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 Debby Hopkins, CEO at Citi Ventures.
Being a working mother is the ultimate challenge: incredibly exhausting, yet incredibly rewarding. And dealing with workplace bias and the perceptions that other people have is yet another demand on top of work and parenting. Often, we are hardest on ourselves — feeling like we can do everything, take care of everyone, and still manage to put in the extra hours at work.
This particular instance below has stuck with me through the years and I’m sure many working mothers will be able to relate. I remember racing into the daycare parking lot one day at 6:02 P.M. and the first thing my son asked was, “why am I always the last one to be picked up?” It broke my heart and made me realize that I needed to find a way to balance my time better as a working mom. I needed to find a way to not feel guilty all the time – both as a mother and as a colleague.
This is easier said than done, especially when some office cultures are less than supportive. Colleagues or bosses may not understand why you need to leave the office early to attend a dance recital, or may question why you aren’t putting in the extra face-time with clients. When I was a young mother in my twenties I actually left a coveted position because of the lack of flexibility in the office to do these things.
Here are some ways I have learned to cope with the conflicting pressures of being a mother and professional:
Remember you aren’t alone. Early in my career, I had multiple (male) colleagues ask when I was planning to get pregnant — implying that my presence was only temporary. These comments angered me and made me wonder if it really was possible to accomplish both my personal and professional goals. Seek out other working moms for support; they can bring comfort and reassurance.
Set expectations. Remind your managers that there is more than one way to be successful. Arriving before and leaving after the boss isn’t feasible when you have a baby to drop off at daycare and a child with soccer practice at 5:00 P.M. Find ways to work smarter, not longer — help them see that there’s no one more efficient than a working mother.
Build professional networks. During the start of my career, I was often the only woman on my team. So, finding people to share my experiences with was challenging. In these situations, it’s important to seek out professional support systems, keeping in mind that you may need to look beyond your immediate team to find other mothers in your workplace.
Find ways to “show up.” Given that most working moms always put their children first, you’ll likely have colleagues who question your commitment to the company. To counter this perception, find one night to join a happy hour with your team, or organize an event for working parents at your firm. You can’t participate all the time, so choose how and when to join that works best for you.
Ask for help. Reach out to your spouse, friends, or family when necessary. Ask for support, and talk about your challenges. And more importantly, tell yourself it’s okay to do the things you enjoy, too!
Bring your kids to work. Find opportunities to bring your kids to work. It’s important for them to understand your professional life. It also helps integrate your family with your colleagues in a way that might just encourage a bit more support.
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?
Family vs. work? How to choose and not feel guilty by Beth Fisher-Yoshida, director of Negotiation and Conflict Resolution Program at Columbia University.
Your boss’s late-night emails: the one time you don’t have to respond by Dawn Zier, President and CEO of Nutrisystem.
Why women will always have to work harder than men by Carolyn Rodz, CEO of Market Mentor.
Female CEO: I won’t give up my career for my kids by Penny Herscher, CEO and president of FirstRain.
Why working dads need an apology, too by Ellen Bravo, executive director of Family Values at Work.
Why working moms should never have to apologize by Jane Edison Stevenson vice chairman, board and CEO services at Korn Ferry.
Working moms: Stop pretending everything is perfect by Erica Galos Alioto, vice president of Local Sales at Yelp.