version of me – a busy, happy, fulfilled, and capable mom.


Enough. Or maybe just one more…

Post by Sarah.

“I love my job, but I want to have a baby.” Have you said this before? You worry that if you have a child, it will affect your career, professional growth and sanity. Despite the immediate “what ifs” that enter your mind, the aching desire to have a baby won’t go away.

These thoughts caused me many sleepless nights. I spent years in college and law school getting my degrees and becoming a professional. I got a great job, worked hard, and earned the respect of my peers. I had charted a very traditional professional course to put in the time, develop my skills, and advance. About the same time, I married a man, also a lawyer, and we soon began a family.1

We had our first child and the needs of our
home life immediately changed. We had child care expenses, diapers, and music classes. I wanted to be home more with our son. Simultaneously, the demands of our careers grew. Projects at work became larger with higher stakes and more time requirements.

My husband and I decided that the best thing for our family was for me to scale back at work. Less days in the office, work more at home and, thus, have more time with our son.

A couple of years went by and we had a second child. We continued to balance family and work obligations. I scaled back a bit more from the office and increased my time telecommuting. I was worried because I was spending less hours in the office working with colleagues and my career path was changing. I feared it may never recover.

One day, I found myself standing at a crossroads where I wanted to have another child, but I wanted to keep working and advancing my career. I thought I couldn’t do both – stay professionally relevant and have a third child. How could I maintain a meaningful presence in the legal field and meet the needs of my family with three young kids?

I tried to ignore my desire to have another baby. I had two kids, both happy and healthy. The work life – family life tug and pull was challenging, but we were making it work with the help of a nanny, grandparents, and babysitters. Why add another child to our precariously balanced life? Continue reading “Enough. Or maybe just one more…”

Survey time! Get on {Mother}Board.

Get on {mother}board.-2.jpg

It’s survey time! We have been researching, meeting, talking, presenting… doing everything we can to ensure MotherBoard works for our target user: smart, professional moms who want to have balance in their work and family life. Now we are going to the masses with a quick survey to help us make some important decisions on how best to build MotherBoard.

Help a Mother out and take five minutes to share more about you and how you might use MotherBoard. As always, leave comments below if you have more to share with our team.

Here it is! http://svy.mk/1svls2i

Do What You Do: A Fresh Perspective on Work


Picture it.  A neighborhood cocktail party and you bring your A game to embark on a night of the requisite small talk.  Have you ever stopped to take notice of how many times you are asked, “So, what do you do”?

Our society is obsessed with what people do and it has become the ultimate conversation starter.

For a woman who has opted out of the workforce, this can be a complicated question to answer because there is what she does NOW, what she USED to do, and many times, what she WANTS to do.

But not right now, because life is complicated.  Why is it complicated you ask?  Because I’m a woman and I already had a steeper ladder to climb which means a faster fall to the bottom when I stepped out of the workforce.  And I grow humans.  Humans are expensive and hard.  And daycare is expensive too.  And though not on my resume, this mothering skill is really important and my children think I’m great at it. It’s not that I do nothing – I actually do a lot.  But I want to remind you that I had a real job before I had kids, I was good at that too.  Wait, raising kids IS a real job.  I digress…  Continue reading “Do What You Do: A Fresh Perspective on Work”

Welcome to MotherBoard

Follow along as one small group of mom entrepreneurs with one great idea launch a game-changing startup.

The day I became a mom, it was as if the universe picked me up, moved me over an inch, and dropped me back to Earth. Everything around me was the same but I felt just a little bit different about the world around me.

Some parts of motherhood came easily to me, from my ninja diapering skills to the deep, unwavering love I developed for my son. Other parts were not so easy: the lack of sleep, the extra worrying, the fact that it took me 40 minutes to get out the door to make a Target run.

But the hardest part of all was where to put the career I loved and nurtured for more
AUTOMOTIVEthan a decade. If my son was my true north, where did my trusty old true north – the one that wore pinstriped pant suits – where did she go?

I went back to work after a fleeting maternity leave. I needed to work financially and I needed to work because I was not sure who I was without the career that had become an integral part of my being.
Continue reading “Welcome to MotherBoard”

The Pitch


Accelerate-Winners-PicsMotherBoard was an idea rattling in our brains for a long time. But it came to the bright lights of a big stage for the first time on February 24, 2016 at the Cleveland Leadership Center’s Accelerate 2016 civic pitch competition. It was a phenomenal night, celebrating the exciting future of our beloved city and bringing together friends and colleagues who shared big dreams for igniting change in our region and beyond.

Check out Jess’ pitch below. A few details have changed as our discovery process and business plan progressed but the nuts and bolts are here and you can definitely see the spark of something we know will be great!