The Working Mom Bias, it’s real.

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.


  • I’d add that when you’re looking, browse the Working Mother Magazine lists of top places for moms to work. Some companies have amazing family-friendly cultures!
    Christa the BabbyMama recently posted..Walking Them to Sleep Almost DailyMy Profile
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  • Kat says:

    I totally agree about the working mom bias being alive and well. Like you, I work for a bunch of “old school” yet family oriented guys that all have stay at home moms for wives…and you’re right, I do get some kudos for being able to “do it all”. They know that when there’s a deadline, I’ll do everything I need to to get it done but they also know that my family does come first. One of my greatest fears is no longer working for these guys someday and instead working for someone that doesn’t respect that working mom role.
    Kat recently posted..Where Nothing Means Everything.My Profile
    Twitter: lilmissrysmama

  • Stacey B. says:

    A good read. My boss of 5+ years assumed that I’d be going home when my daughter was born. He was so relieved that I continued working that he’s SUPER flexible about anything family-oriented that I might need. And this, in turn, makes me want to work extra hard for him. I’m so grateful for my set-up.
    Stacey B. recently posted..A Frosty over the Console: Almost Like a Daiquiri over the Chip BowlMy Profile

  • cayley rice says:

    I read a post on this site a while ago about a survey that most Americans think it’s better for kids if mom stays home. I was incredulous until I though about it and realized I work with those people. I work with mostly men in a male-dominated field, and I have incredibly supportive management who take the wow-you-manage-so-much approach you mention, but most of my coworkers have a stay at home wife. Because they think its better for their family if mom stays home. We can’t afford that, though, so I work, and I think it impacts how I am seen here. I am extremely fortunate to have an inherently flexible job and management that sees me as a valuable employee

  • EternalMyrtle says:

    What I find most interesting here–and a little sad–is that this mom found the men to be overall more supportive and understanding than the women. I too have noticed that older working moms with grown children appear to have no memory of what it is really like and less empathy. My own mother in law is in that camp.

    I work in an environment like #2 but have been there for 6.5 years, so two years before my first was born which helps. Luckily, while the overall culture is not very family focused, they do offer a lot more flexibility than most companies (they offer a 75% schedule with benefits but obviously reduced pay that several of us working moms take advantage of). That is helpful given that my husband works 12-hour shifts at the hospital (he is an ED nurse) and someone needs to be there for the little ones. Still, I do feel that there is a general attitude that moms have it easy–that we have a “built-in” excuse to take sick days or leave early, which is absolutely absurd. People without kids simply have no idea. I try not to take it personally when they make their comments because they just don’t understand what it is like.

    We struggle financially and although we pay a second mortgage for childcare, I never get a break. If I could, I would choose not to work since my job is more of a job than a satisfying career for me but, sadly, that is not my lot in life.

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