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Women at Work

How To Combat Anti-Mom Bias

Our VIP Lunch & Learn With Katherine Goldstein

Katherine Goldstein is an award-winning journalist and expert on women and work. Inspired by her own experiences of becoming a mother, Katherine has spent the last couple of years studying issues of women and work as well as mothers in the workplace.

After her research as a 2017 Nieman Fellow at Harvard University, Katherine authored the article entitled "Where Are the Mothers?". She has also written the article "The Open Secret of Anti-Mom Bias at Work" for The New York Times. In addition, Katherine is currently developing a podcast about millennial working mothers.

On Friday, June 29th, Katherine sat down with a small group of PowerToFly VIPs and provided valuable information about ways we can combat the anti-mom bias and unite working caregivers everywhere. Would you like access to exclusive chats with women like Katherine? If yes, then click here to become a PowerToFly VIP and join our community of women here to empower one another.


Q: How do you combat criticism in the workplace for being a "young mother"?

Katherine Goldstein: In a perfect and just world, this really would have no impact on how anyone viewed you at work. Being a "young mother" isn't relevant to your competency. Instead of engaging with those trying to put you down, try to focus on your accomplishments and what you're really good at. If it's in a performance review type of setting, try to steer people away from talking about your personal life and really focus on what you contribute to the organization.

Q: How does a mom break ceilings in the workplace when they have impeding familial obligations?

KG: First, there's this academic term that I use in my anti-mom bias article that isn't widely known, but I think is really important-it's called the "maternal wall". I think it should be as well known as the phrase "glass ceiling". "Maternal wall" basically means that once a woman becomes a mother, she hits a wall in terms of her promotions and earnings and is not able to advance due to perceived biases and lack of opportunities.

I think that a lot of times people assume mothers don't want to travel for work or don't want promotions because they'd rather be home with their kids. What's really important is to keep raising your hand for those things if they are important to you. Don't assume that someone knows that you want a promotion, be clear that you are interested in challenging yourself in moving forward. Many people are going through challenges in their lives, but I absolutely feel that if you want something done well, then give it to a busy working mother. They are some of the most impressively multi-tasking, creative thinking, efficient people. Don't count yourself out as someone who can't do something if it's something that you're really passionate about and want to try to reach for - "Happy moms make for happy families".

Q: How can I fight the anti-mom bias when what's happening is not technically "illegal"?

KG: It's really hard to think of examples of anti-mom biased behavior that's not illegal. For example, not giving someone a promotion because you think they're too busy with their kids, which happens all the time, is illegal. Hiring someone who doesn't have kids because you say that the person who had kids would maybe be too distracted—that's illegal. The biggest issue I can think of that's not "illegal" is centralized around scheduling. Many employer may schedule important happy hours and networking events late in the evening with a lot of drinking - that just doesn't always work for moms or pregnant women. To combat this, we have to be proactive and say things like, "It's great that you suggested that happy hour—how about the next time we do it as a lunch during the day so everyone can participate?"

Q: What's the best way to combat the perception of working less on a WFH day if you're home with a sick kid?

KG: This is a tough one. Everyone has unexpected things that come up, even people who don't have kids - someone has to take their dog to the vet, someone has to take care of an aging parent, someone has a housing emergency. These things happen to people, and if you're in a position of leadership, make sure you're creating a culture of transparency for everyone, not just those without children. With that being said, if you're one of those people consistently thinking you're not doing enough or being perceived as such, it's possible this can just be internalized guilt. In letting go of that, you can try to focus more on highlighting what you're doing well and the efficiencies that you have in other aspects of your work.

Q: What are the main things that you think that we can do right now as employees of organizations to change/stop this bias?

KG: So what's really interesting is that I think people who are first learning about the anti-mom bias might think this is a problem for childless men who are neanderthals—and that's absolutely not the case. This kind of bias can come from women (as mentioned in Katharine Zaleski's really eloquent article from a couple of years ago), it can come from dads, and it can come from other mothers. I've definitely heard stories from people who've had a boss, also a mother, who mentioned things like "well, it was really hard for me, so I'm not cutting you any breaks".

The best ways to start to interrupt this, is to physically interrupt it. When you hear people saying things like, "Oh, she's pregnant. I'm not sure we should go ahead with the promotion.", it's perfectly ok (and moral!) to say that you do not agree with that, and it's illegal. As women, we need to continue sharing our stories, raising awareness, and understanding that this is a problem. It's not about needing to be nice to working moms, it's about women's ability to be economic providers and to earn money throughout their whole lives. There's a lot at stake, so speaking up about your own experiences and not turning a blind eye when you're faced with an act of discrimination, is a really important first step.


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