Inspired by the #IWD theme ‘breaking the bias’, we’re dedicating this month to sharing perspectives on and experiences of ‘women at work’ related biases as our colleagues open up about the impact bias had on their working – and home – lives.
This is my story…
I’m Hana, Marketing Manager at Recordsure and TCC, with over 20 years of marketing experience under my belt, gained across various industries, from small businesses to large global corporates.
So, what’s the bias to break here?
I’m a mum of two lovely (mostly) children, 13 and 10 years old.
That’s it. It really is that simple. Being a working mother is the bias I’ve been facing over the last 13 years. And yes, the bias against working mothers (be it conscious or unconscious) is still very real.
The bad, the good and the in-between
As many mums would relate, returning to work after you’ve had a child is daunting – with so many things to consider, from separation anxiety (you and the baby!), to ‘how I’m going to fit all this in my day’, and ‘can I still do my job’?
I’m happy to say that it all worked out after all. I’ve had a great time working while managing to be a mum – and continue to grow professionally.
But was it easy? No, not so much.
The working mother bias comes in many forms and is usually driven by the company culture, yet the personal experience of bias often comes down to your direct manager. They can make all the difference, good or bad.
Off to a bad start
I’ll be frank. Being a working mum with a small child is tricky no matter what – but try a business where the attitude towards working mothers is icy.
The stress of having to tell your unsympathetic manager that you got a call from the nursery to collect your child with temperature/conjunctivitis/sickness bug, and then be at their mercy as to whether you can leave the office to get your poorly baby or not (even though your child only got ill a couple of times a year).
My keen suggestion of making up the time was on some occasions considered as acceptable, yet sometimes not acceptable at all. The option to work from home on the rare occasions my child was ill was firmly dismissed – while, in reality, I could make conference calls and write strategy documents at any desk.
It was suggested to me that I take the time I’m looking after my unwell child as my sick leave, while knowing that having even a few sick days a year would trigger a HR disciplinary procedure. What did I do? I ended up using up my holidays, begging for many favours of my wonderful friends, and flying my mum into the country to help out (chickenpox!).
I was judged for arriving in the office on time and having to leave on time for nursery/school runs. Yet I worked long hours, switching on my laptop at 8 pm after putting kids to bed, working till midnight, only to get up at 5.30 am to start all over again. I worked many more hours than I was employed to do, and I was still made to feel as I needed to prove my worth all the time. I received no recognition or praise for successfully delivered projects so freely offered to my not-a-working-mother colleagues.
Luckily, it got better
A new manager, a fresh start. The return to work after my second child was surprisingly okay. I still worked super hard – and more than I should have, but my manager was kind, understanding and had a more flexible approach to working. We got on well, we won some awesome awards along the way – my work was well-rated and appreciated, without bias. What a difference an empathetic and considerate outlook make.
And then it got worse again
Following a few changes around the business, and here we go again. Back came the bias. Similar story as before. What was the breaking point? As a working mother that ‘only’ worked a 4-day week (plus the many hours in the evenings and on my days off), I was advised not to apply for a promotion as the ‘no commitments’ candidate was ‘more suitable’, despite my unmatched experience.
Over the years, I worked for various managers and companies – some better, some worse.
Yet the working mother bias has impacted my career and influenced the choices I’ve made over the past decade.
It's pretty good right now!
Fast-forward a bunch of years, I’m working for Recordsure & TCC Group, a business with a positive working culture and a daily dose of empathy and care. I’m sitting at a desk in my home office, working a 4-day week remotely (by choice), and head to the office when it adds value to what I do. I still work more hours than I should – who doesn’t! – but it’s easier to find a better balance when the right support is there.
So far, so good, right? And that’s not all.
I, along with my work colleagues (female, male, parents or not), work in an environment where we are all equally and without bias offered flexibility, trust, and opportunities to grow. Breaking the bias every day.
Simple as that.