I wish I could say that writing about being a parent in the workforce was risk free for me from both a career and personal perspective. But it’s not.
I work because I think the work I do can change the world for the better, but I also work because my income is vital for my family. We live in the San Francisco Bay Area, where even most dual income families struggle to make ends meet. I’m not a senior executive – what I say won’t shield me from the “mommy track” at work or from anyone judging my choices (or my advice). I wish I could say my experiences don’t corroborate this, but I cant. Let me share one with you:
Just about one year ago, I went on an an interview for a position at a start up in San Francisco. Things started off well, but when asked to talk about consumer brands I admire that have effectively utilized technology to grow, I answered honestly with “The Honest Company.” The Honest Company is a company founded by mom and actress Jessica Alba. The interviewer agreed with my viewpoint and then he wanted to know how I knew so much about this company and their products – and without thinking, I answered “Oh, because I use them for my children.” Dead silence followed.
The next question, “How many kids do you have? How old are they?”
Crap. I had completely slipped up, and there was nothing I could do – since I volunteered the information, the questions were valid. When I responded with “Two kids, one is three and the other is almost one, ” the silence continued. His eyes grew wide. There was no “oh that’s so cute”, or even a “that’s nice.”
Finally, I heard, “Wow, that’s tough.” And I knew the conversation was over; the interview was over. There was no way I was going to convince this guy that with children I was commited to my career. He wouldn’t believe that I cared about making impact, or that I wanted a job that would stimulate me intellectually, or that I was used to difficult days – days full choices that pit my career against my family and I was navigating them and still steering. I think all he saw was a bright woman that could have had potential for a role on his team, but there was no way he could see how I could do that role if I had children. (When I looked him up online later, I saw that he was married – to a woman who is very accomplished professionally – but that they have been fairly public around their hesitance to add children to their couple’s equation.)
My mother once gave me some great advice on the matter and it still holds true: “Anyone worth working for would know that you accomplished all you have with children so far, so why would they think you wouldn’t continue to do so?” As hard as it is for me to re-live that interview experience, I want to share it with all of you. If it’s happened to you – you’re not the only one. And if it hasn’t – don’t be ignorant of this bias. Don’t ever let your guard down in the interview process, but if you get the job, think long and hard on if you want it.
So – why do I do it? Why do I put my thoughts and my voice out there for all of you to read even though it may make it harder for me to get my next job or even advance in my current position? Well, with the proliferation of social media, it’s getting harder and harder to keep our personal lives 100% private. And one way or the other, someone is going to find out if you have children – they can if they want to dig hard enough. Not all of us have significant workplace influence, financial means, or the “right spouse”. Many of us are trying to figure out how to drive our careers and be there for our children. We don’t feel ok with having someone else raise our children, and we don’t feel ok with letting go of our career potential. While we can relate to the stories of senior executive women, we can’t apply their learnings directly – and in most cases, what worked for them won’t work for us. Sadly, some of these women by virtue (or misfortune) of their own personal circumstances, didn’t find the need to juggle careers and motherhood until later in their lives, until they had accumulated significant wealth and influence, or had a significant other that was willing to scale back so they could move ahead at full speed. The risks they take are different than the risks we take. The way we evaluate everything is different. And while I find it hard to believe they didn’t struggle with these challenges the way we do, very little is shared or talked about in reference to it.
I write about what I write about because we are the new revolutionaries.
As Penelope Trunk elegantly stated in a recent blog post, “Today the revolutionaries are the women admitting family is more important to them than work. It’s a scary thing to admit because we have not been raised to think family is more important than work.” She goes on to say,“Over and over we see lists of women we should admire, and they are all women who, at one point or another, completely ignored their kids in order to keep their career on track. (I know: I’m one.) But most women don’t want to do that as parents. Most women want to put their kids first and have a rewarding career on the side. Those women are the revolutionaries in today’s workforce.”
We’re forging new paths; we’re trying to make it work from a spot in in the middle. We’re not senior executives (we may never be), and many of us are not influential enough or in places where corporate culture will accept us changing our jobs to work for us. We’re not sure where we’re going, or how we will get there. We have enough to be comfortable, but we know that every day will be difficult. Sometimes unbearably so. I write to give us a voice. And perhaps it’s good I feel uncomfortable, or even scared. Because I hope the voice I’m sharing is not just mine, but all of ours – and I hope that collectively, it’s going to make a difference.