Michelle Zmugg, on Creating Balance, and Doing it Well

7 months ago   •   3 min read

By Michelle Zmugg

I knew from the time I was 13 years old that I was going to go to law school. A lot of that has to do with growing up in Boise, Idaho with a mom who immigrated from Vietnam after the war and a Caucasian dad who was born and raised in Southern California. I got teased, a lot, for being different. And the people that I most looked up to were the people who could make laws and change the way people think about the world. For me, becoming a lawyer meant becoming an advocate for people who don’t have much of a voice. And I did that! I became the lawyer. I became the advocate. I worked to change laws.

Along the way, I also worked to change opinions, especially around the archaic “career track” or “mommy track” options women have been faced with. I was working at a law firm when I got pregnant with my first child. When I shared the news, the response I got wasn’t “congratulations,” it wasn’t a thoughtful discussion about what my leave return would look like. It was disappointment. I’ll never forget hearing that they thought I “could’ve done really well there as a partner”...if I hadn’t decided to take “another path.”

As a woman in the C-Suite, I try to lead by example, showing that it is more than okay to put your family first.

As much as I knew I wanted to be a lawyer, I also always knew I wanted to be a mom. That was probably more paramount in my life than my aspiration to become a partner at a law firm because I knew that motherhood was going to make me feel like I had a kind of value you simply can’t get from the workplace. The funny thing is, years later, I became a partner at a national law firm. But what are the things that I'm most proud of? It's my kids. It's the life that I have built.

As a woman in the C-Suite, I try to lead by example, showing that it is more than okay to put your family first. In fact, you should. That is why you work. And choosing to start, or grow, a family isn’t a choice to put aside your career. You can do both. And you can do both well.

Deciding to have children and a career means very deliberately creating a balance. As a working parent you have to be away from your children, right? So you want to do something that's fulfilling so that the time spent away from your family is worthwhile.

Michelle Zmugg, General Counsel of SpotOn, working in San Francisco, California.
Zmugg working at SpotOn's San Francisco headquarters.

Remote work has truly been the silver lining of this pandemic. I’m in awe, sometimes, thinking how much it has transformed the workforce for everyone, especially working parents. Prior to the pandemic, if I had to pick up one of my three kids from school because of sickness or an injury, I would have had to cancel all my meetings to accommodate the time to drive to school, get my child home, and—assuming I had childcare—return to the office.

The flexibility of a remote working situation means I can go pick up my kid, come back to my desk, and I’ve really just disrupted 20 or 30 minutes of my day rather than three hours. So I'm hoping that this next generation embraces what we've learned from the pandemic about flexibility to experience our whole lives without feeling unnecessarily pulled in different directions. I hope that people look back at this time and see it as the moment when we started shifting away from the traditional 9-to-5 office mentality, prioritizing mental health, and creating a true work-life balance.

When I mentor other women, I spend a lot of time talking about goals—not just related to their job, but to their life as a whole. Because their family life is part of who they are, as a whole person. It’s hugely important to me—to be able to show up to work as my whole self—and to encourage those around me to share their whole selves as well.

At SpotOn, I feel like I've been supported from day one, and for the first time in my life, I feel like I am truly seen as Michelle—not just Michelle the GC, but Michelle the mom of three who likes margaritas and golfing. I’m seen not just for what I do, but who I am and the value that all of those aspects of my life contribute to my work.

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