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 Camille Preston, founder of AIM Leadership.
Women face workplace bias on a daily basis. That’s a fact to which most working women would attest. And if you are pregnant you get more than your fair share of stares, comments, “helpful” suggestions, and plain old workplace bias. And it’s not okay.
I have a 22-month old son at home and I'm expecting my second child any minute (literally, any minute!). When I was 32 weeks pregnant with my first child, I facilitated a senior leadership retreat. The company I worked for prided itself on its workplace flexibly for mothers--and they used this as a recruiting tool. As a result, it is very woman-friendly, and the majority of the senior leadership team are women. So when the CEO, a man, asked me how far along I was, I assumed it was woman-friendly banter. Before I could answer, however, he asked if he should “put towels down in case my water broke” during the daylong retreat.
I was so shocked that I couldn’t respond. I think I nervously laughed and brushed it off, but I was stunned. Three days later, I was meeting with the managing partner of a banking company, and he asked how far along I was, saying, “because you look like you could pop any minute.” Again, I was so shocked I could barely respond. This is not okay. Can you imagine walking up to a male colleague and commenting on his enormous waistline? I can’t even think of appropriate analogies because there aren’t any. There is no male equivalent.
The way they drew attention to my physical condition set me back on my heels. Suddenly, I wasn’t a high-paid independent consultant; I was a woman about to pop. While there was no harm intended by either comment, both were extraordinarily rude, unprofessional and, I believe, examples of bias. Were they trying to shame me into leaving the workplace a full eight weeks before I deliver?
Recently, PowerToFly CEO Katharine Zaleski wrote a post in Fortune.com apologizing to the mothers she worked with and dissed over the years. Once she had a child of her own, Zaleski realized that the bias against working mothers was endemic, entrenched, and passed along by men and women alike, including, for years, by herself, too. Zaleski created a stir with her candor and her humility. Her ability to see her own biases, to evolve, and adapt were inspiring. As a working mother, I am grateful to women like her, Sheryl Sandberg, and Anne-Marie Slaughter for igniting new conversations about motherhood and professional success, and I want to add my voice to the conversation in the best way I know—advice on how to make change and move forward:
Take ownership of your actions
We all see life through our own lenses. The best way to change focus is to find time to notice your judgments, your biases, and your perceptions. How do you view the world and the people in it? What impact do your lenses have on how you interact? What is the impact of your ripple?
Be less judgmental
Many people adopt other people’s beliefs or rules and take them as truths. This is how bias becomes entrenched. For example, I actually have many friends, male and female alike, who do not like the maternity leave arrangements I have made for myself. It is not what they would do, and so they judge me for it. But what works for you might not work for me, so don’t be so quick to judge. Take stock of your personal rules. Notice the source of these beliefs and then choose to proceed with less judgment.
Think twice, speak once
Before rushing to judgment or saying something you might regret, think first. You have two ears and one mouth, which means you should think twice and speak once. Take time to be considerate and judicious in your thoughts and words.
Unfortunately, even in 2015, bias is alive and well, and it’s everywhere we look. But if you take the time to be thoughtful and reflective and understand that your words have impact you will be able to shift your thinking and stop bias in its tracks.
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?
The perks of bringing your kids to work by Gay Gaddis, CEO and founder of T3.
How working moms can rise to the c-suite by Lisa Lambert, vice president of Intel Capital.
Workplace bias: Women aren’t the only victims by Lauren Stiller Rikleen, president of Rikleen Institute for Strategic Leadership.
6 tips to help moms work smarter, not longer by Debby Hopkins, CEO at Citi Ventures.
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.