When I returned to my nonprofit communications job after giving birth, I quickly realized my full-time position was no longer a good fit. My work evolved around the 24/7 news cycle, several international time zones, and offered little flexibility. It was a place that included hardly any parents and a culture that reflected that. When I asked about part-time work, the answer was an almost immediate no.
Soon after, I quit and became part of the "pushed-out generation” – parents who are essentially forced to leave their jobs. Many colleagues told me that I must be excited to spend more time with my baby. Nobody asked me if that was the case, and instead assumed I wanted to trade my master’s degree and more than a decade of experience for changing diapers. The truth is that I wanted both: time with my growing daughter and to be able to work. A lack of adequate maternity leave and flexibility from my employer did not allow that.
April 26 marks this year’s annual Take our Daughters and Sons to Work Day, a tradition that began as Take Our Daughters to Work Day in 1993.
The reality is that we live in a country that lags behind many others when it comes to women’s participation in the workforce. We live in a place with the abysmal distinction of being the only industrialized nation without paid federal maternity leave. We live in a country where many parents cannot afford child care, and where the "motherhood penalty” is viewed as an inevitable part of society.
So when we bring our children to work, let’s give them a tour of the cubicles and share our free office snacks. Let’s watch them swivel in our office chairs, type on our keyboards and listen to our colleagues dole out inspiring career advice. Let’s welcome them to our schools, hospitals, construction sites, restaurants, newsrooms, nonprofits and law offices. But let’s also infuse these visits with a dose of reality that exists in all of these workplaces.
On a day that many companies will put on a family-friendly face, we should guide meaningful discussion about working families.
How many of the bosses here are moms versus dads? How much time did the moms have off from work after giving birth? If they choose to breastfeed, where in the office can they nurse or pump? What does the company do for flexibility? How do we ensure men and women are paid equally?
Some of these may be tough or awkward conversations to have with children, but we ought to give them a try. The students of Parkland, Fla., have shown us the incredible resilience and poise young people have. They mobilized marches around the country and have been advocating for sensible gun reform polices. Generations before them have failed to protect them, so now they are taking charge.
I hope young people will also change our work culture, which has failed generations of women. If we start talking to them when they are young, it may motivate them to advocate for changes that could be implemented by the time they apply to their first job.
I am lucky and privileged that I was able to find freelance and consulting work after leaving my full-time job. Most of my work is done remotely, so on April 26, I won’t be taking my 3-year-old daughter to the living room couch to explain what mommy does.
But when she is a little older, I plan to tell her that when she was a baby, I felt I had no choice but to quit full-time work because my employer viewed working mothers as a burden.
I will tell her that I got eight paid weeks of maternity leave, but she should fight to ensure her generation gets more, like most of her peers around the world.
I will tell her that I stayed home to take care of her while her dad worked, but maybe that won’t be the case for her and her friends.
I will tell her that far from becoming a burden, motherhood has made me more productive, determined and creative.