I’ve been a working mom for 3 years now. Unfortunately due to 2 layoffs I have been in 3 different office environments during that time. One office was filled with older moms with kids in high school or college, the next was all child-free 30 something’s, and my current office is primarily men in a male dominated industry. Each has had their own sets of challenges when it comes to time off (scheduled and sick child) and the perception of a working mom.
I should mention that my kiddo has been remarkably healthy, with the exception of a couple of unexpected days off I’ve been able to schedule appointments and not had to call in very much. Also, my husband shares the role as well and is great about taking time off as needed. Thank goodness for that. I am in HR and have been in an upper management role at each company.
The first office was full of older mothers who while they understood the challenges and had lived through them, most were too far removed to really remember what it was like to have an infant and work full time. I returned from maternity leave to a lot of anticipation that I would really only be 75% productive and comments about “how much time I would probably be taking off”. There were way too many eye rolls the few times I did need to stay home.
The second office was interesting. It was a very high stress corporate environment where my peers worked 60+ hours a week. That was not an option that I was willing to take and so I spent a lot less time chatting and socializing than they did to make sure that I could get it all done in 40-45 hours. That company offered a lot of flexibility to work from home and autonomy in how you got your job done. I made the mistake of leaving my son home with me the first day I worked from home (he was 14 mos old) and will never do that again! Talk about distraction. That role made me really think about Melissa Mayer’s recent decision at Yahoo to ban work from home options. It takes a special person and the right situation to be able to be really productive from home.
My current role is HR and office manager in a male dominated office. I am lucky that my company culture is family orientated and most of the men have kids. Most of their wives stay home though and so I do get an extra bit of respect for being able to “get it all done”. I was surprised by that mentality and expected quite the opposite. It’s never questioned if I need to leave early for an appointment and usually the follow up questions are about how he is doing. When I occasionally bring my son into the office it’s the men that are excited about seeing him the most!
So what have I learned through all of these experiences? I am trying to speak as an HR Manager as well as a working mom on these:
- Try and feel out what the expectations are of you in the working mom role. While you shouldn’t have to work harder to prove yourself, it’s the reality in some company cultures. Proving you are reliable and not taking off unnecessary (unscheduled) days can do a lot for re-setting expectations. I should be clear that you shouldn’t have to take on more, just be consistent in your work which is a good rule of thumb for any employee, mom or not.
- Be honest about anticipated issues. If you kiddo wasn’t feeling great when you dropped him off at daycare, mention it that morning. That way if you do end up leaving early it’s not as much of a surprise, and if you don’t then even better!
- When you are job hunting ask questions about the company culture. This is another tip for anyone, but especially moms. What’s the company demographic made up of? Do you work on a team or are you an individual contributor? These questions will help you anticipate what unexpected days off would look like. (ie: is there someone to complete your work while you are out?) At the very least you’ll have a good idea going in to a new role or help make a decision.
I generally feel like I get a lot of respect for being a working mom and you should too. This is really hard work! If you ever feel like you are being discriminated for your working mom or pregnancy status you should absolutely consult your HR department and/or direct supervisor. You work too hard to be treated with anything less than respect.