As the Chief DEI Officer at Southwire, Cara Herzog understands the complexities of balancing career and motherhood. We recently sat down with her for an mPower Hour where she discussed the challenges and opportunities that arise from juggling the roles of a leader and a mom simultaneously. During the session, Cara shared insights into her journey and how she navigates balance in her everyday life.
Our conversation with Cara was illuminating and offered a unique perspective into viewing your career as a journey that unfolds over time, surprising you in ways you never thought possible. While the whole session is worth a watch, here are some of our favorite takeaways.
On following your path
Cara started her career in the nonprofit world and saw great success with it. Within a few years, she had risen to a director level title. But then she got a call from Southwire, a leader in technology and innovation that delivers power to millions around the world. They offered her a role in a brand-new department, one that has exciting possibilities. Though it was a lower-level title, she was excited about its potential and wanted to challenge herself. Most doubted her decision to join Southwire as a training specialist. Today, she reports directly to the CEO as the company’s first Chief Diversity Officer and is proud to be part of an organization with seven decades of progressive growth, environmental stewardship, and a commitment to giving back to communities in which they work and live.
She learned her lesson early — follow the path that calls to you because it will be a rewarding one. In truth, the idea of a “career ladder” doesn’t exist; rather, your trajectory will ebb and flow. Cara likes to think of a career as a journey because it indicates things are evolving. The trick is to not doubt yourself and be willing to learn and be bold.
On progressing and improving
Being the Chief Diversity Officer gives Cara a unique perspective on the importance of continuously improving. Whether personal or professional, doing better starts with intention, but intention is not enough. You need to have accountability, too. This mindset has been especially important for her role at Southwire. She and her team have learned that the way you improve is how you operationalize and hold yourself accountable for progress.
As a manufacturing company, they have a mindset of continuous improvement, and this is true both for their products and innovations as well as the internal needs of their team members, as their needs are constantly changing. They want to be a destination workplace for mothers, so they started a standard for nursing mothers rooms in all of their facilities so people have a safe, sanitary, and clean environment to pump. They also recognize that it’s just as important for fathers to be able to be there for their children and their partners. When it comes down to it, it’s about listening to your workforce.
On shifting perspectives and giving yourself grace
Becoming a mother changes a person, yet often the true implications of these changes take time to emerge. For Cara, her perspective on many things shifted after the birth of her second child. Before kids, she thought she had to be perfect all the time, and even after her first child, she held onto that belief. But she wasn’t the same person. Her priorities had shifted, and her world had changed.
“When I went back to work after having my first child, I was trying to fit into an old structure that no longer worked for me.” - Cara Herzog
Realizing this led to a shift in her thinking, and the birth of her second child solidified this. She realized that it is okay to show up authentically and ask for help. As a result, her relationship with colleagues got better when she stopped trying to do all of it myself.
Being a mother has also helped her assess what’s most important in life. She has adopted a motto of “fail fast and move on,” because being a mom means she doesn’t have time to waste. This realization has also helped her learn to set boundaries…and protect them. She offered these three tips for setting boundaries:
Decide — What is negotiable for you and what isn’t?
Write it down, set them. and be clear.
When you set a boundary, don’t apologize for it. Remember that “
Motherhood has had a tangible effect on Cara’s career. In many ways, she has become better. Her performance and efficiency improved after having children, and she’s developed a resilience she didn’t used to have. Being a mom has also led her to be more empathetic and vulnerable as she has more honest conversations with her co-workers. She credits the community of motherhood, which creates a space where you are willing to share and you give others permission to share as well.
On how motherhood has improved her career
Feeling a sense of community and acceptance is essential for authenticity in the workplace. If we are creating work cultures in which people don’t feel accepted and valued, they will end up spending a lot of energy hiding parts of themselves — and there’s no way you’re getting that person’s best if this is the case.
“A diversified workforce is essential to reaching our goals.” - Cara Herzog
For Southwire, they prioritize creating workspaces that work for women and everyone. The labor market is tightening, and the employee value proposition is evolving. The question all companies need to ask themselves is how to prepare themselves to make sure that they are the employer of choice for a diversified workforce. Women are a critical piece of that, and that’s an important part of how the journey of navigating a career and motherhood has shifted.
We had an amazing time chatting with Cara, and we encourage you to check out our full conversation here, which features an array of advice for mothers and leaders who are paving their own paths to success.