“Eww, babies scare me.”
This was the greeting I received from an executive-leader when I brought my newborn daughter to headquarters for the first time. I really shouldn’t have been shocked at her response – she who proudly denounced teammates from talking about their own kids. It’s now years later and our country is still debating career equity and sustainable cultures for working parents, reminded by this NY Times feature written over 20 years ago.
Just six months after a toxic return from family leave, it was clear that I needed to ‘lean out’ and find a healthier and more productive role. I was fortunate to have the best husband, family and network support system when I made the incredibly scary decision to walk away. I was also fortunate enough to afford leaving for a greener pasture and actually found one. I recognize millions of others are not. Working Mothers Research Institute reports the percentage of U.S. employers offering child care resource & referral services (9%), adoption support (7%), and lactation support services (5%), has actually shrunk in the past three years.
I recently discovered there’s a unique Japanese term for maternity harassment called matahara. Pause on this for a moment. The pervasive culture of pushing working mothers out of their positions is so commonplace that their society made room for it in its vocabulary instead of making room for solutions to define working parents with equal value. Despite Japan passing legislation to prevent maternity harassment, one in five women are still being bullied and/or fired from their jobs while pregnant. Having been entrenched in the Silicon Valley startup scene for a decade, I was naïve to think this was a geo-cultural problem. It’s a global one.
When I look back at the response to my return from family leave, I wonder, how could I have responded differently? How could I have responded to my female co-worker who told me, “the way you’ve been treated is making me rethink when I should have kids,” instead of fuming silently? To my respected male colleague who needed additional paternity time and was questioned by his Millennial boss with, “Must be nice to have more vacation time…” (Pro Tip: Family leave is NOTHING like a vacation), how could I have created a better dialog for colleagues, leadership, and the company to advocate more family care benefits?
Perks that are meant to instill community-building and camaraderie are not a one-size-fits all. Ask any parent, they would rather have subsidized daycare over ping pong tables and free booze gatherings.
So I started to dig. I looked for stories exposing office dynamics with a very real yet often neglected disconnect between young professionals just starting their paths living the consistent work-hard-party-hard mantra, employees who log business travel miles while juggling the jobs of family care, and senior leadership who define and normalize expectations from the lens of childless lives.
We need to encourage more stories being shared!
We need to listen more!
We need to mentor more!
We need to mirror employers who value innovation to truly create an open conversation, provide impactful benefits, and decrease the often-created isolation between working teams. Companies like Verizon who strongly highlight benefits for ‘Working Parents’ in their career recruitment efforts – offering flextime and telecommuting, adoption services and child care assistance. At Ernst & Young, employees returning from leave have access to executive coaches who are trained in helping working parents. And, back in Japan, startups like Arrow Arrow – a business consulting nonprofit advocating for better work – life balance options and training employers on harassment topics.
This April 28th, I’m eager to help take a small step to bridge this wide gap by participating in our country’s annual ‘Take Your Daughter to Work Day’ holiday. A Harvard study across 24 nations tells us daughters of working moms grow up to be more successful in the workplace, earn more, and likely become bosses. I hope you’ll support participating colleagues celebrate this holiday and their children – let’s lead by example to show what diverse and inclusive teamwork really looks like.