I read a very interesting article today titled “Female company president: I’m sorry to all the mothers I worked with” written by Katharine Zaleski. In the article, Katharine talks about how she was a bit unfair to mothers who have worked for her.
Let me first start by saying that I am not a mother in the traditional sense. I am a stepmother and a caregiver and I know all too well what it feels like to be stuck between a rock and hard plate when it comes to family commitments and my career. Truth be told, women who take care of a sick relative or women who acquire an “instant” family are in the same boat as traditional mothers.
I remember when my mom first got sick, my career was just kicking off and I was making my big debut as a Construction Superintendent and going off into the world and was on my way to greatness. I spent several years working in that position. I lived in 8 different cities over the span of 3 years and was home on average 3-4 days out of the month. I really enjoyed what I was doing. It was not easy by any means, I had to work ten times harder because I was woman and in that environment, respect is not given, it is earned.
Into my 3rd year, my mom started getting a lot sicker and started to need a bit more care and I really wanted to be home with her. I saw there was a posting for a position I had wanted to move on to after my job in Construction and thought “there’s your sign”. I posted for the job and got the job. I was so proud of myself but I did the happy dance a bit too soon. The position had conditions – it was treated as a lateral move (even though I was more than qualified) and came with a cut in pay. Yes, you read that correctly, a cut in pay. You wanna talk about a slap in the face after traveling 85% of the time, only home 3-4 days a month, and working 80+ hours a week.
To say that my employer wasn’t trying to capitalize off of my situation is like saying Ray Charles and Stevie Wonder have never been blind. It was clear as day and suddenly I am finding myself sitting here thinking holy crap what do I do now. Not only did I have to worry about how I was going to pay the bills, I was worried about my mom, and worried about my new job.
It shouldn’t be that way, I had worked so hard. I was caught between my career that I had worked my ass off for 6 years to get to where I was and honoring my mother by taking care of her and being by her side. My feelings were really hurt and I felt really taken advantage of especially because the man that decided my fate was someone whom I knew quite well. It was an awful position to be in and is no different than the feeling new mothers face coming back into the workforce after having a baby and trying to balance family and a career they’ve worked their ass off for. We should never feel like we have to choose.
Looking back on it, I should have refused the position and called their bluff but it was implied that this would be my only opportunity. I was scared. I lived in Buffalo, NY were the economy sucked and good jobs were hard to come by. So I took the lateral move, the cut in pay, and came home. Then came winter and the cold weather, grey days with no sun, and snow. I was miserable having been spoiled working the last 3 years on Gulf Coast.
After coming home in May, around February they came to me and told me they were short staffed in the field and had not been able to fill my position and needed me to go back out on the road – with no bump in pay to equal where I was. How nice were they? That was the final straw. I wasn’t hurt anymore, I was pissed the F off and this was war! So I asked my mom how she felt about Texas and she said she was game. I found a company to hire on with and move me and here I am. It was great seeing the look on their faces when I tendered my resignation and told them I was moving. When they said “what about your mom?”, I told them she was coming with me. BOOM! How you like me now?
Fast forward now a year and half, I had met the love of my life and he and his son moved in and I had “instant family”. At the time, I was working for the company the moved me to Houston and I was not happy. I was bored and felt like I added no value and my career was tanking. So I hired on with another company. I went from one extreme to the other.
I was the only female Project Manager in the company and when I got hired I agreed to do the extensive training away from home but told them after my training was complete, I wasn’t going to travel 75% of the time. They agreed. I worked 10 hours days and had a 2.5 hour commute home every day. I got them to agree to let me work 6am to 4pm so I could make it home in an 1 hour. After the new Ops Manager took his position (he was a Project Manager for all of 2 months, but he was drinking the special Koolaid), I felt like my family commitments were a major issue for him.
I constantly felt guilty for having to leave to take my mom to the doctor or pick my stepson up from work. My commitment to the company was measured by the amount of time I spent at the office and on the road, rather than how effectively I executed and managed my projects. There was no such thing as work from home and he loved to schedule meetings when I had to leave.
I was once again left feeling like I was having to choose between my career and my family. I felt like a constant disappointment because I couldn’t perform the 80+ hour work weeks anymore. It was like a bad episode of Office Space in which I was constantly reminded that 40 hours was the “bare minimum” and I should want to do more. It was micromanaging like you couldn’t believe. I knew I was going to get no where fast with them and made the decision to leave and move on to greener pastures.
So all this being said, I know these situations all revolved around working in male driven environments but that’s not to say they don’t exist with women because they do, especially those who were “brought up” by men in their organization. Women, especially mothers, stepmothers, and caregivers are assets to a team and an organization – I knew that before I was one of those individuals. They bring an amazing amount of value simply in how they manage their careers and lives at the same time.
What do you do if you are in this position…
I often find myself thinking about the old Diane Keaton movie “Baby Boom” and I never in a million years thought that I would be faced with the same challenges 20 years later in the workforce. So here are some of my tips for getting through it..
Don’t give up. When God closes one door he will always open another and sometimes you just have to go through these things to get you to where you need to be. Allow yourself to be humbled and make sure you never forget your worth. Do the absolute best that you can do and look for other opportunities. This is when networking becomes so important and even when you are “happy” where you are at, you never know when the rug will be swept out from under you.
Be prepared to walk. Another CRAZY statement. You’ll find another job, I promise and it will likely be better than the one you have. You have a lot more leverage when you have a job and “aren’t really looking” if you know what I mean – that’s whole other post. Truth be told, after everything, I really didn’t want to leave the first company I talked about, but I had no other choice, they were always going to do this to me. It was the biggest decision of my life, the hardest one I’ve made, but the BEST one. I prayed and prayed on it and just kept my faith. Now mind you, with the 2nd job not working out and then 3rd, I was beginning to kick myself for leaving and not trying to post for something in Texas. But then another opportunity came around and it was all I wanted to do and there you go. It took almost 3 years, which is why I say allow yourself to be humbled.
Get ready to be very uncomfortable and vulnerable. When we are in our comfort zone we tend to become complacent. I didn’t want to leave the first company because I was complacent and afraid of being vulnerable and uncomfortable. You need to keep building your network and investing in those relationships. That will save your ass some day believe me. Know that some of the most successful people in this world got that way by taking risks. Now I’m not saying quit your job and then ride off into the sunset because that will likely not happen. But be willing to take a risk. You know those crazy people who always say “if you put your mind to it, you can do anything?” IT’S TRUE!
Make sure no matter what, you always do your absolute best. You can’t change the culture and you can’t change someones narrow minded thinking. But you need to know within yourself that you did everything you could do to be valuable. When you do that, you keep your self esteem and you continue to know your worth.
Remember it’s ok to fall, it’s getting up that counts.
Remember to keep your sense of humor, because when that’s gone, you might as well waive the white flag and throw in the towel. SERIOUSLY!
And finally, if your’re still reading:
So how do we break the culture?….
When are we going to break the cycle? It has to start with us as women, not with the men. They just don’t get it.
Recognize the caretakers of elderly or ailing family members and those who have acquired an “instant family”. Know that they are faced with the same conflicts that mothers face when it comes to their careers and try to be receptive to them as much as you would another mother. They need the same level of support.
When I worked on the road and had to hire admins for our construction offices, I got a lot of women who were just coming back into the workforce from having kids or ones that had been stay at home mom’s and had a change in family situations such as divorce or financial problems. I never discounted them due to their “lack” of actual work experience. Don’t forget, being a stay at home mom IS a full time job. When I would get a candidate who had little to no resume, I would always ask them to tell me about a day in their house. Tell me about how they manage cooking, cleaning, and toddlers. That is important because they are going to tell you how they get things done at home and this is a true assessment of their skill set. Mothers, stepmothers, caregivers – we’re all problem solvers, managers, multitaskers, responsible, accountable, organized and driven. Acknowledging this not only gives them confidence, it gives them hope and that is so important in a time where everyone is judged on actual work experience. Many of these women, if you give them a chance, they will never let you down.
We need to be flexible. I can’t tell you how many times I wanted to work from home when my mom was having really bad days and couldn’t because my face time in the office was much more valuable. We need to capitalize on the virtual office and utilize Skype and other resources for face to face communication. Grade your employees on their deliverables and the quality of work they put out, again not on how much time they spend at the office. Having flexible hours in turn will make for much more flexible people. An employee is more likely to participate in an after hours meeting when they have a flexible schedule vs someone who just got home from the office and is trying to do 50 loads of laundry and get dinner on the table. Some may like to come in early so they can leave early to get their kids off the bus, if virtual meetings can be had, why not do it? Why are they measured in the show of face? This is something we really need to change.
Most importantly, we as women need to start supporting each other instead of working against one another. As managers we can help by capitalizing off of their strengths, being more flexible and understanding, and investing in them and in doing so we will have a happy and productive team. We will create loyalty in a time and maybe a generation where that doesn’t exactly exist. We need to invest in each other.