Honest and open conversations are necessary for keeping mothers in the workplace.
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 Erica Galos Alioto, vice president of Local Sales at Yelp.
I am fortunate enough to work at a company that places great value on working moms, and have worked here ever since having kids, so I can’t say I have ever experienced the kind of bias Katharine Zaleski describes in her article. I do think, however, that it’s important for those who manage or work alongside working moms to be aware that many of us tend to put a lot of pressure on ourselves to prove we can do it all, and it’s helpful when our managers or peers can take some of the pressure off.
Returning to work after maternity leave is difficult (as anyone who has done it knows). Typically, when women return from maternity leave, we are getting very little sleep (4-5 hours max.), are experiencing hormone overload, and are struggling with confidence as we have been absent from a role for 6-12 weeks (or longer in some cases). In addition to feeling at our worst both physically and in terms of body image. Add to this the fact that someone has taken over our role while we were out, which can make transitioning back into it awkward and the fact that many moms experience separation anxiety from being away from their infant for the first time.
All of these factors can lead working moms to become overly stressed and consumed with feelings of guilt – a feeling that they are never able to give 100% to any part of their life. I certainly felt this way the first year or so after I had each of my children. But then I realized something: as a working mom, I have a unique value. Not only do I bring a perspective that is different from many others, but I can also be a role model for other women (and men) in the organization who plan to have children at some point. Finally, as Zaleski points out in her article, because I have a limited amount of hours I can spend at the office, I became much more efficient and productive. I can get more done in 8 or 9 hours than I used to do in 10, because I don’t have the luxury to be able to waste time when I’m at work.
I am part of a mothers group at work, which, among other things, provides support to new moms who are coming back to work and trying to navigate this experience. It often means just having open, honest conversations with our managers about what we are experiencing and finding a healthy balance that works for everyone. I found that when I did so, and stopped pretending like everything was perfect, my manager was completely supportive, and never flinched if I unexpectedly had to work from home once in a while because of a sick child, or if I was going to be in a little late because something was happening at my child’s school and it was important to him that I was there. The more supportive we can be of mothers in the workplace, the longer working moms will stay there.