Company President Apologizes to Working Moms
PowerToFly president Katharine Zaleski has gotten a lot of attention for her public apology to working moms. I’ll be the first to admit that it’s great that her commentary piece on Fortune.com has started a large-scale conversation on the topic of working moms and the discriminatory attitudes and practices they face daily. If it shakes up even one executive’s perspective on working moms, then that’s a step in the right direction.
But hereâ€™s the thing: Making blanket statements about any group of people is dangerous. Thinking of employees in black-and-white terms is problematic, whether you view being a mother as an asset or a disadvantage, and it’s the very thing that leads to workplace discrimination in the first place.
Sure, I pushed a 9 lb 3 oz baby out of my vag, can type 70 wpm with a toothy seven-month-old hanging from my left nipple, and can keep a small herd of pygmy goats alive for months on a diet of nothing but my breast milk, but does that necessarily make me an awesome employee? I don’t know if making that correlation is any more helpful than assuming that motherhood has made me a less driven and dedicated worker.
One of the hardest-working and most productive people I ever shared an office with was a single mom, but I’ve worked with plenty of moms who clock-watched and trolled the Internet as much as the twenty-something, single guy down the hall. Some working moms are incredibly ambitious, and some aren’t. Some work their butts off, and some don’t.
The issue here is less about recognizing all the ways in which “mothers are the people you want on your team,” as Ms. Zaleski puts it, than about having workplace policies that support working parents, both mothers and fathers, so that they can be productive members of the workforce, receive due recognition and reward for their productivity, and have time to properly care for and raise their children. These policies need to be implemented across the board and should take people from different backgrounds and family structures into consideration. They need to come from our government, especially since the people in power, be they Democrats or Republicans, all seem to agree that family values are a top priority, at least in theory. This means equal pay for equal work, flexible work schedules without judgment or penalty, paid parental leave, and protections for pregnant workers.
I agree wholeheartedly with Ms. Zaleski that work should not be valued on hours logged in the office, but instead on actual productivity. These days it’s amazing how much I can get done in a four-hour span when I hire a babysitter, because shame on me if I waste that time. My time alone is infinitely more precious to me now than it was before I had a baby; it is as rare as the Hope Diamond, and it is carefully scheduled. A note to the childless: try paying someone a sizable chunk of your hourly wage so that you can have uninterrupted time to think and work by yourself–I guarantee it’ll light a fire right under your procrastinating butt and make you as productive as the hardest-working mother.
I have exclusively worked remotely since having had a baby, and in all honesty, it’s not how I want to go on working for the rest of my career. I do enjoy it in moderation, and I appreciate how convenient it is for me at this point in my life, but I prefer a combination of working in an office and working from home. I’d probably like working from home more if my home were a mansion and my home office had a garden view, but I live in a Brooklyn one-bedroom with a baby–my couch serves as both my desk and my Aeron, and my window faces a brick wall.
I do love how efficient I can be when working remotely and I like having no commute, but I miss interacting with my co-workers in the same space and socializing with them over lunch. It’s been ages since I’ve worked in an office where going out for drinks after work is a regular occurrence, and I don’t think I know anyone over 30 who would actually want to do that more than once a month, so I’m less concerned about missing out on the office drinks Ms. Zaleski brings up in her piece (maybe that’s what’s been keeping me from the corner office this whole time!) than I am about becoming a pajama-clad recluse.
Regardless of whether I agree with all of Ms. Zaleski’s points, one thing is clear: she’s great at marketing. Not to sound cynical, but leveraging a public apology into a means of bringing massive amounts of attention to a fledgling company is brilliant. Brava! And props to her for being able to leave her job in journalism to start and run her own business that matches women in tech and digital positions they can do remotely. Not all working moms have the ambition to start their own company or the means of achieving such a lofty, risky, and expensive goal.
No matter what your take is on her apology, Katharine Zaleski clearly knows what she’s doing, and I hope PowerToFly bridges the tech gender gap and changes the face of tech for good because the peen-fest definitely needs a makeover.
What do you think about her apology?