This editorial article is a part of Technical.ly's Women in Tech month.
If you believe the stereotypes, there are four kinds of moms: the SAHM (stay-at-home-mom), the WAHM (work-at-home-mom, who may work for other people), the mompreneur (who has her own business) and the Working Mother.
All get a bad rap.
SAHMs give up their identities, they say; WAHMs don’t pay enough attention to their kids; mompreneurs are business dilettantes; and Working Mothers are plain uninvolved, either out of financial desperation or greed.
The truth is, wherever a mother lands on what we’ll call the wheel of shame, she probably doesn’t fit the stereotype. And in the tech industry, which includes a mix of Working Mothers, WAHMs and mompreneurs, we don’t really talk much about it much, because there’s a very real risk that talking about being a mother will be seen as being less than serious about your job — or, worse, your kids.
We asked several moms in the Delaware tech scene what it’s like — and why mothers add value to the workplace.
Not your mother’s workplace accommodations
Surprisingly, of the women we spoke to who’ve had a child within the last decade, not a single one felt as if she hadn’t been offered fair accommodations as far as family leave and flexibility — with some companies offering motherhood perks that Boomer moms could only dream of.
“My employer [a major banking corporation] had a child care center at our location,” said Janelle Bowman, entrepreneur and marketing manager for Zip Code Wilmington and mom of two boys, aged 7 and 9.
“Mothers returning back to work after maternity leave were able to bring their newborns there for up to eight weeks,” she said. “It truly made the transition of being back to work a lot easier. We also had at least three lactation rooms available for any nursing mothers.”
“I was very fortunate both times I became pregnant,” wrote Jenn Wells, branding and design strategist for Tapp Network, whose two sons are 2 and two months, in an email. “The first time I was working part-time for Monterey Enterprises, an energy trading company, and they were incredibly supportive. The second time was immediately after I started working for Tapp Network.
I remember feeling so guilty and anxious because I was new and would need time off only six months after starting.
“I remember feeling so guilty and anxious because I was new and would need time off only six months after starting,” she said. “But my coworkers never made me feel bad for it, and actively encouraged me to take a full six weeks away without checking in (not that I had the discipline to, but it was a nice gesture all the same!)”
Beth Ann Ryan, deputy director for the Delaware Division of Libraries, whose daughter is 2, benefited from being a Delaware employee.
“The State, like most large employers, has processes in place to support new parents,” she said. “I was able to use accrued sick leave to take a 12-week maternity leave and had time and space to pump.”
Space to pump is one of those things that, for years, was considered an above-and-beyond perk when it was offered — and, in some cases, still is.
“A lot of mothers have to stop breastfeeding once they get back to work because there isn’t proper accommodations,” said Bowman.
(Worth noting is that these experiences are uncommon for women at large: According to a January 2019 report by the National Partnership of Women and Families (NPWF), for instance, 58 percent of working Delawareans don’t even have access to guaranteed unpaid leave under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act, which provides protections for up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for those working at least 25 hours per week at companies with at least 50 employees.)
What mothers bring to the table
Mothers with young kids can’t spend their whole lives focused on work like a fresh-out-of-college employee might — which means work gets done when it has to get done.
“Being a mother has definitely made me even more efficient — and I was pretty efficient to begin with,” said Ryan. “Before having a child I knew I could stay at the office later to finish up work or it wouldn’t be a big deal if meetings ran long. Now, there are daycare pick ups and firm times for dinner and bed, so when I’m in the office I try to keep things moving. I have so many things on my to-do list I need to be as productive as possible. I still do work at night and on weekends, but it’s in between other responsibilities.”
“Parenthood has taught me organization skills, time management, and improved my interaction with people,” said Usha Vig, a grant writing consultant who works at home with her two kids, aged 8 and 14. “I feel that I am more empathetic toward others, more patient, and definitely a better negotiator. If anyone really wants to learn about negotiation, they need to spend a week with a 2-year-old who doesn’t understand logic and wants everything done yesterday.”
“I think the main takeaway from parenting to work is how to handle stress and juggle lots of moving pieces,” said Wells. “With small kids in daycare, someone is always sick and you’re almost never working with ideal conditions. But you slog through and things usually turn out OK. I’ve also had to learn how to let go and not be a control freak, because you never know what kids are going to do.”
(Good news for moms and talent seekers everywhere: Adaptability is one of the most prized attributes when searching for tech talent.)
Advice from the inside
So, how do you become the perfectly balanced, Instagram-worthy tech mom? Well, you can start by putting down the IG. Baby Stormi is cute, but that’s not real life and we all know it.
“In ‘Year of Yes,’ Shonda Rhimes says that whenever she’s succeeding in one area, she’s failing somewhere else,” said Wells. “And I think that’s true of everyone. Perfect balance is impossible, so you just keep taking a look at which piece of your particular puzzle needs the most attention and you work on that. While you’re doing that, something else is falling apart, so then you shift. Over and over again. It’s exhausting, but that doesn’t mean it can’t also be fulfilling.”
Would you say that to a dad in a professional setting? If not, bringing up parental status is probably not relevant.
“Make time to create moments,” said Bowman. “Your co-workers and your team at work need you, but your children need you even more. Missing moments with your children has a lasting impact that is hard to overcome. Even if it’s something small like Sunday Funday once a month, give them something to look forward to where they know they’ll be spending time with you, totally unplugged.”
“Be as organized as possible,” said Ryan. “Lunches are made the night before, clothes are put out the night before. Anything to make the morning routine run as smoothly as possible.”
And if, like many moms, you take a break from the workforce altogether and find yourself struggling to get back in, Vig offers this: “The first thing is to get out there and do something — anything — that makes you feel that you are making a contribution and using the skills that you worked hard to attain,” she said. “That can be volunteering at your child’s school, being a Girl Scout leader, coaching LEGO robotics, tutoring — really anything that appeals to you. These small things can lead to a lot.”
Finally, employers and coworkers, don’t assume our work is intrinsically tied to our identities as mothers. As Wells explains, sometimes bringing up the fact that someone is a mother can come off as if you don’t take them seriously as a professional:
“A potential client wanted to know if I had the technical skills needed to do [a job]. His exact words were, ‘As an enterprising mom, I’d imagine …’ He didn’t mean it in a bad way — he was just saying that I was scrappy and would probably try to pick up skills on the go. But it really struck me that I was a mom first to him, rather than a business owner, or graphic designer. When really me having or not having kids shouldn’t have been part of the discussion at all.”
(Obvious litmus test: Would you say that to a dad in a professional setting? If not, bringing up parental status is probably not relevant.)
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