Working Mothers: Don’t ever apologize for being a good parent
It was just after the start of a new school year. Parent-teacher conferences were coming up. Our agency was in the middle of multiple Q4 new-business pitches and full-year planning.
No big deal.
My husband and I have a good tag-team approach to parenting. Two busy careers and three kids all but require it. For the last several months, year-end planning at the advertising agency for which I work disrupted that balance and required me to spend more time at work. But school conferences arrived, and my husband was scheduled to travel, so I had to be available to meet the teachers.
Our agency teams had been working late for weeks on new-business pitches. On the evening of the parent-teacher meetings, I made sure my particular parts of the presentations were completed.
Still, when the time came, I felt guilty leaving while the rest of the team would be working into the wee hours.
Gathering my things, I apologized to my supervisor and reminded him about the parent-teacher conferences.
His response was like a splash of cold water on my face–startling but also refreshing. He said, “Don’t ever apologize for being a good parent.”
I became a mom at a young age for someone on a career track. I was 25 and an assistant account executive when my husband and I, college sweethearts, got married. Very soon after, I became pregnant, and by the time I was 30, we had three kids.
As a mom and career woman, I always felt compelled to work twice as hard to show my commitment to the company and to my colleagues. It scared me that people might think, “Oh, she’s on the mommy track,” and therefore a 9-to-5 worker.
So I got into work early, left late with bundles of work under my arms and answered emails from home, long into the night. In truth, nobody ever made me feel that I wasn’t giving it my all at work. The feeling was self-imposed.
I’ve thought a lot about my supervisor’s directive lately and decided that all career women must learn that they should never apologize for being a woman. Or a mom. Or someone with commitments beyond work, whether they’re parents or not.
The traits needed for success at work are the same ones required for achieving some modicum of work-life balance, and they include commitment, empathy, trust, collaboration and attention to detail.
They also involve embracing behaviors that come less naturally to women but that are also necessary for professional success. To that end, my advice to young women is to become comfortable with the following:
1) Self-promotion. I always thought: “I’m going to work harder than everyone and recognition and rewards will follow.” That’s how sports work, right? No and yes. I truly believe that the disparity in opportunity and pay for women these days is less about overt sexism and more about women not being more vocal and assertive about their career growth.
2) Respectfully asking for what you want. Over the course of my -17-year career, many of my male contemporaries thought nothing of going into a boss to say, “Hey, look at all I’m doing,” and campaign for a raise. The squeaky wheel gets the grease. I’m not suggesting that everyone proceed so bluntly, but please do find a way to proceed. Be armed with specifics about your accomplishments and, most important, how they contributed to revenue growth or other business objectives.
3) Sharing praise. There were times in my career when clients sent positive praise and feedback to me. I was delighted but kept it to myself. If that happens to you, forward the email to your boss with your own note saying how happy you are that the client is happy and goals were met.
4) Worrying less about what people think. Too many women fear seeming like hard-driving managers with a point of view. We all know the word commonly applied to women “like that.” As a manager, you realize eventually that if everyone likes you, you’re not doing your job.
5) Vulnerability. This advice seems counter-intuitive to the previous four, however, it’s essential. Vulnerability is always thought of negatively because it’s equated with being exposed and “weak.” My inspiration for this concept comes from the book, Daring Greatly, by Brené Brown, a frequent TED speaker who took the book’s title from a Theodore Roosevelt quote. Like the 26th U.S. president, Brown believes that nothing great or even good happened without “daring greatly.”
For young people, daring greatly might begin with overcoming fears about speaking up in meetings, thus being “exposed” to potentially negative feedback. Later in your career, it may involve negotiating for raises on behalf of your subordinates or telling clients (discreetly but intelligently) when they are wrong.
For me, at this moment, daring greatly means shedding guilt—and apologies—when family needs call me away from work.
Stacy Janicki is Director of Account Management at ad agency Carmichael Lynch.