Dr. Leah Newkirk Meunier

Dr. Leah Newkirk Meunier will sit on a panel to discuss how women can balance work and motherhood. Courtesy Leah Newkirk Meunier

Five Austin women who have built successful careerswhile balancing marriage and motherhood will participate in a Jan. 30 “lean-in” panel discussion.

The term “lean-in” was made famous by Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg’s book of the same name. Sandberg describes in the book why having a career and family is doable and important for women and men.

The Jan. 30 panel, which begins at 11:30 a.m., will attempt to build off that notion. Panel members include Gay Gaddis, T3 founder and chief executive officer; Lauren Hammonds, InReach account executive; Laura Hernandez, AT&T executive director of multicultural marketing; Leslie Wingo, Sanders/Wingo president and CEO; and Leah Newkirk Meunier, United Way for Greater Austins director of early childhood business alliance and major gifts.

Meunier said she intends to draw from her own experience while speaking on the panel. She worked on earning her Ph.D. while expecting her first daughter,completing the program after she was born. Meunier said she almost did not go back to work after a three-month break maternity leave, but the encouragement from her mother gave her the push she needed to return.

“[Leaning in is] really making sure that youre taking advantage of all the opportunities available to you as a professional woman, and what I have found through my own professional career is timing has truly been everything,” Meunier said.

Working women can find themselves at a crossroads whenbearing a child, Meunier said. Expecting mothers often have to decide whether to pay for child care to keep working, switch jobs to create more flexibility or leave the workforce altogether, she said.

“I have to remember leaning in sometimes means pushing yourself harder than you’re comfortable with because you know theres a long-term game,” Meunier said. “Not only for myself, but what opportunities do I want my daughter to have, her generation to have.”

Women should feel comfortable utilizing their support system, whether that be their partner, family, friends, employer or child-care center, said Meunier, who considers her husband a full-time partnerbut that is not always the case.

“Why in 2014 aren’t men getting credit for stepping up at home? Why isnt that an expectation still?” Meunier said. “This isn’t just a matter of women leaning in professionally, it’s a matter of men leaning in on the home front in support of their wife or partner.”

Sandberg in her book also addresses workforce leadership structures that prevent women from being more successful professionally in addition to being good mothers. Meunier said she expects this point to be addressed during the panel discussion.

The panel will be moderated by Elizabeth Christian, founder of Elizabeth Christian Public Relations. Meunier said Christian paved the way for women to be married with children and still find success in their career.

The sold-out panel discussion takes place at 11:30 Jan. 30 at St. David’s Medical Center office building, 1025 E. 32nd St.


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