How do parents counter the impression of being less productive? (Request for sources)

Just a quick post: I am working on a piece for Verily on how some parents have shown they are "still in the game" after having kids. How do you show you are just (if not more!) productive after having kids? This is a particular issue for women; the motherhood wage penalty is partly about women being seen as less promotable once they have caregiving responsibilities (She won't stay late! She has other things on her mind! That sort of thing.)

Anyway, if you'd be willing to share stories of how you've countered this prejudice in the workplace after becoming a parent, I'd love stories.* You can email me at lvanderkam at yahoo dot com . While I would prefer to use names, I would not need to name previous employers. And if it's a particularly good, universal tip, I could share it anonymously too.

I work for myself, but I am still careful about a few things. I almost never cancel things, as I know the impression of flightiness is out there. I make sure I have childcare during conference calls or (especially!) video calls. I've been on a few calls with dads who work from home and as a general rule they've been less concerned about kid noise in the background. I suspect they are less worried about being judged.

* I want to make the point here that I do not believe it should be the job of any individual to counter irrational prejudice. But one can acknowledge that bias against parents -- particularly mothers -- is wrong while still offering advice on what one personally can do to cope with it.

Photo: Navigating the maze...

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18 Responses to How do parents counter the impression of being less productive? (Request for sources)


  1. Jennie says:

    I understand it probably shouldn’t be this way, but the reality is that in many cases mothers are treated differently in the workplace. (Not everyone’s has this experience, but I do.) I have never used my kids as an excuse as to why I can’t do something. If someone is throwing up and has to go home from school and my back up plans fail I take a “personal day.” If I know I can’t take on a new project, I never use my family as an excuse even if they are the reason. I worked closely with a single dad who had full time custody of his children this past year. I noticed he had no problem saying he couldn’t do something because of his children and people were often sympathetic. However, I don’t feel like I can do the same. I have noticed that he does not garner the same respect among his male peers, but more so among the female workers. Of course, I live in very rural MS where “men are men and women are women” (cue massive eye roll), but he being on my team this year proved an interesting contrast of gender roles and expectations in the workplace.

  2. Meghan says:

    I work for myself, too, and my “rules” are the same as yours. My guess is men are benefiting from the fatherhood bonus and being unconcerned about kid noise makes them look better — the same way fathers get lavished with praise for changing a single diaper, when mothers change 18237819273897289 without anyone saying a word (also, think about the differences in meaning between “mothering” and “fathering” children …). Anyway, I tend to have the opposite issue — not convincing clients I’m professional, but convincing others I *do* have a real job and can’t just drop everything to go to lunch or school or whatever, but that’s a whole other subject! 🙂

  3. Kathleen says:

    Basically by following the exact same schedule as before children: work 9 am – 7 pm, lunch at the desk, working weekend hours when necessary, and never ever saying “no” to travel. When kid events pop up mid-day, block the time on the calendar but don’t mention it’s for kid stuff. Maybe that’s sad, but I’ve always assumed the best way not to be seen as lacking commitment is to change nothing (at work) after having kids.

    • @Kathleen – This definitely seems like it would work. And while it might be harder if one is the parent who does get stuck with, say, sick days, probably many parents could pull it off, at least 80-90% of the time. And while working to 7 p.m. doesn’t allow for a whole lot of evening time with young children, the morning hours are there and available, and can work quite well for family time.

  4. Naomi says:

    I am not based in US and work as an academic with a reasonable amount of autonomy so not sure how my strategy would work elsewhere but here goes. When I came back from 12 months maternity leave I did not ask permission for flexibility I just said this is what I was doing. I knew there would be some that would be unhappy with working from home 2 days in the office but I have a long commute and many students studying by distance so if they are not on campus I argued why should I. I also tracked my days in the office & that of colleagues who travel more than me so when the questions arose I had the data to say I do as much face time on average. There are still comments 3 years on but I won’t backdown always asking why is face time needed everyday. That said I am flexible with my days in the office if team meetings are needed and will also happily talk with my distance students on weekends and nights, something they appreciate as the work full time. Also when in the office that I am highly visible no hiding out in my room with the door shut & make sure I attend key faculty events.
    I also had a major realisation that I am judged on outputs. So I when an opportunity arises I only take those with outputs that improve my chances of promotion and weight up what I have to give up to take on the opportunity. I also make sure my boss and peers know about my wins (something which did not come naturally) .
    Finally, as I do get to choose a lot of my work so I only collaborate on interesting projects with people who I enjoy working with both in terms of personality and working style. This makes work fun and means I avoid people who call lots of unnessary meetings and don’t deliver causing my more work.

    • @Naomi- I love the idea of tracking one’s time (of course I do!) specifically to show hours worked, time in office, etc. It is good to have the data to counter any impressions. If someone did say in a review that they were worried about your commitment, you could show that you were very much working full time and meeting expectations.

  5. Cathy Green says:

    Am in the U.K. and work for a non-profit so culturally may be different but I found just acting as if I didn’t have children counter-productive – ending up feeling quite stressful and like I wasn’t giving my best either at work or at home. Now I set clear boundaries – I do the school run on Tuesday afternoons and won’t organise meetings in that time – but I do offer as much flexibility as I can within those boundaries and I deliver every time on the commitments I make. When I am at work I work very hard and expect my team to do the same – but equally don’t expect them to be at work all hours and send them home if they are clearly too ill to be there. I don’t have my children at home when I am working from home, they are at school or in childcare if it is in the holidays, and if they are ill and we can’t get childcare for them, my husband and I share taking time off if needed.

    My youngest is nearly 10 and am gradually able to manage it all more easily.

    • @Cathy- I think delivering on one’s commitments every time is key. Especially if one knows that every time something gets missed it’s going to be blamed on a maternal lack of work commitment.
      I think you raise an interesting point on your team too – I suspect that having children can make people into better managers as they understand the importance of output and not face time.

  6. EB says:

    I struggle with this as I want it both ways. I don’t want people to think that my being a parent and affects my work, but at the same time I want them to respect boundaries I may not expect other non-parents to have. For instance, I have been grumbling (privately) about a work dinner with a client an hour away. I was asked to attend, and I was irritated that I felt like I had to go even though a more junior member of the team could have done it. (He is not married and doesn’t have kids). But then I thought about it and realized it probably would have been indicative of a worse situation if they had put him above me at this client dinner.

  7. Lily says:

    I’m interested to see what you find out on this one, as it’s something I have a lot of conflicting feelings about. I used to work at a consultancy where I was the only woman – the men ducked in and out all the time, rarely mentioning where they were going, and sometimes no one even noticed they were gone until they came back. Turned out they were often doing the school run, or going to a parent-teacher meeting – they just didn’t need to share. It was from them I learned the split-shift technique, and started heading home in time for dinner with my husband but still pulling the long hours needed to get my work done. Now I am in a very different organization – 99% women – and people are constantly telling me ‘I can’t do Tuesday morning cos the kids have an event’ or ‘Gotta run – kid is sick’. On the one hand I feel like saying ‘I don’t care why you can’t make the meeting, just tell me when you CAN meet – stop using the kids as an excuse’. But on the other hand it’s nice to be in a workplace where family is valued, and people are sharing their lives. However, as someone without kids, I wonder if that model sometimes fails to acknowledge that – if it works for the type of work – everyone benefits from flexibility – not just those with kids. The ‘quiet’ model means I can attend my doctors appointment without needing to explain or make excuses.

    • @Lily- I think I would get turned off by people constantly saying things like “can’t do Tuesday, the kids have an event.” It would be especially bad if it became an excuse for things not getting done — like “oh, we can’t do that deadline because end of year events with the kids are so crazy.” Ugh. It is still a job! I kind of like the silent approach. The problem with that, of course, is that a lot of women (and possibly some men) feel like they need explicit permission to do things. Many don’t like to think they’re “getting away” with stuff.

  8. Sneakers says:

    I’ve done both (i.e. not said why I’m out and been transparent) depending my management – and now a senior manager at a large IT company. I never, ever say the reason I didn’t meet a deadline is because of my daughter – and nor do I turn down travel because of her schedule (I often book vacation days in advance for key events for her to protect those days.) I started becoming more transparent when younger women asked me how I could be an involved parent and still work the hours that I did. I drop at 5pm to pick up my daughter – unless there’s a fire drill. Also, I used to leave things until the early morning to complete – once we had our daughter, I never went to bed until everything for work was ready for the next day because I quickly learned that the one morning I wanted to be up at 5 am proofing a presentation, etc. was the one morning that our daughter would be up at 2am sick.

    • @Sneakers – I think this lesson to not leave things until the last minute is one of the key breakthroughs of working parenthood. You might not have that last minute available to you in a way you did without kids — so don’t count on it being there! Very good advice.

  9. Noelle says:

    Hi Laura: I have two young kids (6 months & 2.5 years) and my husband and I are both military. I can definitely tell you that I’m way more productive since having kids! Being more productive isn’t about how much time you put in, it’s how much work you accomplish in the time you do put in. I actually wrote an article on this topic last year: http://www.bizjournals.com/bizjournals/how-to/growth-strategies/2016/04/leader-time-6-tips-for-women-leaders-coast-guard.html

    I love Verily and the articles you write for them; it’s how I found you so I’m looking forward to reading your next article for them!

  10. DS says:

    Ha! Probably too late for your article, but billable hours… I billed 137 in May while my coworkers billed 105 or less.

    That was with spending 16 hours coordinating cases with the owner and leaving “early” some days for kids stuff.

    • @DS – good for you. The one upside of billable hours is that there is accountability — and you can see that you are being more profitable than people who are in theory more “available.”

  11. While I hate that parents, and especially mothers, get penalized for having children, I’m one of the only women in my current company that has children and I hate the idea that I have to pretend that my children don’t exist in order to be perceived as productive.

    I manage this by balancing when and if I mention them – I bring them up when it’s an unusual and difficult to navigate issue that will impact more than just my day, but not when it’s regular stuff like daycare runs and routine doctor’s visits. I just take care of my business and get on with it.

  12. Sara says:

    I have a typical 9-5 job. I started when my daughter was three months old. I have flexibility to work from home but try to go in four days a week. I am very transparent with the people whose opinions matter most about me when I’m working from home about whether or not I have childcare that day. I hope that by being upfront the times I don’t, they will recognize that I am being productive from home. For these people, I work late on the rare occasion I need to. Anyone else, I say I need to leave without providing an explanation.

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