March 8, 2021, marks the 110th celebration of International Women’s Day. While the day celebrates women’s accomplishments and achievements in reaching gender parity, it also reminds and raises awareness of the many women's equality challenges many still face. On this #ChooseToChallenge #IWD2021, I’m sharing my personal journey and the challenges I’ve faced as a mother and working woman. In the end, I offer a paradoxical solution – give more benefits to men. I’ll explain.
In April 2020, I did something I never thought I would do. I interviewed for a job six months pregnant. Strike one. And, I was returning to the workforce after having some time off with my firstborn. Strike two.
During the entire recruiting process, I agonized over whether or not, to tell the truth – would my pregnancy – legalities aside – get in the way of a potential offer? Was I being fair by keeping it a secret? What would my brand look like to my new colleagues?
In the end, I decided I only wanted to work for a company that accepted my whole self – motherhood and all. I offered up the information voluntarily during my first interview, explicit about the time I would need after birth and what my work-life relationship would look like with a three-year-old and a newborn.
I was shocked in the subsequent rounds of interviews when it simply was not an issue. My transparency helped me get a sense of the culture I would be joining. Could I succeed in this culture as a woman and a mother? The answer was yes. Lastly, I asked for a pay rate commensurate with my talent. After all, wasn’t 2020 supposed to be a brave and bold new world of women's equality? Strike three.
In the end, I wasn’t “out” of the game. I instead defined a space for myself – one in which I could thrive – and I accepted an offer at Optimum one week before my son was born.
My husband and I had been in this situation before: two careers and a young child. Middle-of-the-night feedings followed by morning conference calls and the daily coordination of daycare pick up and drop off with deadlines and work “emergencies.” We knew the challenges going into this new arrangement. But given the pandemic's additional uncertainties and our new, never-ending, at-home reality, how would we make it work?
The pandemic has shed light on the pressures parents face – specifically working moms. The NYTimes exposed these significant women's equality challenges in the series “The Primal Scream.” It narrows in on the unfair burden most women still face at home while also searching for independence and actualization in their careers.
From Epic to the Big Four, to now Optimum – I’ve always worked in fast-paced, demanding roles. And, I’ve loved it. Once my first child entered the picture, though, everything changed. Suddenly, I was keeping up with home life, motherhood, and career – on top of being the one in eight women to experience postpartum depression. I had everything I “needed,” and yet I didn’t feel supported at all.
And, I’m one of the lucky ones. My spouse supports me 100% and is part of the new wave of fathers who see parenthood as a partnership. His career, though, has always been more demanding and less understanding than mine. We naturally fell into a parenting and household pattern that accommodated his career goals.
This time was going to be different. Before starting, my spouse and I laid some new rules. Because of the new work-from-home arrangement, he could take on more of the household and childcare burdens. He took on the cooking – and not just some of it, all of it. And, the grocery shopping, too. He’s taken our son to nearly all of his infant pediatric appointments – and he’s had the unfortunate situation of defending his role in that space.
I do the laundry, and, well, I don’t do a very good job at it. But I’m okay with that. We now more equally co-parent, which means we can openly discuss when we need support from each other. This is only possible because his new work arrangement allows him to also be a father. Equally, my Optimum team is both transparent and supportive of its members’ roles as parents and employees. Together, we’re all in a ying-yang arrangement as mothers and fathers, career women and career men, that depend upon each other to not only function but excel.
ONE SOLUTION – ALLOW WORKING MEN TO BE FATHERS
If we want women to feel supported in the workplace, organizations need to do a better job supporting fathers. When fathers are supported, women can lean into their careers.
This starts with significant paid parental leave for both mothers and fathers. I’m talking about the four-to-six month kind of leave-in which fathers can share in the joy of parenthood as much as mothers. This is not a vacation. This time is not to be taken in small bursts around work commitments. It’s during this crucial time that parents discover, well, how to be parents.
If organizations choose to support fathers, that support then enables working fathers to continue to parent beyond the time of parental leave. What does this mean? More mothers can then participate in their careers in the same way men can. Women have more of an equal opportunity to take on the challenging project, the learning enrichment, the promotion, and pay raise. Give us a chance in our careers by giving men a chance to be better fathers.
THE TIME TO CHALLENGE IS NOW
To make any real progress, we have to be vulnerable enough to expose our subconscious tendencies. The work at hand is to remake our habits and routines at home and at work. Paid paternity leave is a women’s equality issue. When I lean into work, I also allow my spouse to lean into fatherhood and vice versa. But we need that support from our workplaces, and the culture from the top needs to accept and adopt this new wave of feminism.
So, tell your workplaces, on this International Women’s Day – with a woman Vice President in the White House – it’s time for paid parental leave – and the time is now.