UNDERSTAND YOUR WORKPLACE ECOSYSTEM
Elena Malykhina is a journalist who early on recognized the power of the Internet for her industry. She graduated from college with a degree in journalism and a minor in media studies. Her first job covered the mobile and wireless space for InformationWeek. She went on to become the online editor for Prometheus Global Media, which owns Brandweek, Adweek, and other key properties.
Elena worked long hours and many weekends in the beginning phase of her career. And then she got pregnant. “I was afraid to tell my boss because I was worried I wouldn’t be given as many assignments,” she told me.
Her instincts were right. When she was twenty weeks pregnant, the company announced layoffs. You can guess what happened to Elena.
“There were two of us managing the website,” she said. “A guy who was young and newly married and me who was pregnant and would be heading out on maternity leave. The company decided to keep him on staff and lay me off.”
Elena considered suing the company for discrimination, but decided it wasn’t worth the time, money, and effort. Instead she launched a successful career as an independent journalist. Now that her second child is ready for preschool, Elena is considering a number of different job opportunities. But this time, she is being more careful.
“I learned my lesson,” she said. “As a mother you can’t succeed in a workplace that doesn’t value all that you have to offer. I should have looked around me and realized there were very few mothers at that time at the top of the company and as a new mother I wasn’t going to succeed in that environment.”
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Understanding the realities of your company’s culture is one way to be sure you are prepared; another is understanding the realities of what it means to be a woman and a mother in our country. Re- read Part II of this book, and then get angry. Elena chose to go her own way, but if every woman does the same, no real change will happen. We must collectively understand the ecosystem in which we are operating and together change it so bright, talented women like Elena don’t get pushed to the side simply because they are bringing forth the next generation.
Meanwhile, it is critically important to recognize the workplace environment in which you are operating. You may think nothing can hold you back, but you just might be surprised. One young woman recently reached out to ask for advice. She is a woman of color who works as a creative at a high-profile advertising agency—in other words, someone any smart company truly committed to inclusion and innovation would be loath to lose. She has been working at her agency for a number of years and is about to get married. She wants children, but she is dismayed by what she is seeing in her company. She wrote,
Maternity leave used to be six weeks with 100 percent pay. Most of the women I’ve been talking to around the agency that have had babies usually take their maternity leave plus short term disability (that was optional for a small cost per paycheck for the employee) which used to be six weeks at 60 percent pay. Now they got rid of maternity leave and the agency is paying short term disability for all the employees. The only change I noticed is that short term disability says it could go up to thirteen weeks depending on the severity of the disability (so I am guessing if you have a c-section or a complication) but it remained at 60 percent pay.
They are hiding behind the excuse of “equality” because not everyone could use this benefit (maternity leave) and now everyone can (short term disability). If it was about equality why not just open it to paternity leave as well?
Good question. The reality is that changes like these are not about equalizing opportunity for all employees; they’re about punishing new parents. If this agency truly cared about its talent, it would offer a fully paid meaningful (four months or more) maternity leave AND a paternity leave. It would also extend short-term disability to all employees so those with other nonparenting-related needs can get the support they need. But this agency cared more about managing the short-term bottom line than retaining the talent it already has on its team.
The young woman went on to write, “How can I stay in to a job that will not support me being a mother if I get pregnant in a year? The same company that I have put so many hours of effort into? While the world is moving forward with maternity leave policies, we seem to be going backward.”
The advice I gave her? Leave. A smart, highly employable woman like her is in high demand.
Companies who view their employees as expendable, rather than as a competitive advantage, are not places mothers thrive. Put your human capital to work in a place that views your talents and abilities as the key to their success. When you do, you will have a much higher likelihood of integrating your personal and professional goals.