The last few days a piece kept popping up in my timeline on social media.
It’s the piece that shows a smiling couple and a baby in a casual shot.
The headline is “Female company president: “I’m sorry to all the mothers I worked with”. (Here’s the LINK.)
Its author Katharine Zaleski worked at The Huffington Post and The Washington Post in her twenties.
Now a mother she’s confessing of her treatment of working mothers “I didn’t realise how horrible i’d been – until I had a child of my own”.
She gives examples of how terribly she treated working mothers.
In the real world working parents (yes, parents, not mothers) are used to making excuses, turning down social events, declining meeting invitations that clash with child pick-ups, juggling care with their partner. Couples sit down on Sunday nights and compare work schedules for the week, making sure that each pick up and drop off is covered, swapping shifts and making it work.
Zaleski also admits that she didn’t think a working mother could focus.
She missed that point too. Us parents know that parents are different. We work differently.
Research tells us that men who are fathers find that having children helps their career, but it doesn’t work that way for women.
Working mothers will tell you that once the kids came along that their attitude to work changed. Not that they couldn’t focus, simply that they did things differently. I returned from maternity leave focussed, productive, and intolerant of time wasters. My work needed to be done, I needed to show that I could do it in my finite working hours, before my other job took over.
Once kids are in the equation, the clock is watched, the finish line always in sight and the work gets done. It’s all about not drawing attention to the fact that you can’t do something due to family commitments (staying under the radar as Officemum puts it) so you get it done in the time available, or you bring it home and do it when the kids are asleep. Meetings get shorter. Every minute counts. We become more efficient.
But people like Zaleski (pre-motherhood) just didn’t get that. They value presenteeism, it’s all about the optics, not what actually gets done. Imagine a world where outputs count more than being seen to be at your desk at the expected hours. Difficult isn’t it? How would it even work?
There’s a point being missed though. If Zaleski was that dismissive of working mothers, it’s not just them she owes an apology, it’s the world at large.
Because quite simply, she was being an idiot. And it’s hard to imagine that she it was only her mother-colleagues that she dismissed so much. If she had that little respect for them or their lives, this has to have permeated relationships with other colleagues too.
Sure she treated mothers badly, and it’s great that she’s drawing attention to this as someone somewhere might not have realises before that working mothers often get a raw deal. But what about those who aren’t mothers? They have outside interests too, like those caring for elderly parents or sick partners. What about the working fathers who do the crèche run or train the under-8 hurling team every Tuesday at 6pm? What about those who simply want a work-life balance for themselves?
Where’s her apology to everyone else? Was it just the mothers that she was awful to? I don’t buy it.
What’s her motivation to make this apology? Is she looking for forgiveness?
Is she trying to publicise how badly working mothers are treated by some bosses?
It’s hardly news. Until you read that she started a company to “match women in technical positions they could do from home.” That makes it news.
So Katherine, thanks for your apology and all, but don’t single us out, that’s what makes us different. It’s not just women who want flexibility, not just mothers who want to work from home. Everyone does, and by extending and flexibility to all that’s what will stop the eye-rolls when someone declines a meeting invitation at 4pm., because it’s the norm, and not because of the kids.
We all need to look at the bigger picture.
Treating everyone with respect, giving everyone flexibility, is what we need. That’s what will make it right, what will achieve real equality.
Working mothers don’t want to be treated differently. We want everyone to be treated fairly and respectfully, everyone to be given flexibility. Then we won’t be the special cases, we’ll be the same as everyone else.
And the sooner that this is recognised and acted upon, the closer everyone will be to achieving the nirvana of work-life balance. Together.
Because we’re all in this together.