Working Mothers in the Design Strategy MBA Program

by Ayano Hattori, Beth Berrean, Heike Rapp-Wurm:
The following are a series of posts between Heike, Ayano and Beth. We’re three working mothers in the Design Strategy MBA program at CCA. The posts below reflect our conversations as the semester progressed around what it means to be mothers, dMBA students and managers in professional practice all at the same time.
We have been lucky enough to have our professor Linda Yaven take some time with us each residency to discuss these issues in more depth. The conversations below reflect just a bit of what has been on our minds as we transition to this new phase of including dMBA in our lives along with working and being moms.
Transitioning between parent, business student, employee and manager has allowed each of us to try on different ideas and come to new conclusions. Ultimately, each of us needs to make choices based on ALL the roles we play. Our hope is that by revealing the details of some of our conversations we can provoke or invite your WHOLE person to respond

We begin with Heike discussing the elephant in the room: Why take on doing dMBA at all when we already have our work cut out for us? While Beth and Ayano both have their reasons – curiosity, networking and a desire to learn, all of us are open for the adventure. One significant benefit for us has been the change in perspective the program creates. One example is how parents are marketed to in general, for example, the question of diapers. Another larger question is what school to put your child into.
And of course, underlying all of our conversations has been our concern about how to commit to all the areas of our lives (especially our children) that require our attention. The dMBA curriculum has required a number of shifts to our equilibrium.
Our posts below represent a few:
Why dMBA ?

Heike:. So I guess I’ll start and answer the big question: Why would I go to work full-time, go to school full-time, and be a mother?
In September 08, 26 brave souls started a new program, the MBA in Design Strategy at CCA. It is a full-time program, and most of us still work full-time. A few of us are also parents to young kids. The mothers did have a few moments of “life overload” during the semester. Is it an extraordinary amount to juggle, and the question often comes up, especially when your toddler begs you to stay home with them: “Why am I doing this to myself?”
The apparent pro-school arguments are:
1. My child will see her mother in school, and learn that school and learning are life-long activities.
2. This degree might lead to the job of my motherly dreams.
3. I will not suffer from “mommy-brain”!
4. School work and intense thinking might ward off Alzheimer’s.
5. My long-engrained thoughts and opinions will be challenged. I’ll learn something new, and I might become enlightened (or not).
The other night, I watched an interesting video from Cooper-Hewitt’s The Business of Design 2008 week, and had a moment of enlightenment as to why I go to school. Amy Radin, Chief Innovation Officer of citigroup talked about “success conditions for innovation”. She pointed out that success conditions for innovation start with education and the kids. We need to find ways teachers and kids will be rewarded to innovate. Can the way we teach be innovated? Education needs to become more adaptable, more fun, more personalized.
I am fortunate to be part of the first class of dMBA pioneers. Our professors use unique, new teaching methods. I had hoped that the learning process would feel more like a massage or good yoga class – it has felt more like a jump down a steep cliff without knowing what will catch you at the bottom. However, real innovation takes place at this uncomfortable place. Innovation doesn’t occur in the comfortable, well-known zone, but in conditions of constraint, or pressure. I have learnt a lot! As my point-of-view on subjects changes, and as I learn, I pass this knowledge on to my daughter.
It is fortunate that my daughter can grow up in this learning environment, and that I have been given the chance to experience and set up my own “success conditions for innovation”, thanks to the great work by our professors, co-students, and my own head.
Beth & Ayano, Why Are You Doing dMBA? ‚Ä®

Beth: Hmm Heike, I’ve definitely been uncomfortable for the past couple months – and anxious, overwhelmed, excited, exhilarated and completely defeated (NPV anyone) yet only occasionally miserable. I certainly haven’t been bored though.
Oddly enough this past Friday I ran into another mother considering this program. She asked all the questions we’ve been asking this semester (how much work is it really? What is design strategy? Who should be doing it? Is this really good for my child?) And of course, I had answers to none. I explained that these were the exact questions that have come up in our own conversations but that part of the program itself was about exploring.
Like you’ve mentioned Heike I had somehow hoped for an easier time. I had hoped more of the answers above would somehow be readily there, but I guess I am thankful to have learned what I have.
In the end, I think that I’m doing this program because I simply cannot NOT do it. Does that make any sense? Those unanswered questions are the questions I want to ask, the questions I want to think about anyway. Perhaps everyone’s answers to the questions are slightly different. Right now, I’m simply enjoying the conversation.
Ayano: Heike and Beth, like you I’m already in the design industry and in a managerial position. So I definitely ask myself why I would be pursuing a design MBA, especially with family duties and work to juggle. While many may think of earning a degree to enter an industry, my thoughts were to better perform in the job that I do and expand my realm within. Work experience is vital in the employment market. However, continuing education helps in accelerating the learning curve. Practical subjects of course can be applied more readily by already being in the workforce.
It has been a tough challenge with less time spent with family, and exponential reliance on the partners and our network for support. If anything, I’ve become more grateful of everyone and cherished each moment with my family. In turn, my children have learned to interact with more of the rest of my family and with greater frequency. As my partner is also attending classes some evenings, we hope that our children see and learn the importance and the joys of on-going learning.
To be honest though, you (Beth and Heike) are part of the reason I’m doing this. One of the best reasons for this program is the mixture of different design backgrounds instead of an alternative masters in my narrower design field. It opens up a broader possibility of business to business relationships, and with a new set of colleagues and a thirst for new theories, the mind opens up to creative ways. Social benefits are also not to be overlooked. With an established family and the same workplace for a while now, there is a sense of comfort in finding a different and fresh group of people with a similar mentality away from work and away from parenting (though they have their own rewards of course). ‚Ä®
Diapers and Other Business Decisions

On one of our message boards in class the idea of disposable diapers came up. Here’s a bit of the exchange:
Ayano: Many consumers are not aware of this, but no matter what type of diapers you use the “stinky” (so called in numerous households) has to go in the toilet. You can’t put it in compost nor is it supposed to go to landfill. Yes, even paper diapers – it even says so on the packaging. The package is labeled disposable diapers and the average consumer assumes the “content” is also; and they make it so easy enough to throw away. We don’t want to end up throwing chamber pots out the window*
There are many products out there for diapers now. My push would be for cloth diapers. We are on our second child using cloth diapers. We used a delivery service ( for our first, but even delivery seemed inconvenient when we ran out for lack of putting out diapers on time. So we now wash and clean our own. While many may debate if the water usage is really saving anything, I would highly encourage looking at every part of any product’s lifecycle. What happens after one time use diapers after they get thrown away? Not just the *oop matter, but the plastic and other synthetics, do they break down? They are not reusable. There are many reasons for cloth diapers, saving money being a big bonus.
To address the convenience factor in a more eco conscious world there have been more hybrid offerings. gdiapers limits the amount of washing to just the outside covers and the inserts are either compostable or flushable depending on the diaper content. Another option I saw of late was Earth Baby Diapers. This is a service where the their disposable diapers (which is bought exclusively through them) can be picked up and “composted.” While this may address the direct landfill issue, does this not add incredible amounts of strain on the environment to just get rid of this one diaper? It must be produced, trucked and composted under regulated control. It only seems to convert the landfill problem into another one. No part of the diaper is reusable.
In consuming products, we should all think about the production process, the reusability, the materials, the process to dispose as beyond just at the landfill.
Green Guilt

Heike: ‚Ä® ‚Ä®Thanks you, moms, for bringing up “green guilt” via diapers. ‚Ä®When you have a child in today’s world, you are constantly bombarded ‚Ä®with new studies on all sorts of topics, such as: environmental ‚Ä®impacts on breast milk (oops, I thought I was giving her the cleanest ‚Ä®food available), on the side effects of infant formula (oops, I ‚Ä®thought it was better to give soy than lactose, but I was all wrong), ‚Ä®on pesticides in food, on lead in paint, on virtually everything.
It ‚Ä®is excessively tough to sort out all the info, and form your own, ‚Ä®reliable and steadfast opinion. ‚Ä® ‚Ä®I keep thinking that we aren’t the first ones to have children. Humans have been around for a long time. And while there are children born ‚Ä®into absolutely terrible conditions, humans are remarkably strong to ‚Ä®withstand all sorts of impacts. Yes, I wonder about the dirt on the ‚Ä®windows in San Francisco, and what that does in our lungs. Yes, I’ve ‚Ä®thought about relocating to maybe the North Pole, or Siberia, but ‚Ä®won’t the polluted air even reach us there?
You could drive yourself nuts to think about the environment, pollution, good food, bad food, what type of education is best for our children, etc… We need to live according to our conscience, and enjoy the time with our children. Yes, we need to teach them about landfill, pollution, and that earth ‚Ä®is a spaceship that holds on to everything, even if you think you “throw it away”, because, you don’t – really – including nuclear waste.
But we also need to teach them, and ourselves, especially now in the added context of dMBA‚ò∫ how to relax. ‚Ä® ‚Ä®I am teaching my daughter about recycling, composting, and it was ‚Ä®kinda cute (for about a second) when the raccoons came into our ‚Ä®apartment, attracted by the smell of the compost bin. We try to grow ‚Ä®vegetables in the gardens, which seem to be mostly snail food now, but ‚Ä®trying to garden organically, we don’t want to spray them with ‚Ä®anything nasty.
Living green has its challenges, and its funny moments. Let’s try to ‚Ä®make the best out of it. Most importantly, keep it mind that we only ‚Ä®have one home: earth. Keep it safe and clean. ‚Ä®
Beth: ‚Ä® ‚Ä®Oh crap Heike and Ayano! Yet another thing I can feel badly about as a mother. I distinctly remember the moment I decided to use disposables against my principles. My partner and I had taken a class on natural ‚Ä®childbirth, we had researched hospitals for C-sections, interviewed ‚Ä®doulas and spent untold hours focusing on the birth. ‚Ä® ‚Ä®Then about a week before I was due, we decided that perhaps we needed ‚Ä®to focus a bit farther in the future and took a “taking care of baby ‚Ä®course.” At 10 months pregnant (seriously why does no one refer to ‚Ä®the fact that your due date is actually at 40 weeks), I was handed a ‚Ä®bunch of safety pins and a piece of cloth and a doll. I panicked and ‚Ä®decided to throw out the cloth with the doll so to speak. ‚Ä® ‚Ä®And yet how guilty should I really feel?
I appreciate Ayano’s plea to be a better informed consumer, but with issues of green washing and debating whether or not to use Horizon’s very ‚Ä®convenient products or ‚Ä®worrying about all the PBA plastic sippy cups my daughter used, to a million other things I could mention but won’t, I am not sure the solution is in consumption.
I’d like to think there were other options than simply consuming better or even as Heike points out “relaxing” and living green (with a bit more focus on the production side). I hate to think of being an organic mother as just some sort of marketing ploy. I can almost see the persona of a “concerned mother” in product development firms. Part of me applauds this and part of me feels like we’re spending energy in all the wrong places. ‚Ä®
School Choice and Other Managerial Choices

Beth: “What could you do with $20K a year to invest in your child?”
This was the question that opened a Parents for Public School event in San Francisco this past fall. In addition to all the other things going on in my life right now, I also need to choose a kindergarten for my daughter. And while I think the question was meant to provoke some liberal guilt (which it definitely did), upon reflection (and my new found economic and accounting vocabulary) I have begun, with my dMBA lenses on, to see the decision of which school to send my child to as managerial decision.
Given the relatively scarce resources available to my husband and I, what’s the best investment we can make for my daughter? Granted we may be guilty of a bit of hubris given that reportedly the biggest indicator of educational success tends to be the highest level of parental education achieved and socio-economic status. But for the time being we have chosen to focus on convenience.
An awful word to apply to what are honestly a whole host of other factors – we chose to live in the city because of access to cultural institutions, diversity and no commute–but one that sums up our current approach. None of the schools we are applying to are less than a mile away.
It’s not that the schools are at all similar – the 2 public and 1 private that we have targeted vary WIDELY. Each will require my husband and I to focus on a different core competency. The private school will require our earning potential to remain at a certain level, one of the public schools – currently in transition – will require attention and time and another a willingness to stick with a 20 year old established program.
To a certain extent, the decision feels a little bit like a strategy decision in choosing which market to enter, but with a whole lot more chance thrown in – getting into a private school is very competitive apparently even given the recent economy and the San Francisco public school lottery is a nightmare (and currently under a grand jury investigation). But at least now at least this very personal decision is neither being dictated solely by politics or emotions. One benefit of applying our newly learned business skills! ‚Ä®
Ayano: Beth, thankfully choosing a school for elementary was an easier decision than the one for preschool for our kids. Not mandated by government to attend as K-12, the preschool with the ideal hours and philosophy was extremely difficult.
My partner and I had never thought we were particularly tough on the preference… that is until we went out into the trenches.
Our thought was to have our child be a child. Academics would just come later. The availability, hours of commitment and many other factors prohibited us to find the right one. Our son went through two childcare programs before finally we felt one that suited our family best. There were numerous others that we applied for waiting list status and never heard back. We only got into the third program because I had sat on the calling on a landline and two separate mobiles to try and win a lottery space on the waiting list and by the time came around, our son was old enough to attend.
Elementary School was an easier choice for us. We chose to live in an area known for the schools, as most of the rest of the residents do in the town. Despite the housing crisis, the houses are still selling for well above the area average, and renters too, come flocking for the schools. While there are private schools, we could not possibly afford it; instead the residences pay for it through higher housing costs. Although our district is highly regarded, it has “alternative” schools in the public school system as well (the lesser academic focused, Spanish & Chinese immersion programs, and the highly academically driven elementary schools.) We chose the one that we can just walk to nearby for ease.
Given that California is one of the largest economies, families scrambling for a better district or private schools while others not being to afford a choice of better schools and left in a dynamically different educational environment seems extremely sad and unfair. A better education has sadly become a luxury only the better off can afford.
Heike: Ayano and Beth, I hear you. School choice is difficult. 
Living in San Francisco, we are fortunate to have a wide array of schools to choose from. Getting into your desired school is another topic.
I have chosen the Waldorf school and method of learning for my daughter. The Waldorf teaching method is interesting in its dichotomy. On the one hand, it is very conservative in that it prescribes to ideas that were set out by Rudolf Steiner in 1919. On the other hand, the Waldorf method is very relevant, and innovative. Children learn according to their own abilities. Academic success is not drilled into the child. Grades won’t be given til 10th grade. The community within the classroom and outside of the classroom (parents and teachers) is seen as vital. They prove that education can be adaptable, more fun and personalized.
In the MBA program, we read that in order for a product or service to be successful it needs to be an experience. Here’s what a website says about Waldorf education: “For the Waldorf student, music, dance, and theater, writing, literature, legends and myths are not simply subjects to be read about, ingested and tested. They are experienced. Through these experiences, Waldorf students cultivate a lifelong love of learning as well as the intellectual, emotional, physical and spiritual capacities to be individuals certain of their paths and to be of service to the world.”
Apparently this DMBA thing has helped each of us articulate the values that drive our decisions across many areas of our lives much more clearly.

These articles were created as part of the course work for “Live Exchange” the foundational course on communication for The MBA Design Strategy Program at California College of the Arts. Read more about the project here.

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