MPW Insider is an online community where the biggest names in business and beyond answer timely career and leadership questions. Today’s answer for: If you’re a working mom — have you experienced workplace bias? If so, how do you respond? is written by Jane Edison Stevenson vice chairman, board and CEO services at Korn Ferry.
As an early female partner in the executive search industry, my first pregnancy revealed how unique it was to be female in this space. Never was this more clear than when my firm landed over a $1 million contract and my then boss demanded that I go back to the client to get additional approvals “given that you are pregnant.” When I asked the client if he still wanted to move forward with the contract, knowing that I was five months pregnant and in charge of leading the engagement he said, “First off, congratulations! And second, having this conversation is illegal, so let’s move on.”
And I did just that. I moved on and promised myself that I would never again “apologize” for being a mom. I also decided to set my own standards for being a working mom – just as I did for my career. One of my most important guidelines included consciously allocating at least three hours a day to being with my kids in meaningful ways. On the road, it meant prioritizing a call to them every morning and evening. During my evening calls, I would generally read them a bedtime story (which they picked before leaving). This was our ritual. It often occurred during a cab ride on the way to dinner (luckily, most of the cab drivers were usually amused).
One evening, I neglected to call home. The Fortune 500 CEO I was meeting with wanted to go straight from the meeting to dinner. It was a tough call, but I ultimately decided the client took priority. When I called home much later that evening, my husband said, “If you can’t excuse yourself from a client dinner for five minutes to say goodnight to your children, then you are working with the wrong people.” Needless to say, I never missed that evening call again.
Over the years, I have learned how to juggle being a mother and a leader (an important distinction, considering regular employees often have less freedom than managers). Being a working mom has helped me to set my priorities more clearly. More importantly, it made me realize the value in working with the right kind of people. In my experience, most people relate more easily to our choices when we own them, not when we play the victim.
Read all answers to the MPW Insider question: If you’re a working mom — have you experienced workplace bias? If so, how do you respond?
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