In honor of Mother’s Day, we’re recognizing Danielle Patrice Madison Williams, Director of Global Merchandising at Levi Strauss & Co. and mother to her 7-month-old girl, Naomi. Danielle's experience as Black woman, first-time mother and full-time professional shines a light on what motherhood is like in America.
Amplifying Black Stories All Year Long
Shaping The Future
How was your journey to motherhood and has your style evolved since?
It was a surprising blessing. I wasn't really sure whether I was ever going to have kids just from a lot of different factors about my life, and so it came as a complete surprise. I honestly thought that was never really going to happen for me, so it was not planned, but certainly welcomed. It was an interesting time as well, because I found out basically a week after my birthday and right on the heels of the true risks of COVID and the pandemic really coming to light.Since becoming a mom, my style has definitely evolved a lot. I’m actually leaning into it. I'm all about being comfortable. I'm a sneaker head and a real jeans and t-shirt kind of girl, especially now as I adjust and evolve into that working supermom role.
As a first-time mom, what’s been your biggest joy and hardest challenge?
I know everyone thinks that their baby is the most beautiful, but I know mine is the most beautiful. There’s so much joy and happiness in every moment I’m spending with her, even the frustrating ones. This morning, she woke up at four o'clock, she turns to look at me, smiles, giggles and my heart warms and I'm like, 'Alright, let's get up.” I’m happy to do it for her.At the same time, one of the hardest challenges has been adjusting to the changes to my body that I was both expecting and not expecting. A lot of social media people really focus on the “motherhood snapback,” and it's not real. Your body does change so much throughout the whole motherhood experience. I pretty much wore the same size my whole life, and I'm not that size anymore.
Have you felt supported as a first-time mother at work?
Tremendously. I was really surprised, and it really warmed my heart to go through this experience here. When I found out I was pregnant, I was only in my role for maybe three or four months, so I was very nervous about sharing the news, and what that would mean for my transition and my team. But ironically, my manager was also pregnant, and she was due two weeks ahead of me. So we were really going through the experience together, but that instantly made me more comfortable in knowing that my manager also was sharing the experience and was obviously extremely empathetic and totally supportive all around.
“The More Our Young Women, Daughters, And Children See Stories Of Successful Unique Motherhood Experiences, The Better We Can Start Wrapping Their Mind Around A Broader Vision For What A Mother's Lifestyle Could Be.”
How do you feel about the pandemic forcing mothers out of the workforce?
It’s really frustrating. In America, we talk about having family values, but that is definitely not reflected in corporate cultures and in the expectations for how parents are supposed to live and work. America has the least amount of benefits for working parents than anyone else. It’s definitely something we need to reflect on.
We have a very global workforce, and they're shocked to hear that in America, we're super thankful to get four months off for maternity leave — which is definitely not enough. Other nations get a full year, and that time can be split across the mother and father, so that you have a chance to be flexible and be there for your children.
How can society support women who want both a career and motherhood?
It's tough. But it's a fair challenge. I would look to how we tell the stories of motherhood across various methods from media, in TV, through social media and things that shine a light on those mothers who are able to find different pathways. Something that I reflected on as I've been growing up is, based off what they tell women: “you can have it all” or “you can't have it all” or even “you can have it all, but not at the same time” — I think I've heard that one too. And as women, we're pulled in lots of different directions. But I think the more our young women, daughters and children see stories of successful unique motherhood experiences, the better we can start wrapping their mind around a broader vision for what a mother's lifestyle could be.
Why is representation vital as a Black working mother?
It's our responsibility as we raise exceptional citizens for the future, to see ourselves reflected in positions of power, privilege and influence. Growing up in a world where you don't see people who look like you in those positions is really challenging. And over time, erodes confidence. So I'm super thankful that my daughter gets to grow up in a world where she can reflect on positive Black representation.
For our company specifically, we are a brand that has taken, over time, a lot from the Black community, specifically in terms of inspiration. We need to reflect and ensure that we have an authentic voice and an authentic approach. And that starts with internal diversity.
“Never Be Afraid Of The Truth — Of Speaking The Truth, And Standing Up For It.”
What barriers have you faced as a Black voice in corporate America?
Consistently being underestimated. People are always surprised when they find out that I'm Black, that I'm educated or have had the kind of background or experience that I have. It always comes as a big shock, like I am the exceptional one and that seems like I beat the odds or something when I have conversations with people and often colleagues. And that's challenging, on one hand, I guess it's nice for people to sit me on some sort of pedestal. But on the other hand, it does feel a little backhanded, because it's so unexpected. It goes back to our history in the United States, and that institutional racism and the denigration that we've kind of been put through, so that now it does feel like I'm exceptional when it really shouldn't be the case.
And how do you think we can remove some of those barriers?
In general, it's part of our culture here in America, so it's going to be really hard, it's going to take a real organic approach. And unfortunately, it is going to take a lot of awareness and change, particularly from white Americans who have been instrumental in driving a lot of those aspects of our culture, it's going to take a lot of people, a lot of white people to really sit in their discomfort for a bit about race relations in America. And start to both become aware and accept their privilege. That a lot of the privilege that white people have in America has been at the expense of minorities. And once people start to become real about the history, then we have an opportunity to shift perceptions, not just about Black people, but about people of color.
What advice do you have for the next generation of young Black girls?
I would say above all, is confidence and peace of mind with who you are, that there's no one Black experience, no singular way to define Blackness, but to be resolute and be comfortable in your own skin, and that is an undeniable part of her, of my daughter's identity, that no one can take away regardless on what her skin color is, or what her hair texture ends up being or anything like that, I just hope that she finds that internal confidence and sense of self to go forward in the world as a Black woman.
Recognize is about celebrating inspiring community members, contributors and influencers making a difference with their distinct perspectives, style and commitment to finding purpose in their passions. Through Recognize, we will amplify Black stories, employ diverse talent, and invest in opportunities — throughout the year and beyond. This is not a campaign. This is a celebration of Black excellence.