I was a young woman, taking space in what was very clearly a man’s world.
Yet I had an advantage, apparently. Because I was yet to bear a child. So according to the Powers That Be, my effectiveness and efficiency at climbing my allocated professional ladder was not yet hindered by any offspring that would surely sap me of my professional abilities and aptitude.
Too many of us face these prejudices and astonishingly, most of us are told that it’s all in our heads. We have human resources departments set up to protect our rights as employees, no matter our maternal status, yet if we dig a little deeper, we learn that our perception of workplace culture is actually pretty spot on.
Take for instance, a study published in the Journal of Social Issues, which showed that telling people that an employee was also a mother, made people view her as less competent:
“Women operate under pressure from ambient stereotypes saying that mothers can’t be serious professionals…Perhaps most noteworthy, participants expressed less interest in hiring, promoting, and educating the working mother compared to the childless woman.”
And if that doesn’t cement our suspicions of workplace inequalities, perhaps some cold hard figures might do so, since a study published in the American Sociological Review journal, titled “The Wage Penalty for Motherhood”, highlights a 7% financial penalty for each child.
Yet all is not lost, truly. Because there are many studies, which categorically show that productivity actually increases with motherhood:
“...mothers in general are more productive than childless women...” (Zimmermann et al)
So instead of focussing on the misplaced prejudice that so many of us find ourselves battling, I wanted to take a moment to focus on examples of heightened effectiveness…of furthered achievement…of real life kick-ass awesomeness, working mama style.
If there’s one skill that is credited to mothers, time and time again, it’s multitasking. We can change a diaper while talking on the phone and simultaneously split up a soon-to-be-toddler fight without even blinking.
If you’re a breastfeeding mom who carries her pump to work, it’s likely that you are already very familiar with the Nurse Purse. It’s the cute breast pump bag which is roomy enough for all our essentials, without conforming to the drab design of standard edition pump bags. It’s both practical and stylish: a multitasker by its own merit.
So how does she balance it all? How do we ensure that we don't get lost within these roles that we fulfil?
“My personal way to carve out something for myself has been running. It sometimes makes me feel guilty to take a few hours on a weekend day to go on a long run, but it's an important way to take care of my mental and physical well being.” - Adrienne
There are so many articles written about how important self-care is to mothers. The phrase, 'we can't pour from an empty cup' rings true in my ears almost daily. Yet so many of us ignore this basic human need. Whether we embark on new business ventures and balance it with exercise, like Adrienne, or whether we simply take five minutes for a cup of tea and a biscuit before taking on the grocery store with a toddler...respecting this idea of 'self' is truly an essential learning curve for all of us.
Ever forgot the words to a nursery rhyme and found yourself improvising, much to your baby’s delight? Ever been asked to make up a story, when there are a hundred books already written on the shelf? It feels like no big deal at the time, but if there’s one thing that I am certain about, it’s that motherhood gives our natural creativity a huge almighty boost.
Perhaps this creativity is responsive, as we meet the needs of our children, or perhaps we are inadvertently absorbing the creative, joyful playfulness of our babies as we go about our mothering…whatever the cause, the result is clear: creativity is an essential part of life, both personally and for society overall.
One such mom who is riding the creativity wave is Michelle Smith, a designer with a thriving Etsy business, crafting and selling luxury baby blankets.
Michelle is the sole force behind BizyBelle, from choosing fabrics to shipping out the final product, every stitch is taken care of by this busy mom. As I chatted with Michelle last week, I asked her how she juggles her work with motherhood, and her answer made me smile:
“Right now, my two year old has thrown every game piece on the floor, drawn all over her face and is looking at me saying, "tada!" So, the best response that I can give is that I juggle work and motherhood with love and laughter!”
Love and laughter. Also known as connection.
Because by taking the time to truly connect with and understand her customers, Michelle isn't just meeting orders - she is building her brand and creating even more security for herself and her daughters.
Empower: to make (someone) stronger and more confident, especially in controlling their life and claiming their rights.
I think we can all agree that a little empowerment can make the biggest of differences. Yet this word gets thrown around a lot. I was ‘supposed’ to feel empowered as I climbed the corporate ladder all those years ago, yet I didn’t. Because in fact, the sense of ‘empowerment’ being offered was incomplete. It was inauthentic. It was somebody else’s ‘empowerment’ and I was playing a role that I didn't recognize.
Because in its simplest sense, empowerment comes from within. It compliments our wants and needs as individuals, and needless to say, the world of corporate finance did not satiate my own personal cravings for life and motherhood.
Yet what if we are all out of giving? What if we’re running on empty and can’t catch a break?
Peggy Bernar, owner of Free Soul Designs has the answer and it’s really very simple: we empower each other.
Free Soul Designs is a company that works with freelance artists to design and print shirts that embody empowerment, strength and confidence…just take a look:
And as proof of the company’s dedication to unity, it donates 15% of all profits to a local battered women’s shelter.
Peggy told me:
“Giving back to the shelter means hope. Hope for women and humanity. I feel that when a woman may be at her lowest point in her life and goes to this shelter to seek help, the kindness and assistance that is given to her is SO important. It says that she is not alone, that she will recover and rebuild from whatever she is coming out of, and that people truly believe in her and will help her every step of the way. Free Soul Designs not only condones but completely supports this because women need to support and lift each other up when no one else will. Sometimes women need to be shown the strength within them that was there all along.”
Far from the studies quoted above, about women being viewed as less competent once they have embarked upon this journey of motherhood, here is a woman who owns a successful business and is making a choice that most businesses simply won’t entertain – the choice to help others. And she’s doing it all while raising children:
“I don't have help with childcare during the week, so it's just me all day everyday. I handle it as gracefully as I can and just know in my heart that it will always work out, and it does. Seeing the smiles on my kids' faces and having their little arms wrap around me gives me the fuel I need to wear all of these hats…I am on a mission that is bigger than t-shirts, and when I remember the lives I am meant to change and the strength I am meant to pass onto others, it really makes everything much easier.”
Bigger than t-shirts.
Bigger than profits alone.
Because we’re in this together.
Far from the outdated perception of mothers as incompetent workers and in spite of the proven 'Wage Penalty' of motherhood, it is being proven time and time again that productivity comes in many different forms.…profits, customer satisfaction, personal achievement, family security, charity…and a million others. Our stories as working mothers are all unique and ever-changing, but one thing is for sure – together, we are stronger.
Times will surely change. The wage gap is likely to decrease and opportunities will open up in the corporate domains for mothers as companies start to capitalize on the huge advantages of employing moms…the question is, will we want to work for other people when we’re clearly kicking ass doing it for ourselves?!
Thank you to Adrienne, Michelle and Peggy for allowing me to feature their stories and businesses in this piece. Please do take the time to visit them!