Mothers of today are expected to do it all — raise the kids, bring home the bacon and have dinner on the table by 6 p.m. And while some companies have moved to improve work-life balance for working moms with increased maternity leave, employee resource groups and flexible work hours, the glass ceiling remains intact for many women in corporate America.
In this edition of our Confessions series, where we exchange anonymity for candor, we hear from a former agency director about getting fired and struggling to find a job amidst motherhood — all while launching a new project.
This conversation has been lightly edited for clarity.
You were poised to be an agency executive in 2018. But things went awry when you started a family. What happened?
I realized quickly that when I returned to work [from maternity leave], that I was getting mommy-tracked. I’d been there over two years. I was aiming to get promoted. I had really great reviews. I got a big raise just before I went on maternity leave, and right when I brought that up, they were like “Oh, you should really focus on this really difficult transition in your personal life, not worry so much about your career goals. We don’t know what’s going to happen down the road if there will be an opportunity to promote you.” That was the first red flag.
What were some of the other red flags?
[My supervisor] finds out that I had left before 6 p.m. on a Friday and got really upset. It became a huge issue. I regularly had to leave before 6 p.m. because I had to relieve my nanny at home and take care of my baby — I was still breastfeeding at the time — just until 7, then I’ll answer emails and whatever. It would be like an hour or hour and a half that I would be unavailable essentially. At 5:30 p.m., I had to send status emails or report where I was for that hour and I was told multiple times that I had to stay late and I told them I can sign on remotely. That was not okay, especially before Covid. Two weeks later after that conversation, which only focused on my availability, they fired me. I should also note that other people enjoyed flexible arrangements at the company, most of which were not caregivers.
How did you respond? Were you able to get back on your feet?
I was so affected by this that I started seeing a therapist. There were instances [during the job hunt] where I did feel like because I had to explain the [time] gap and explain I’m looking for something mom-friendly. The conversations did end at that point when I disclosed that, several times. Honestly, the whole thing was so disheartening and I just felt a lot of guilt being away from my infant son through all of this and nothing was coming through.
Seven months later, I decided I needed a break from this. It was too much disappointment. Also, me and my family were planning on trying to get pregnant again soon for a second child and I realized I’m not going to be eligible for any sort of paid leave because most companies, you have to be there 12 months in order to get any benefit. I can’t put myself through that situation again. I felt like I was pushed into being a stay-at-home mom when I never intended for that just because of this experience and the timing of [the pandemic] and how hard it made it on the job market side.
You mentioned there’s a misnomer that men exclusively participate in gender discrimination, but your experience was with other women. Talk to me about that.
It was kind of like this “I had to do it and it was really hard and this is the expectation. Aren’t you lucky that you get three months off?” It’s an interesting dynamic. I think people typically think it’s men that are doing this to women, but it’s often women doing it to each other. I sort of compare it to rushing a sorority where it’s like “I went through this difficult thing and now I’m going to do this to you.” Why do we have to put each other through pain? Can’t we support each other and make this easier for everyone because it’s so hard right now.
After that experience, do you want to work at an agency again?
I would like to go back into the workforce. I might be looking more into nonprofit, given it’s action and community-driven. Given this experience, I wanted to do something a little bit more meaningful as well. I think the question is do I want to be employed by someone or do I want more entrepreneurial things because I can state my terms of employment that way. With childcare, it’s hard to get the flexibility you want from a lot of these companies.
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