This was originally posted in the Huffington Post, on August 9, 2012.
When my colleague, Tonie Chaltas, was quoted in a recent article about women supporting other women at work, it got me thinking: Do companies who value their female workforce appreciate that those who are also mothers need special support? Are there other employers in Canada like Hill+Knowlton Strategies (H+K) — where I’ve worked for 12 years — who value their working-mom employees enough to design benefits just for them? And what are they doing to help them succeed?
All too often, I think we get caught up in details of success that don’t actually mean much to moms. I care far less about having a smartphone than I do about the option of using that smartphone to work from home when one of my kids is sick. It’s an extra step, but an important one.
When I joined the firm in 2000, I was childless. I didn’t join the company for maternity leave benefits or a flexible schedule. I was a consultant, keen to work hard, learn and grow. At that time, being nurtured as a woman employee meant something entirely different; I was eager to work in other cities and H+K helped me tick that box by hiring me in its London, UK office. That experience kept me interested and loyal.
Fast forward a few years, a few promotions and a few kids. As the vice-president of corporate development for our Canadian offices, and the mother of three boys under six years of age, the support I now need to feel nurtured and engaged at work has done a 180.
To be able to properly focus on my work, I need to know that I’ve put my kids first — ensuring their needs are met, ensuring they’re getting enough of me. I need to know that if one of my sons needs me in an instant, I can go to him — and do it without feeling guilty. I need to know that I’ll be pushed out the office door to make it on time to doctor’s appointments and school meetings.
Yes, they’re little things. But maybe to moms, that’s what counts the most. It’s all of these things added together that keep working moms working. Passionately. Sanely.
Work is fulfilling for women, and it satisfies something important inside of us. But once you become a parent, you realize that for it to remain fulfilling there has to be a balance. I can’t be fully present in a meeting, for example, if I’m worried that I rushed off too quickly that morning when I dropped my kids off at school because I was afraid that I’d get looked at sideways if I didn’t walk through the door by 9 a.m.
Engagement, you see, is as much about the work itself as it is about the environment in which I do the work.
What I think working moms truly appreciate is flexibility without trade-offs. Whether that’s telecommuting, a reduced work week, flex hours to accommodate carpools, or a designated work-from-home day, it seems to me that employers who offer these benefits to working moms will find themselves with highly motivated employees who are extremely productive. Because they know how good they have it. Because they’re excited to contribute. Because they want to succeed.