"For mothers in the workplace, it’s death by a thousand cuts – and sometimes it’s other women holding the knives. I didn’t realize this – or how horrible I’d been – until five years later, when I gave birth to a daughter of my own."
I hope this article simultaneously disturbed and resonated with you as much as it did me. I, much like one of the women her article describes, proudly display artifacts of my life outside and within my office which do include numerous photos of my toddler son. And why not? His picture adorns the bulletin board by my door just as my recently published articles, news clippings I find interesting, and flyers for campus activities I find beneficial for my students. And I cringe to think that a colleague, student, parent or administrator would judge me incompetent for a project or a job just because I also happen to be a mother. Fortunately, I have found myself in a working environment that embraces all walks of life, encourages individuality, and is fully supportive and flexible for the working parent! (I say parent because at my college, our administration and colleagues recognize that parenting does not start and end with the mother, but also impacts and enhances the life of the father... something we tend to forget and take for granted).
Now while I have been fortunate to work in an environment that supports the working mother, I am fully aware that other mothers do not. Time and time again I have heard egregious statements in which working mothers were passed over for promotions based on the assumption they could not travel or were unable to handle extra responsibilities, or not encouraged to go after promotions because they are perceived as unreliable. I have heard of young, recently married women not getting hired for the job because it is assumed they will get pregnant soon after and then take maternity leave, then quit. I have had women express to me concern about telling their employer that they are pregnant because it may negatively impact their career. I even had a recently unemployed friend struggle about whether or not to tell potential employers that she was pregnant during the interview for fear that it would cost her the job, because" who wants to invest in training a person who is just going to take maternity leave and maybe not come back".
As the article mentions, this pervasive perception of working mothers is not only held by men, but by women as well. I know women who can not fathom "giving up their career for children". For some reason they feel immediately following the birth of a child, a woman becomes unreliable, ineffective and unable to handle the immense responsibility of a career and therefore can only stay at the entry level position or just stay at home all together. Therefore, the woman feels she must choose between her career and her children. Again, part of this misconception is due in part to the misconception that parenting starts and stops with the mother because in no way do working fathers traverse this perceptual landscape of choosing one or the other. And again, I must say, this is where I am fortunate; because not only does my husband help out at home by picking up our son from daycare, by cooking dinner on most nights, and with other chores, he is constantly supportive of my career choice, When I travel for work (which I do at least 3 times a year) or work late to meet with students, colleagues or community partners, I never have to worry "what will I do with my kid?"... because my kid has his dad who is just as capable of parenting as I am.
So it seems, despite laws preventing discrimination in the hiring, promotion and firing of working mothers in the workplace, the public mis-perceptions that working mothers are unable to handle careers is still pervasive enough to force women to place limitations on themselves. It forces them to feel that they must make a choice "Career or Children". So in an effort to help encourage women who are struggling with this choice themselves I came up with the PROMOTE Challenge. In this challenge, I am asking working moms, who work at all levels and in all disciplines, to create a photo diary following one day in their lives. Using these photo diaries, we are showing other women what a work day is like for a variety of working mother and we can then dispel some of these unfounded and unfair misconceptions. The PROMOTE Challenge will also create a supportive network of working mothers who love and find purpose in their careers as much as in their families, reminding all of us that although the life of a working mom is far from easy, it is exceedingly rewarding. Below, you will find my photo diary, and although my day to day is hardly reproducible because the life of an academic in the sciences is hardly consistent, I feel that it is still a good representation that not only am I a freaking fantastic and dedicated mother and wife, I am also a fabulous and hardworking scientist, educator and mentor.
My PROMOTE Photo Diary:
If you would like to participate in this challenge you can either send me your photo story, or create your own and share on social media with #PROMOTEchallenge . Lets encourage all women to lead the lives they feel called to lead regardless of public misconceptions and maybe we can challenge the world to promote working moms!