Inspirational Woman: Danusia Malina-Derben | Founder, School For Mothers (SFM)

Danusia Malina-DerbenDanusia Malina-Derben is a lifelong entrepreneur and straight-talking consultant advising Boards and C-suite clients on their Strategic Leadership.

She is also founder of School For Mothers (SFM) a change-making movement upending old narratives that limit the potential of mothers and businesses. She is mother of ten children including ‘her last baby’, triplets of six years old.

Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role

I’m a C-suite Consultant and also Founder of School for Mothers.

I began my career as a senior business school academic in the UK and USA. I rose from ESRC Research Fellow to senior levels as an Organisational Behaviour (OB) and Development (OD) expert. After leaving my tenured academic post I built a leadership development consultancy, DMD Global, which specialises on C-level execs and Boards. Through this C-suite consulting I influence the way Boards strategise; redirect company vision, reignite C-suiters influence and re-align their leadership prowess. My knowledge and background in cross-cultural Organisational Behaviour and Development have enabled me to work impactfully with clients in Europe, North America, Asia, Australasia, Africa and Antarctica.

In 2018 I launched School for Mothers to upend old narratives and practices that limit the potential of individual mothers and those collectively within businesses. The School for Mothers Podcast delves deeper than emotional clichés and outdated stereotypes about mother’s lives, and what matters to them. The podcast recently hit the top of the UK iTunes Business and Careers Podcast charts too which was wonderful as we are newcomers on the podcast scene. My upcoming book, Messages from a Mother of Ten: on Work, Family and Freedom sets out new paradigms for ambitious mothers who want more than balance. I’ve a unique standpoint when discussing women’s careers and children since I had 2 children in my teens, three children in my twenties, 2 children in my thirties and four children in my forties.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

Absolutely I did as well as rolling with changes that are inevitable as life pans out. It’s not career plan vs not career plan – it’s an AND rather than an either-or. I also want to say something about career planning, beyond my own experiences.  It’s usual for women to assume that women’s careers aren’t planned because we cognitively process in circuitous ways  whereas men are said to plan in linear forms. Additionally, women don’t typically own up to being career-strategic or in fact don’t see themselves as needing to be this way either. I remember a piece of research I heard about where researchers  found half of women in the study didn’t plan ahead in terms of career goals, compared with only a fifth of men. So it’s something that women do far less than men yet  there’s big cost to this for women. Career planning means thinking big while also being prepared for slow-burn growth and at the same time being ready to respond to opportunities that come up. Luck favours the well prepared.  Most women spend more time planning their holidays than they do their career.

Putting myself through the following three steps keeps me on track career-wise as I:

  1. Identify what I’m good at
  2. Focus on what kind of work I want to be doing so that I use the skills identified in step one
  3. Get clear on the difference I want to make

Moving through this simple process every year keeps me ‘on purpose’ professionally. It also means opportunities become obvious as they arise.

Have you faced any challenges along the way?

Many challenges along the way! One of the challenges I faced consistently  has been how to make sure I figure on my own to-do list. This seems to be one universal challenge mothers share. The many practical and emotional demands of raising kids and our own attempts to be the very best mum we can be often translates into a self sacrificing model of being. Because I’ve a large family my need to consciously keep myself and my identity (as a woman not only as mum) clear led me to creating a simple yet effective tool called ME SHEETS and for some time now I’ve used them in my life to keep on track not only as a busy person but more importantly to remind myself of my own needs and desires, beyond my dearly loved family.  Now hundreds of mothers globally are using ME SHEETS too as they’re a free digital download on our website!

What has been your biggest achievement to date?

Professionally: returning to City Board consulting after the birth of my micro-preemie triplets. An assignment I couldn’t refuse landed in their first few months and they’d only just come out of the neo-natal unit so I found myself back in a Boardroom while breastfeeding triplets. The achievement of being dressed, being coherent while pumping, and making a big difference at that level feels like a big achievement.

Personally: I’d like to also add that creating a podcast on top of business, kids and  all the rest is humbling. It stretched my skill set and has meant I’ve had to show up every single week. That’s taught me about pacing myself and amplifying my stamina.

What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success?

A major factor has been focusing on my talents and matching this with what people actually want. This has impacted me in both my leadership consulting with C-suites and also in my new role as Founder of School for Mothers. In a time of immense opportunities and online sharing it can be easy to be sidetracked by what others are doing. I’ve developed a way of alchemising comparison as a destructive force (potentially) into a positive tool for growth and I’m almost ready to share this with others. Comparison is a natural human habit and it can’t be erased so it’s best to find sustainable ways to make it work for us. I’ll let you know here at WATC when I release the work on comparison!

How do you feel about mentoring? Have you mentored anyone or are you someone’s mentee?

Mentoring has the potential for great impact. I’m a mentor to women and men and this is a huge privilege. As a young woman I was also a mentee and although not in formal mentee relationships now I’m able to access immense wisdom from industry leaders I’m surrounded by. Here’s a couple of tips:

Firstly, look for mentors/mentees that are different to yourself. Having a role model that’s similar to you is inspiring and important but seeing a different way to approach and experience business is critical too.

Secondly, I encourage women to also seek Sponsors, which can be one further enhancement to a career.  Having people who publicly vouch for you and your work, and push you forward can often be the turning point in a career. The “boy’s club” has created a strong network of recommendations and allegiance that can be ostracising to women in business. Women would be in better stead if mentors also extended their roles to sponsorship. This means opening doors for women – I’m thankful to sponsors in my career who’ve involve(d) me in experiences that enable my advancement.

If you could change one thing to accelerate the pace of change for Gender Parity, what would it be?

Achieving gender equality remains an unachievable goal if the area of motherhood is not attended to from a wholly new paradigm. The number of working women with dependent children has gone up by one million in the last two decades, according to official figures for England alone. This attention must stretch beyond parental leave, lactation support and childcare provision. Retaining and retraining women at all stages of the maternal pipeline in order to reach gender parity is essential. This means engaging with ever-evolving practicalities of being a mother and creating environments that glean the very best from employees who could be described minimally as multi-skilled operators. Mothers hold an extraordinary array of talents above and beyond their professional expertise.  Gender parity cannot be intersectional if the rights and needs of working mothers are not considered a priority. Through our innovative consulting work, School for Mothers is at the cutting edge in assisting large corporations to make crucial pivots that mean mothers are retained, once they’re hired.

If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self what would it be?

I would remind my younger self that “she who risks nothing, drinks no champagne” (unknown author).

What is your next challenge and what are you hoping to achieve in the future?

Beyond active SFM consulting assignments altering the way mothers are perceived and treated, our next challenge is the expansion of ME SHEETS into an online programme. We’ve been looking forward to bringing this to ambitious mothers tussling with how to do all they have on their plates while simultaneously having themselves be central in their own lives rather than at the fringes.

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