How She Does It | Sofia Gkiousou

You know nothing, John, about Greek Snow. Or do you?

What a month, January. It -literally- had it all: hectic schedules, prioritized family time, birthdays of loved-ones, firm decisions, difficult conversations, hard negotiations, dreams coming true, goals revisited, tasks ditched, daily gratitude journals filled and tons of inner work, a two-day snowstorm hitting Athens, paralyzing everything for almost a week!

This month found me acting upon my December reflection: I prioritized self-care a lot. After the severe burn-out symptoms I recently experienced, I acknowledged the cosmic nudge and gave way to some small (yet pretty important for my mental health!) pleasures of daily life such as: taking time off to hit the swimming pool, enjoying a massage once in a while, rescheduling my meditation regime to make sure I am present enough when I practice (and not ready-to-sleep exhausted!), reflecting on the impact of my voluntary work has had on the community of Working Mothers through the Working Moms of Athens Community, saying No more. Perhaps it’s too soon to tell, but it feels as if I’m slowly finding myself hopping back to the train of leading a sustainable lifestyle once again. Demanding as it may have been to reconfigure my stuff from scratch, one thing is certain: I needed this.

This year’s featured Working Mom on How She Does It truly echoes this message, and I respect her greatly for living up to that standard. I was lucky enough to bump into noogler Sofia Gkiousou last October, during the first international symposium focusing on Greek Women Scientists. We digitally co-existed in the Startups and Strategy Panel moderated by the amazing Dr. Matina Thomaidou, when I heard Sofia discuss not just female representation in the Startup ecosystem per se, but how motherhood was a catalyst to her own mindset shift towards some form of bra-burning feminism. I immediately felt that feeling of connection as if I was reliving the rise of the fellowship of the ring all over again. I instinctively reached out to this greatly inspiring person, and, without further ado, here’s her inspiring two cents on being a working parent!

Sofia Gkiousou, Public Policy Lead, Emerging Markets at Google. Ex-Airbnb

Tell us a bit about yourself.

I left Greece about 20 years ago for good old Blighty. I started working full time – London being an expensive city – and studying part time. I hold a BA in Humanities & Media, and went on to do an MSc on Innovation Management & Technology Policy – both at Birkbeck, University of London. Getting a job in the UK Civil Service hooked me in the policy world. Doing research on gaming communities and metaverse business sealed my fate as a tech believer.

To build up my skills, I had a day job in policy, and in the evenings I volunteered my time for small startups. I also blogged and created content online. I then worked in energy policy for a few years – I concentrated on domestic carbon emissions reduction and smart metering. I then moved on to Airbnb at a very exciting time and helped develop a lot of the policy messaging in EMEA. It’s been a very exciting job. I joined Google right afterwards as a Public Policy Lead for Emerging Markets, staying true to my vision of working in tech-enabled and mission-driven companies.

About two years ago we welcomed the kid into our lives. Pregnancy and parenthood have been eye opening for me. I was a feminist before but now I think we need some form of bra-burning feminism – the odds are stacked against parents and women especially. The older I get the more passionate I become about exposing young people to more. More education, more opportunity, more diversity, more ideas. I am a Girls Gearing Up mentor and I find it incredibly fulfilling.

Stemming from your personal experience, what is the toughest part of being a Mom, and how do you manage it?

Society tells us motherhood is specific, narrowly defined and (for me) constraining. Most of us know that the ideal of motherhood is not just false but also deeply damaging. It took me a while to accept that I wanted nothing to do with this ideal, and took me a lot longer to trust my instincts and be the sort of mother that I could and wanted to be. It’s still a struggle sometimes but I’m determined to raise a feminist.

Part of that is for my child to know that I am an individual too, I have my own plans and desires, and so I also had to carve my own motherhood path. I think that’s healthy, but then, who knows. I fully expect him to be a stroppy teenager and point out all of my mistakes and how they ruined his life of course, but I’m hoping that eventually he’ll try to see things from my point of view too. So, fingers crossed!

Who is (are) your go-to person(s) when you need support as a Mother? What type of support are you mostly in need of?

Unequivocally the father of my child and my husband. We took advantage of the UK’s shared parental leave policy, I had 6 months with the little one and Antonis had the next 6 months being the primary carer. We trust each other blindly when it comes to the kid. He has also managed to stay more clear eyed about who I am and how I’m adjusting to the role of mother – I think we often forget how hormones, baby blues and sometimes postnatal depression can cloud our ability to be kind to ourselves. Antonis could be more objective than me. Above all, though, he did not assume that being a mother would invalidate all my other identities and he has helped me maintain a balance between things like work, my interests, travel and of course our quality time together.

What’s the No1 Skill (or Ability, or Knowledge) you have found handy in your role as a Mom?

Don’t do ANYTHING if you are not prepared to do it every – single – day. This has saved us so much heartache as a family. We noticed very early on that if we did one thing tonight – let’s say let the baby sleep in our arms – then that would be his expectation for every night. It’s surprisingly easy to create a bad habit and really difficult to break it. Thinking ahead and asking “can I do this thing every day” really made us pause and think about the sort of habits we were creating and whether we felt they would be good for the baby and all of us as a family. 

What advice do you have for a new Mom?

After you’ve made sure that the baby is safe then you just have to accept that *you* are also a priority. We all seem to be convinced that to be good mothers we must suffer. This sets off a cycle of self-inflicted damage and generational trauma that ultimately damages both us and our children. So, take a breath. Love and respect yourself first, and then you can love and respect the kid too.

Finally, if you choose to have a child with a partner, then don’t allow them to “help”. You are not “better at this stuff” and the child does not “only want mommy”. Partners – and sadly it’s mostly men – are conditioned to not be full time, dedicated and responsible parents. Hire people to help you but demand equality and equity from your co-parent.

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