Opinion: Working moms need to re-write the work rules from the Mad Men era

Jul 19 2020, 2:34 pm

Written by Katie Diamond and Janet Winkler, founders of Hacking Sophia, a digital platform with a mission to improve the daily experience of working moms living in the Cram it all in Years (CIAIY) – when career collides with baby, kids and mom-dom. 


It’s rough out there for working moms.

We’ve been laid off disproportionately, or we’ve had to take a step away from our careers due to childcare challenges, or we’re absolutely fried from trying to manage working from home with kids, plus more than our fair share of household responsibilities.

For those still fortunate enough to be employed, here’s what we can do (on behalf of all women): we can use this “return to work” as an opportunity to collectively take steps forward during a time when it feels like were losing progress. 

We must return to a better normal at work: one that we, as working women and working moms, co-create.

COVID-19 sucks, but the impact has raised consciousness around all sorts of work norms that were assumed as “the only way.”

In the spirit of subtraction — taking the things that waste precious time and energy off our collective plate — we have to challenge ourselves, our managers, colleagues and workplaces to consider what we should carry forward, rewrite or ditch altogether.

How and where we work will keep morphing. We’re not going to wait to see how this all shakes out. Now is the time to start rewriting “old rules” starting with:

We won’t hide our children from our colleagues… unless we want to 

Many of our colleagues, bosses and clients now know our children’s names and have seen their faces over Zoom having busted through, what we hoped, was an unbustable door. You have certainly seen or chatted about their kids, dogs and family members too. We’ve had a rare glimpse into what defines who our colleagues are, beyond how they do their job, and vice versa. 

Some of us “showed up” to work as our whole selves pre-COVID, but many of us felt it was better to keep family separate at the risk of perceived oversharing, or worse, being seen as inattentive to our work – as if having kids undermined what we were accomplishing. 

If it’s better for you to compartmentalize and “leave your kids at home” physically, mentally and emotionally, then, by all means, do. But, if it’s important to you that you can speak freely about your kids, then it’s time to own the fact that you’re a whole person with a family that doesn’t detach even when you’re 100% on in your job. Open the conversation and be authentic about your interest in your colleagues’ lives too. It goes both ways. The conversation has already been started through COVID; let’s keep it alive.

We’ll subtract time-chewing BS work

Many businesses large and small are rethinking how to stage a comeback in a COVID world, some from ashes, some less debilitated. What’s for sure is that we’ll need to focus on what drives value and stop wasting time on the rituals, often triggered inadvertently, that take on a life of their own and consume precious time without truly driving value: think, “update decks” or deliverables that are subject to constant re-editing up and down the chain (See “How Bosses Waste Their Employees” time at WSJ or summarized here). We’re in a period of reinvention where experimentation, agility and rapid decision-making are essential. Preserving legacy habits that drag revitalization or activation are now more absurd than ever. Speak up and challenge time sucks that get pulled forward because “we’ve always done it that way.”

We’ll challenge the very assumption that business travel needs to happen

Don’t think how to manage business travel as a working mom, consider instead, is it necessary? Since March, we’ve learned that we can still successfully lead a team, move projects forward, coach, mentor and even do business development remotely. You don’t always have to be in the same room. Most business travel is a colossally inefficient use of time and resources. Challenge what “need to travel” really means. When is it truly necessary? Let’s make a joke of how we used to take pride in our airline status. Let’s make it so it’s no longer proof of our importance, but rather our inability to think of more innovative, cost saving, family-friendly ways to drive impact.

We’ll re-create what “building relationships” with colleagues, clients, partners looks like

Many of us recoiled at the thought of heading out for drinks, taking a client to dinner or other extracurricular work obligations that ate into precious family time. Relationships can be built and endure when you’re intellectually and emotionally connected – they don’t rely on physical presence, or elaborate after-hour diversions. It’s always been about taking authentic interest in the other person, making an effort to understand them (including doing a little research before an outreach), connecting through shared interests, and being immensely human. That can happen on Zoom and you can be sure there are many start-ups reinventing the digital communication experience. Relationship-building efforts don’t have to be extravagant or encroach on personal time to be effective. 

We’ll re-establish and resume boundaries

Always-on access became the norm with the advent of smartphones. Many of us slipped into 24/7 availability whether it was someone calling, emailing, texting, or slacking because there were no “off hours.” And let’s face it, many of us are torn between responding to a 7pm ping and staying focused on our children.  Now with “shift work” happening to fit in work while you’re also taking care of children at home, work begins again after bedtime, before sunrise, or squeezed into quiet moments. In the Better Normal, let’s re-establish boundaries. Say no and offer an “instead” — aka, “instead of calls between 7 and 9pm when I’m focused on my family, let’s hold whatever is it for the morning, unless it’s urgent.” We have important things to protect – our families and our own personal needs. Don’t get sucked back in or let others suck you back in to being available at a time that is sacred to you. 

And finally, this one is so obvious it doesn’t deserve a number: we all can work remotely and be productive. If you need that flexibility, you have the proof that it can work, no more “but, we can’t…”

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