Pamela Mattsson is the director of Executive Development at Amazon. A seasoned executive coach and thought leader in the leadership development industry for over 15 years, she spent the past six years as the Managing Director of the global consulting firm Axialent leading complex culture change initiatives all over the world. Pamela is a dynamic facilitator and brings special expertise in innovation and inclusion using an experiential and humanistic approach.
She firmly believes that the distinction between work and life is a false polarity. Her leadership philosophy is that life is happening all of the time and true leadership is about taking responsibility for what we are creating, reconnecting to our inner core, our humanness and authentically honoring our values.
Pamela returned to the US seven years ago after a 12-year stint abroad in Switzerland, France and Sweden. She just celebrated her 27th year of marriage to her Swedish husband and is the proud mother of four children with a wild and woolly age range of 23, 21, 14 and 8. She is a feisty southern belle, a passionate and professionally trained chef and avid world traveller.
Who are the members of your family?
Lars, my husband of 28 years, 57, Alexander 24 (son), Adrian 22 (son), Annalis 15 (daughter), Amelia 9 (daughter)
From your experience of working with many women, how would you describe the mental models of mothers returning to work?
I think it is a combination of excitement and dread. Motherhood changes you – I literally gave birth to my greatest teachers. It grows you up. Little things no longer hijack my attention I know what truly matters for me. At the same time, societal views can be seductive especially ones that either expect you to be/do everything or judge someone who is trying to do just that. It can be a catch 22.
How can organisations avoid penalising mothers in the paid workforce?
Normalise wanting a family, make it easy to take time and create the structures in place that the tasks don’t suffer (like job sharing, great cross-training), interrupt the belief that being “indispensable” is valuable and make it clear that being indispensable is not good for you or the organisation. Encourage reasonable hours and availability, celebrate working from home opportunities, etc. There are lots of actions that organisations can take but I believe the biggest need is a shift in mindsets around motherhood and executive presence. We have to redefine what an effective leader looks like.
In what ways throughout your career have you navigated being a mother? Tell us about your lows, and your highs.
As a mother of four over generations, I have had to navigate internal and external challenges. Highs were having enough travel and meaning in my life to not sweat the small stuff at home and getting caught in the trap of conversations with my children and my partner only being about logistics, chores and coordination or the opposite, feeling stressed at work and bringing that home where the quality of my interactions and my perspective and positivity suffered. I have found it hardest when our kids need us the most, hard to leave small infants for me, especially nursing and hard to leave teenagers in angst. My high is when I feel fulfilled on all levels and low is when I am feeling inadequate in any area – motherhood, balance, partnering, AND this is often a series of thoughts attached to a particular perspective that unfortunately feeds itself.
When do you ask, “am I doing this right?” and what is it in relation to typically?
Parenting while balancing an executive position. Rarely is it work-related, typically balance and the quality of my precious interactions with my children and partner have me question the most.
You’ve been on the receiving end of comments about your husband’s involvement in childcare, what do you think is going on when fathers are congratulated for their ‘fathering’ contributions? How does this land with you?
It is often a combination of social norming and unconscious bias, rarely do I hear it as intentional. However, I find it infuriating and often respond as such with things like “would you ever ask my husband this?” when asked for example, “how DO, you travel with four children?”; “oh your husband is a gem, I saw him at the bus stop yesterday!”
What’s the difference between the mother you were with your first and who you became as a result of your last born child?
I think I raised my first son focused on doing things “right” and changing the trajectory of how I was raised, moving from patriarchal authoritarianism to compassionate attachment parenting. However, the focus was more on what I was doing and who I was becoming as a mother. With my fourth child, I see my experience as a mother and my maturity as a human serve me in that my focus is much more on keeping her flame, wildness, uniqueness alive and the focus is on her aliveness not my “performance” as a mother. I feel so much more free and relaxed as a mother now. Just ask my oldest son!
What inner conversations do you have about choosing to create a life on your own terms rather than a templated one?
Many many, many, daily actually. My conversations are primarily around listening to my resonance and dissonance and doing my best to live the truth of who I am while balancing being in relationship with others trying to do the same.
What are you responsible for?
My responses, my perspectives, my emotions, my needs, my wishes, my desires, my well-being, my self-expression, my fulfilment, my impact, my purpose, my life.
You’ve lived in several geographical places, in what ways are working mothers perceived differently depending on location?
Wildly different in Europe than in the US in my experience, especially Scandinavia. While I believe there are more working mothers in Scandinavia per capita (you’d have to confirm this to be a fact right now), they are more supported with time off, leave, balance, job sharing. I find Scandinavia, in general, to be about 30 years ahead of the US in terms of equality and open mindsets.
In Sweden it’s normalised for both parents to work, what does this bring culturally as well as at individual levels?
It brings gender parity and creates the conditions for true partnership – I find in the US one person’s career can be valued over another’s in a partnership and I don’t see that as much in Sweden. It means that maternity and paternity leave are one in the same and that childcare only starts after both parents have been home.
What generational contracts have you intentionally broken and intentionally brought with you particularly in relation to mothering and work?
I have intentionally broken ones that see women as property of men, less than and unable to make decisions, especially financial ones. Where women are only in exist in service of their men and asked to look the other way when they feel disrespected or mistreated in exchange for the roof over their head and access to a pay-check. I have brought with me the strength and ownership of being the matriarch and avid defender and protector of my brood, I have brought unconditional love and compassion blended with passion and strength.
Serving (others) is etched into the mother contract, how do you negotiate within yourself and with others about this aspect of being a mother?
It’s a challenge, I enjoy serving literally and metaphorically. I think the risk is when I fail to listen to my own internal cues and do not set boundaries. When I am not responsible for my own energy management, boundaries and needs, I can still serve but not cleanly, not freely and that can lead to resentment.
What are the ways that women are viewed right now geo-politically?
I think the with American politics and politics worldwide including our government, military activity and war, women are more polarised and activated than ever. I myself was so incredibly grief-stricken and angry over the election and found it to be a wake-up call to the underbelly in the US. I have never felt more politically inclined and at the same time have never been more sure that love and compassion are the answer.
In what ways do we as mothers give away our power?
To our drive, to our children, to societal expectations. It is up to us to have the courage to decide what is “enough” for us no matter how small or big that is, to role-model fulfilment to our children and to only hold ourselves to our expectations not what the world wants from us.
Where do you yourself put a lid on your power?
When I get seduced by obligation and a version of being responsible instead of fulfilled.
How do we get past the social norm of ‘ladylike’ and instead move into our bold empowered truth-telling selves?
Keep pushing and expanding it, first within ourselves (what are our rules, are they serving us?) then pushing and expanding expectations, compassionately, transparently.
If you could have a billboard anywhere saying anything, what would you put on it?
My Leadership Philosophy: The distinction between work and life is a false polarity. Life is happening all of the time and true leadership is about taking responsibility for what you are creating, reconnecting to your inner core, your humanness and authentically honoring your values.
And finally, what is the one common denominator between mothers? (beyond children)
Maintaining your own identity outside of your role as mother. If you need a shorter answer, it’s simply resilience.
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