My life’s work? Overcoming stereotypes—[email protected]

The best work advice I ever got was: “Work smarter, not harder.” Driving yourself into the ground isn’t “success.”

My life’s work? Overcoming stereotypes—Motherly@Work
Tolu Lawrence, family, 

Motherly @ Work features the stories and insights of modern women growing their careers—and their families.


Tolu Lawrence is one of those mamas. A mother, wife, and head of strategic partnerships at The Representation Project, in the Bay Area in California, Tolu spoke with Motherly about how she makes it all work:

Tell us about your family. . .

As most romantic tales begin, I met my husband Mackinnon in law school.

A friend we had in common sent an email introducing us, something along these lines: “Tolu, meet Mackinnon. Mackinnon, meet Tolu."

After the introduction, we made plans to grab lunch. That lunch quickly became a two ­year friendship (of which he says, “she thought she had a BFF for life") complete with spontaneous day trips, impromptu Bohemian Rhapsody singing competitions (spoiler alert: we can't sing), study sessions, long phone conversations, and a two ­member wine club and Project Runway club (See what he did there? Genius.).

In true legal geek fashion, and in honor of Richard and Mildred Loving, we married on the anniversary of Loving v. Virginia (the Supreme Court case that struck down antimiscegenation laws).

Five years and many laughs later, we are still independent, sentimental, spontaneous, and enjoy one another's company above all others.

When Mackinnon and I met, one of the most significant commonalities we shared was our love of family.

We both come from large close knit families that mirror one another in birth order (2 girls, 1 boy, 1 girl), so adding children into the mix was always part of the plan.

Enter, Zoë Bea (aka Zoë Bea Superhero Ballerina), our strong, sweet, and thoughtful 3-year-­old BFF.

She couldn't be a more perfect blend of the two of us. She inherited her dad's green thumb and quiet introspection, and she is determined and wears a mean scarf like her mama.

Our family go­-tos include trips to the beach, hiking, epic Lego or Goldiblox sessions, spending time with friends, and trying new restaurants.

My husband and I both work and somehow manage to keep this little family on track. Although we are both members of the California Bar, neither of us practices law.

We joke that we are qualified to lose in court.

He leads a research team for a global energy consulting firm.

I lead the strategic partnerships program at The Representation Project, an organization that uses film as a catalyst for cultural transformation, and inspires individuals and communities to challenge and overcome limiting stereotypes so that everyone, regardless of gender, race, class, age, sexual orientation, or circumstance, can fulfill their human potential.

I also serve on the board of Imprint.City, an organization dedicated to advancing art, culture and community development in urban areas while expanding professional and artistic development opportunities for urban artists.

My work situation works for me right now because. . .

My work situation works for me right now because my commute is only about 20 minutes, the team at The Representation Project is smart, funny, driven, and inspires me to be better, and I get to flex my creative muscle while also dusting off some of the skills I picked up (with a side of hubs) back in law school.

I'm inspired to do this work because. . . .

I'm inspired to do this work because, as a Nigerian­ American woman raised in Iowa and married to a Caucasian man, I am a walking contradiction of many limiting stereotypes — and I am reminded of this daily.

As a mother, my hope is that during my daughter's lifetime, she will see herself reflected in every field she aspires to pursue, and her belief in herself will be affirmed by mainstream media.

The Representation Project has already begun to make strides forward, and eventually will make this hope a reality, so I'm all in.

If I just do this one thing every day my work and home lives run more smoothly. . .

Sleep 8 hours and say a prayer.

My fave look to rock at work. . .

Black jeans or a pencil skirt, a top with texture or pattern, heels, and bright and/or chunky accessories.

And on cooler days, I usually alternate between my black peplum leather jacket and my trench coat.

My partner supports me by. . .

My partner supports me by truly being my partner in every sense. Mackinnon and I are share tasks related to home maintenance, parenting, and financial planning, etc ­­ you name it.

He is a wholly devoted husband and dad who prioritizes maintaining the health and wellbeing of our family over all else.

He believes in me as much, if not more, than I believe in myself and I can honestly say that there's nothing he loves more than spending time with me and our daughter.

(Game of Thrones is high on his list, but I think ZB and I managed to eek past it.)

He's pretty amazing, and I'm very lucky.

My big crazy dream for work is to one day. . .

Achieve The Representation Project's mission.

On the hard days, I remind myself. . .

On the hard days, I remind myself to focus on the people that I love and not to lose sight of the bigger picture and my core motivations. Perspective is key.

The best work advice I ever got was . . .

The best work advice I ever got was: “Work smarter, not harder." Driving yourself into the ground does not lead to success.

Rather than spending every waking moment focused on work, make sure to take time to rejuvenate.

Focus on how to achieve greatness by honing in on the relationships, systems, and skills that drive your work.

Never be complacent.

Continue to refine your skill set, always strive to improve your processes, and constantly seek to learn from those you admire.

Tell us about a typical day in your life:

I wake up. . .

at 5:30 or 6:00 AM to get a head start on work (okay, yes, some days I just hit snooze until 6:30 before hopping in the shower).

At 7am. . .

I'm waking up my toddler who sleeps like a teenager and likes to ease into the day like her mom.

9am. . .

I'm casually sipping my coffee at work while reading my Google alerts (on days when Mackinnon drops Zoë off).

I'm frantically rushing from the car and debating whether I have time to stop for coffee (days when I drop Zoë off).

12pm. . .

I'm grabbing a bite to eat ­­ sometimes heading to a lunch meeting with a friend or potential partner.

3pm. . .

I'm usually in a meeting with my colleagues discussing ongoing projects or new initiatives.

6pm. . .

I'm driving across the Golden Gate Bridge, downloading my day with Mackinnon and discussing whether we're meeting at a restaurant or eating in for dinner.

9pm. . .

On any given night I've either passed out on my daughter's bed, I'm working on wrapping up some residual projects for work, I'm reading a book, or I'm decompressing by watching a show on Netflix or Hulu with my hubs.

I make time to recharge by. . .

As a working mom, it's always hard to find the right balance.

Honestly, right now, I'm struggling to balance work and basic household tasks, so, recharging is something that I'm working on prioritizing.

In the meantime, I recharge by connecting with friends and family and having spontaneous dance parties with Mackinnon and Zoë.

On a good day, I'm finding time to read (on my bedside table right now are books by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Zadie Smith, Ta­Nehisi Coates, Edwidge Danticat, and of course, Mindy Kaling), sneaking in a date night or a moms' night out, or actually making it to yoga, etc.

And perhaps, one of these days, I'll actually dig up my running shoes and find my way back to a half marathon.

More realistically? I'll motivate myself to sign up for said race by buying a new workout outfit and a hot new pair of running shoes. Truth.

“The childcare situation that works for us right now is. . .

The childcare situation that works for us right now is ZB's amazing daycare and relying on friends and family. It's not perfect and we're still figuring it out, but it works for now.

To me, Motherly means. . .

To me, Motherly means pushing against the boundaries of unrealistic antiquated expectations.

It's about being empowered to be a mother AND your whole authentic self. It's about not having to lose yourself in order for your family be their best selves.

It's recognizing that we are all on unique paths, parenting individual little people with different needs, but we are also each other's best advisors and advocates.

When Zoë was born, I was fortunate enough to plug into the most amazing group of women in my community.

We share research, books, products, horrific tantrums, perceived #mommyfails, hilarious toddler stories, childcare struggles, breastfeeding victories and woes, and we support each other through new jobs, moves, transitions back to work after maternity leave, and much more.

To me, they are Motherly.

Motherhood brought us together, and our mutual respect and love for one another keeps us connected.


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