The Apology to Working Mothers Doesn't Help Anyone. Here's What Will.

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.



  1. Pingback: Irish Parenting Bloggers | The Apology to Working Mothers Doesn’t Help Anyone. Here’s What Will.

  2. Fair play. One of the the best responses to this I’ve read. Being cognisant of everyone’s valid pressures and desires is the fairest starting point. The only way for true equality to be applied. On a side note, in the twenty odd years I’ve been working, I’ve always found every status group (single, parents, young, old etc.) a mixed ability group when it comes to conscientiousness and having a hard work ethic. Efficient performance management systems that are monitored appropriately create level playing fields and remove the risk of added pressure for some, and eliminate the rise of misplaced halos for others to coast on purely according to their family status. Some hard-working parents shouldn’t have to carry the lazier ones, but I see it frequently. Few folk are superheroes. Getting real means a fair day’s work in exchange for a culture that supports the legitimate life circumstances of all employees.

    Speaking of culture, segments of corporate and middle class America are obsessed with improving ‘character’ and income – I interpreted the piece as a cynical advertising step in branding her new soft Mom friendly product. It didn’t wash with me either.

    Great post.

    • I share your cynicism, that’s what drove me to write the post:)
      My first draft post contained many swear words and lots of name-calling. Good point too on the mixed ability groups, I’ve been too general in my examples I think.

      • Not at all. This is a refreshing read around the need to move away from management’s perception of one group’s input from another and how that’s measured, to judging workers on their efficiency fairly. Self-motivation is not exclusive to any one group; just like no group is devoid of lazy folk. Anyway, I hope her ladyship picks up on this piece. Bravo.

  3. Excellent post and too true! We all struggle to create that perfect work life balance and keep all balls juggling in the air! Great read

  4. Yes, yes and more yes. Everyone is struggling with something, everyone has their problems. What we see on the outside is superficial yet we are always using it to make judgements. You hit the nail on the head. Everyone deserves compassion and understanding and a little bit of patience.

  5. The title alone was enough for me to ‘judge’ her and I decided not to read it. I thought,”no matter how you turned out I don’t like you and I’m uninterested in your apology”
    Does that mean she can only empathise with a group after she has experienced life walking in their shoes, or I wondered what is she advertising? Reading your comments I see it was the latter.
    Great response to her and her type. Well done.

  6. Like Tric, I saw the article but didn’t read it. I guessed it’d be pointless, irritating or both.
    I am all for performance-based systems. I see it all the time at my current and my previous employment that those who hang around the office longest are considered most for promotion or share most time with the boss. Those of us who get in, do the work (and do it well!) and go home again don’t get as much notice unless we really highlight our own performance to others, and that is not always easy to do.
    I really enjoyed your article. Thanks Sinéad.

  7. Yep, totally agree – it’s clearly an attempt to promote her new business, and it’s working. And yes, she sounds like an idiot – OK, I’ll say she sounds like she’s a bitch to work for, and no doubt, as you say, she was similarly horrible to all her employees. It’s great that she’s had an epiphany just in time to launch her new business 🙂

  8. whereismymindgone

    Well said, excellent post xx

  9. Oh my I completely agree. She was completely inhumane in her outlook and I find it hard to believe that she has really changed – more that she has found a way to make a few euro off the back of those looking for flexibility.
    I have to say people – whether they are parents, people with dependents or just people who have other places to be, make for unbelievably efficient employees. They are self-motivated and get on with things simply because they spend less time looking busy, and more time being busy.
    Well done for finding the eloquence to reply. And to getting around to calling her an idiot. Clearly you are a very organised human being! I wonder what has you so organised??!!

  10. Just read her article and she reads like a right piece of work. Great response! Well done.

  11. Great post. Totally agree with you. The ‘live to work’ attitude is bad for more than just working mothers!

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