Lisa Marino is the CEO of Mamas Uncut, which she acquired in March of 2019. She is a proud single mom of two teenagers and has been an executive in digital media for 15 years. She acquired Mamas Uncut because it takes a village to raise a family, and our anonymous Q&A platform, combined with our home videos and real mom stories, creates that exact support system for moms of all types.
Any parent or leader worthy of their role understands and respects the power they wield through decision making. They also know that making decisions — whether they relate to family, careers, or politics — where no consequences exist for the decision maker creates perverse incentives and yields bad results for those to whom they are accountable. Whether engaging your child or passing down an order to your team, the best parents, executives, military commanders, or elected officials first consider how their decision will impact those they are meant to serve. Alabama failed last week because a concentrated and homogenous few made a decision that impacts a diverse base of constituents. And they did it without impunity.
“Though I am Latina, I learned how to be a white dude and basically lived like one until I became a mother.”
Twenty-five years ago, a college roommate called me out for not doing enough to help other women, especially given my aspirations to enter the white-male-dominated world of investment banking. Annoyed by the challenge, I responded, “People need a seat at the table before they can create real change.”
I naively I failed on two fronts that day. First, I underestimated the power of making change now, even if one is young and inexperienced. Second, I did not honor my duty or commitment to become an agent of change once I had a seat at the table. I earned my seat in my mid-30s, but it wasn’t until #MeToo that I examined the example I was setting for my children, especially my teenage daughter, as well as my 20-year career and corresponding behaviors. If I’m honest, my actions were not very pro-women, inclusive, or welcoming of diversity.
Though I am Latina, I learned how to be a white dude and basically lived like one until I became a mother. By middle school I swore like a sailor; in high school and college, I learned to drink like a fish; and by the time I entered banking, I had my own bookie for daily sports betting. I was more of a dude than the white men with whom I worked, and my coworkers awarded me the highest compliment:“Lisa pees standing up!”
To be taken seriously, not only did I need to fit into the Boys’ Club, I also needed Ivy League degrees, to accept getting paid less than my peers, and to make sure I could still wear a size-two skirt and heels every day. I fooled myself into thinking I had mastered manipulating my work environment. In reality, my acceptance of this behavior and culture let myself and others down.
A seat at the table, a part of the problem
By the time the #MeToo movement reached the mainstream, I was the mother of two as well as the CEO of a media company with 300 team members driving $150M a year in revenue. I had to admit that I’d had a seat at the table for 10 years, both as a parent and an executive, but I’d done nothing to change how companies were run and how decisions can be made, whether at home or at work. I looked around and realized I was part of the problem. My executive team was nearly all male, though most of our audience consisted of moms. Decision-making was concentrated in the hands of a small and homogenous group of men. I hadn’t invested in mentoring any young up-and-coming women who deserved it. Most of all, I wasn’t the example for my daughter, a bisexual Latina, that I wanted to be. So I embarked on a journey to learn what it meant to be an inclusive leader of a diverse team, finally live up to my potential, and be able to hold my head high.
How we changed our business model, our company culture and ultimately the way we make decisions:
- It starts at the top, and it starts at home. I needed the commitment and discipline to change my behavior and how I process feedback, data, and company goals. I also needed to find constructive ways to solicit feedback from my children on some very unconventional family and relationship dynamics, because my kids at that stage needed to be part of the decision-making process.
- At work, we brought on VP and C-level leaders who reflected our audience. That meant bringing in more parents from different racial, cultural, and socioeconomic backgrounds. Gender diversity is not enough, given changing racial demographics as well as the rise in the acceptance of the LGBT+ community. Embracing diversity had to start at home for me because my family is of Hispanic descent, and my daughter is a vocal and active part of the LGBTQ community.
- We flattened the organization and pushed decisions down to those closest to the problem. This bottom-up decision-making allowed us to move faster and increase accountability. We did this at home too. Since my husband and I are both CEOs, we felt it best to grant our kids more responsibility — for themselves and their own decisions — than most parents do today.
- We acquired 20 companies over 4 years, each with its own culture. This required us to be deliberate in what we wanted ours to be, as well as understand how to integrate very different working styles to create a single team with a common mission.
- It’s OK if people who don’t buy into the new program leave, even if they’re the best at their jobs. This was the toughest lesson for me to learn because I was groomed in a meritocracy.
The Consequences of the Alabama Abortion Decision
I bring all this up because last week’s chaos surrounding the Alabama decision on abortion is about so much more than Roe v. Wade and a woman’s right to choose, both of which are tremendous topics in and of themselves. The bigger issue is around decision-making in this country, whether as parents or professionals, and how a very small group of old men can dictate the fate of so many. When one dissects the US Census, white males over 45 account for less than 15 percent of the population. In Alabama, a small cadre of white men, who as a group average nearly 55 years-of-age, demonstrated this disproportionate level of influence, absent any accountability. This has a very significant impact on my children, both of whom are non-white, and especially my daughter, who is also queer.
These men, as well as a 74-year-old female governor, making this decision did not have to factor in the effects on those impacted, which can be (and historically has been) catastrophic. I assure you, given the late life stages of these Alabama leaders, few if any will face the difficult decisions so many women and men take in family planning.
As an executive, I learned how easy it is to create perverse incentives for those with decision-making powers when those same decision-makers won’t ever have to face the consequences of their choices. The result is short-term and short-sighted outcomes that benefit very few people. That’s what happened in Alabama, and that’s why things have to change. It’s not about abortion rights, though that is a critical topic. It’s about accountability in decision-making, which requires leaders to represent those they serve, whether those leaders are a CEO, an elected official, or an appointed military commander. Decisions matter, and how decisions are made matters. Being a leader that understands the consequences of their actions for those they’re charged with serving is the only way we break through this difficult time in our country.
Our country is changing demographically. The young are beginning to exercise their influence as the old become less relevant. By 2045, the United States will be minority white, according to the US census. Per the J. Walter Thompson Innovation Group, queer teens are now the majority. We see it as consumers, as team members at work, in our social circles, and as members of our communities. Therefore, how we make decisions needs to adjust to reflect that reality. The Alabama decision proves how far we are from being therel
As in business, our government can no longer afford to have a small, homogenous, and elite group of decision-makers creating solutions for us, because voices that matter get lost. As the Alabama decision demonstrates, this causes highly-suboptimal solutions and more even more division than we have today. We need to hold our leaders accountable and force them to hear us, to represent our actual best interests. If those leaders don’t want to play along, they need to go. It’s that simple. It’s the same in politics as it is in business: a toxic leader or team member needs to be shown the door for the sake of the greater good.
Lisa is the CEO and Co-Founder of Mamas Uncut. She’s a Hispanic female executive whose been in digital media for over 15 years. Prior to building a career in media she was a technology M&A banker. Before starting Mamas Uncut, Lisa was the CEO of RockYou, Inc for 8 years. RockYou was a social gaming and digital media company focused on the mom demographic. TheRockYou properties included 25 game franchises as well as cafemom.com, mamaslatinas.com, mom.me and littlethings.com
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