Dee Poku is the co-founder and CEO of WIE (Women Inspiration and Enterprise), a women’s leadership network whose mission is to “furnish women with the tools to succeed,” and she’s also the founder of The Other Festival, a new platform created to showcase female makers and creators. In short, Dee is the definition of a woman who supports and enriches the lives and careers of other women.
We’re inspired by her tenacious and entrepreneurial spirit, commitment to building a robust community of career-focused women, and most of all, her ability to maintain and nurture so many incredible endeavors — not least of which, her roles as a mother, wife, and friend. We recently featured her in our Project Entrepreneur #WednesdayWisdom column, and now, we’re chatting with Dee about what it means to be a mom with a demanding career, how she finds balance and her powerful advice for new and expecting moms.
As a successful entrepreneur, what does it mean to be a mom in 2018?
There is a lot of responsibility that comes with being a mother today if you want to raise strong, self-confident girls and emotionally healthy boys. Girls are traditionally brought up to be nurturing and ‘nice’ but with that comes an inability to express themselves candidly and directly, and ask for what they want. And for the boys the opposite is true.
To be a man, they have to over-index on the confidence portion and leave vulnerability behind. As the mother of a boy, I take those responsibilities very seriously. In the current #metoo climate dominated by the revelations of devastating consequences of not paying special attention to raising boys who can express their emotions freely and openly. We have to wield our impact as strongly as we can as a parent to counter society’s often negative influence on our children.
Do you think there’s such a thing as “having it all?”
I fall into the “you can have elements of ‘all’ at different points in your life” camp. I’ve yet to find the perfect alignment between work, marriage, and motherhood where everything is working perfectly at one moment in time. But at different points of the year, work and motherhood will be brilliant or marriage and social will harmonize. You’ll drive yourself crazy trying to be the best mother, executive, wife and friend all at once. Just do your best. Take the pressure off and leave the guilt at the door.
What is the most rewarding part of your job?
I run a community for career women and we host bonding educational experiences such as salons, dinners, workshops and festivals. We’ve built an incredible network of smart, engaged, ambitious women and have managed to secure some of the world’s most successful and inspiring men and women to share their wisdom at our gatherings. I basically get to interact with the most fascinating people every day of the week and I’m so grateful for that.
What piece of advice would you share with a new mom?
This is not the mother Olympics so get as much help as you need. Having a new baby can leave you feeling completely shell-shocked, so in those initial months, get your mother, a close relative or friend to come and stay, and if you can afford it, hire a baby nurse to help you with the nights. Ensure your partner is doing his or her fair share and don’t fall into gender stereotypes. A tired, stressed out mother helps no one and especially not herself. Above all enjoy every moment you can. Each milestone crossed is a miracle.
Have a tried-and-tested working mom hack to share?
The morning school run is a nightmare for most moms. Your kids are intransigent and you have very little time to get both yourself and them ready to make it to school on time. It’s what I’m at my least patient as a mother. On a bad day, by the time I’ve done drop off, I feel like I’ve already lived a lifetime and it’s only 8:30am.
The simple life changing advice I live by is to give myself some extra time. Wake up 30 minutes earlier so you’re showered and ready by the time your kids wake up. That way, they can have all the attention and time needed to get ready and out the door without any tantrums. Doing that changed everything for me. No more half dragging anyone out of the house. Ha!
What do you do to implement balance and self-care into your daily routine?
I love lemon and water first thing in the morning as a cleansing, refreshing way to start my day. I walk everywhere. I can never find time to exercise so I stay fit by avoiding trains and taxis when I can, and I always take the stairs. And as an extension of that, a close friend and I started “power walking” together 10 years ago as a way of combining exercise with an opportunity to work through all of our work/life issues. Over the course of the hike, we cover everything from our careers to parenting and it’s an incredibly helpful way of problem solving with someone you trust, who knows you well, and is at a similar job level.
Has your personal style been influenced by motherhood at all?
I guess I used to care about having the latest bag, etc. but I’ve barely bought anything for myself in years. None of my clothes are high fashion anymore but rather classics that stand the test of time. If I have anything on trend, it’s probably because it has come back around after a five year cycle!
We’ve got to know — who’s your power mom crush?
I love Chimananda Ngozi Adichie. Her writing resonates so deeply with me, and her TED talk, “Danger of a Single Story” was life-changing. Every mother should read Dear Ijeawele, Or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions on raising girls.
We believe in women supporting other women and in this series, we focus on the exceptional women who represent innovation, risk-taking, leadership, and style. These women raise the bar for themselves and others, redefining motherhood for the better as they pursue their professional careers and personal projects. They are the Women of the Future.