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 Gay Gaddis, CEO and founder of T3.
It has been over 30 years, but I can still remember the feeling like it was yesterday — the angst, sadness, and guilt I felt when I had to leave my daughter and return back to work after six weeks of maternity leave. I loved my job, but I just wasn’t ready to go back yet. Quite honestly, I didn’t really need to go back to work either. My husband was a doctor and making a salary that could accommodate my decision to be a stay-at-home mom, but I found my work fulfilling and stimulating. I loved working with a team of creative professionals and wanted to continue with my career more for engagement than necessity.
Feeling torn, I decided to try my luck and offer an alternative option to the president and vice president of my company – one that would allow me to work and still spend time with my daughter. I proposed only working half-days until my daughter was nine months old. Initially, they seemed turned off and I thought I would have to put my child in daycare, like every other working mother I knew. But much to my surprise, they accepted my offer a few days later. I was thrilled, however, I ran into many obstacles along the way. I found out that some of my co-workers were talking negatively about me behind my back. They thought I was getting special treatment and not pulling my fair share of the work load. I ended up having to work even harder than before my pregnancy to eventually dispel this thinking.
Fast forward 20 years and I found myself in a similar situation, except the roles were reversed. My children were in school and I was now running my own company, T3. Within a few weeks of each other, four of my most important co-workers told me they were pregnant. As their colleague, I was happy for them to start their families. But as their boss I was overwhelmed — what if they didn’t want to come back? So, I started thinking of ways to make sure they would return. It took me a few days but I finally had an idea: what if I allowed them to bring their kids to work? At first, they all said no, but after some convincing they finally agreed. Today, over 80 children have come through the “T3 and Under” program.
Realistically, no one can completely prepare for the transition into parenthood, but there are important ways that businesses can help facilitate that balance – especially for women. According to Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In, women who are out of the workplace for a year are likely to have a 20% lower salary and after two or three years, it drops to 30% less. A program like T3 and Under helps women figure out a manageable balance, stay in the workplace longer, and drop the bias that I experienced so many years ago.
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?
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.