Different people react to parenthood different ways. Some new moms (and dads) want to dial things down professionally for a while. But others do not. Maybe they were on the fast track before and would like to stay on it. Others realize that kids are expensive and it would behoove them to get serious about landing that promotion (with the bigger paychecks).
Women in particular find that many people assume they’d choose Option A. If they’re not staying home with their kids, people assume they’d like to, and so clearly they don’t want to pursue work that involves a lot of responsibility or (the horror!) travel. This assumption may not be voiced, but it is an assumption all the same, and a new mom may find that she isn’t even offered an assignment that would involve travel, or that sometimes features longer or unpredictable hours. Without even wanting it, she’s found herself Mommy Tracked.
Is it possible to avoid this? A little over a week ago, I asked for suggestions from readers, and people responded in the comments here, and a number of people emailed me as well. You can read the Verily article I wrote about the topic here.
There were a lot of great suggestions, but perhaps the most straightforward is to tell people that you would like to have more responsibility, and would like to have leadership opportunities. When you come back from maternity leave, everyone will be figuring things out, so that’s a great time to meet with a manager and discuss a timeline for getting promoted. Other higher-ups can be managed too. Everyone likes being asked for advice, so approaching people with questions like “I really see myself here long term. I admire your career. What advice can you give me about planning my progression?” can turn doubters into mentors.
I find that women are often hesitant about voicing ambitions in general. There may be some logical reticence here; ambition in women is often viewed more negatively than in men. But there’s a problem with this too. Failing to voice an ambition while still harboring it amounts to waiting like Cinderella to be picked by your prince. Somebody is not just going to magically decide you should be a partner at your firm because you’ve been cleaning the fireplace diligently while making friends with the mice. If you want to make it, you need people advocating for you and making sure you are seen. They probably won’t spend that capital on you if they don’t think you care.
I got some great advice from Cheryl Bachelder about navigating this dilemma: boldness in women works best when it is seen as boldness on behalf of the team. You want to advance because you have great ideas, and the more influence you have the more ideas you can implement to make your company profitable (or to achieve your organization’s mission). So frame your ambitions in those terms.
Of course, being mentally present for work, and being able to travel or work longer hours on occasion, requires having a good support system at home. But that’s certainly achievable. Women who want to stay on the fast track approach that as a logistics problem to be solved, rather than starting from the assumption that no one can have it all.
Have you voiced your ambitions at work?
Photo: Blooming in the garden now