Before becoming a mom, I worked in the marketing department of one of the world’s largest medical companies. Life was fast-moving, free and exciting! My life revolved around my career and I loved going into work every day. Becoming pregnant never seemed like an obstacle to work; life, of course, would be the same, just with a baby. It was not within my sights to become a stay-at-home-mom.
What surprised me was how differently I was treated after announcing my pregnancy. Firstly, a co-worker expressed their disappointment that I had decided to throw away my career and a senior manager told other staff members that he did not expect me to come back to work after I had my daughter. My husband, who worked for the same company, had a completely different experience. He was congratulated and met with delight. Not one person openly expressed their disappointment in him throwing away his career or expected him to sacrifice his career for our daughter.
I began to question how we treated mothers in the workplace. According to ‘Lean In’ by Sheryl Sandberg, “43% of highly qualified women with children are leaving careers”. Corporations are hemorrhaging experienced and talented women, just because they chose to have children, while our husbands are promoted and given a 12% higher salary.
I became one of the 43% while my husband began to climb the ranks. While on maternity leave my husband was promoted to a position in Mannheim, Germany. I decided to become a stay-at-home-mom, something that I had never thought was in my future. While settling into a country in which I had no prior knowledge of the culture or language, I began to meet my tribe, a group of expatriated, English-speaking mothers. A group of women who, like myself, had walked away from high-achieving careers for a number of different reasons. I met women who had worked in medical research, social research, marketing, realty, nursing and even a Norland Nanny!
So what happens to high-achieving women who become stay-at-home-moms? Sadly, the majority of us where unable to find the type of employment we had walked away from once we were able to recommit to our careers. We had essentially become redundant from the corporate world. Many of us went on to create our own start-ups but with the majority of investment going to male-owned companies, we were already at a disadvantage.
The big question is why are corporations not re-hiring mothers who take a break to look after their children? The simple answer is the belief that we sit at home, drinking coffee and watching daytime TV while our children are at school. Of course, those of us who have been stay-at-home-moms (or dads) know this is far from the truth. One of the most tasking times in my life was being a stay-at-home-mom. Not only was I run ragged by my children but there was no such thing as coffee breaks (or hot coffee for that matter), vacation time (we travelled but it was doing the same job in a different place) or even a full night’s sleep. I have never worked harder. It was an extremely rewarding job and also a privileged job, as many don’t have this choice, but it is difficult, isolating and exhausting.
There is also a societal belief that once you become a mom, you are a mom, nothing else! We are unable to focus on our careers, as we will always put our children first, we are unable to have social lives, as again, our children must come first and we are certainly unable to develop professionally, as we will be the one to pick up the pieces if our children become sick. I have never seen these same societal pressures being put upon fathers. My husband travels for weeks on end due to work and no one has ever questioned his commitment to his children or assumed that they will get in the way.
I have a counterargument to that belief, what if we see this time at home as professional growth. I cannot think of another time in my life where I developed and gained more skills. We are thrown in at the deep end of parenting; we learn everything through experience. We become experts in problem-solving, negotiating, listening, anticipating needs, multi-tasking, organization, management, collaboration, persuasion, and many other skills. All of which, sound very like the skills that corporations need, skills that would allow a corporation to diversify while growing ethically and economically. On top of that, our professional experience and expertize prior to becoming moms, is still valid.
Corporations need to get rid of outdated opinions centered around moms and begin to see the exponential potential in newly developed skills and the expertise we already have. They need to put systems into place to support and encourage moms back into the boardrooms.
I wonder if 43% of dads began to leave their corporate jobs would more systems be put into place to ensure their return and if so, then why do we accept it for moms?