Blog | May 2, 2024

High-Quality Early Childhood Services are Essential for Working Moms to Succeed

Illinois entrepreneur sees promising trends to support working parents

Melissa Lagowski Headshot

When Melissa Lagowski founded her association management firm Big Buzz Idea Group 20 years ago in her home office, she had no idea that she was starting a business that would grow to employ 16 people — or that she was creating a company culture that supported and embraced working parents long before it became popular. Lagowski initially set out to create a job for herself that she liked and in which she could take on projects that fueled her passion. She also sought the flexibility that running her own business provided as she looked forward to getting married and having children.

Over time, she grew firmly committed to more broadly increasing support for the workforce, and particularly working women. She’s doing so on multiple levels as a member of ReadyNation, as Executive Director of the Chicago chapter of the National Association of Women Business Owners, and — of course — as a business owner in her own right.

Chicago-based Big Buzz Idea Group provides management, marketing, and event planning to nonprofits to help increase their impact, amplify awareness and grow organizations. The company helps fill the gaps for nonprofits, allowing them to focus on their missions and make their vision a reality.

Lagowski’s drive to support causes and organizations started early – in middle school, she began participating in various fundraisers – and this is a theme that has run through her career and adult life.

For the first 13 years of Big Buzz Idea Group, Lagowski ran the business from her home. Once she became a parent, she was on hand for her children’s milestones, was a room mother at their schools, and could care for them when they were sick. As invested as she is in her work, she didn’t want to be an absent mom. This was especially important to her because of her own early childhood experiences. As a young child, Lagowski was raised by her single mom who worked and went to school and therefore had to rely on babysitters to care for young Melissa. It was difficult to find reliable and affordable child care and she was physically abused by one of her caretakers. Ensuring that she had more time with her own children and that they were cared for and protected became a driving force in designing her own career. The flexibility of owning her own business allowed her to balance the demands of work while still making her kids a priority.

Having a well-trained and properly vetted child care workforce is essential for working parents’ peace of mind as well as for the healthy development of their young children.

Melissa Lagowski

As Big Buzz Idea Group grew, Lagowski began adding staff and it was all hands on deck, including staff pitching in with the kids when needed. This was the beginning of a company culture that supports parents. When Lagowski’s first employee started her own family, she almost left her job because of the cost of child care. Lagowski wondered “where is the “win” if all of a parent’s income goes out the door to child care?” She set out to provide flexibility for her staff, allow remote work (before it became a popular practice), and even let employees bring their kids to work. She didn’t want her staff “to have to choose between career and family.”

Today, Lagowski is pleased to see the proliferation of family-friendly practices in the broader U.S. workplace. Flexibility in scheduling, remote work, and other innovations are good steps in supporting working parents. However, child care access and affordability continue to be a challenge for working women in general and are also a barrier to women starting their own businesses. Even when parents can work from home, that doesn’t eliminate their need for child care.

Women shouldn’t have to choose between having a career and having children. Affordable, accessible, high-quality child care is key to being able to juggle the demands of work and parenting.

In 2010, Lagowski joined the Chicago chapter of the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO) and became its Executive Director in 2013. After a break in leading the group, she took the helm again in 2018. The Chicago chapter of NAWBO is the biggest in the country and Lagowski values the education, connections, and advocacy work of the organization. Not only does the group advocate for policies that better support working parents — like paid time off and child care access — it also provides education for women business owners and a powerful community of support.

Not all members of NAWBO are mothers, but they all own and run businesses and face the same challenges of any business owner. Up to half of Chicago NAWBO members have employees, and addressing hiring barriers is an ongoing theme – including access to affordable child care. In starting her own business and in working with so many other women business owners, Lagowski has seen some common skills and traits that support success. Starting your own business requires not just concrete skills, but persistence, high levels of emotional intelligence, and excellent problem-solving skills – all skills that start developing in early childhood.

High-quality early childhood education experiences lay the foundation for school and later career success. The social-emotional or executive functioning skills that start to develop in early childhood are the same skills that employers look for and the skills that entrepreneurs need to start their own businesses.

Lagowski joined ReadyNation Illinois last year and sees the complementary efforts of ReadyNation and NAWBO working towards better policies for business success, workforce stability, and the development of the workforce of the future through investments in early childhood education. Looking forward, Lagowski hopes to see more innovation to support work/life balance and a continuation of the trends that have started to destigmatize motherhood in the workplace.


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