Recently, I was on the STEMxm podcast, where the host asked me a simple question:
“You’re a woman in tech, you’re also a business owner and you have small children. Do you have any thoughts on the balance question and managing all of this?”
Let’s first address the maternal bias that comes with just asking that question. Scott never gets asked how he “does it all” as a father, but I do all the time as a mother.
Studies cited in the Harvard Business Review show that mothers are “79% less likely to be hired, half as likely to be promoted, are offered $11,000 less in salary, and are held to higher performance and punctuality standards.” Then, when we do perform well, mothers are judged harshly for our “dedication to the job” so that we’re “seen as bad mothers and bad people.” As a result, the research shows, we are “disliked and held to higher performance standards.”
No wonder I get asked this question so often. There’s no doubt that being a mother is tough if you’re in technology, but I honestly believe things are getting better. Here are my humble thoughts from my experience.
Stop Thinking That You Have to Do It All
One of the biggest challenges I’ve had to face with getting help is my own internal struggle with letting go and being okay with letting other people help me. This really came to light a few years ago when we were creating the onboarding program at Corgibytes, and we added the Implicit Bias tests from Harvard to our training. I was stunned when I discovered that I had an extremely high association between men and the workplace. Around the same time, I learned from the work of Brené Brown that, as a society, we tightly couple a woman’s worth with her role as a mother. If we move outside of that societal norm, we will encounter shame, even if it’s a seemingly innocent question such as “Who’s taking care of your kids tonight?” at a networking event.
Even if our society has been conditioned to associate motherhood and domesticity, if that’s not your thing, it’s okay. My biggest hurdle in all of this work has been (and continues to be) becoming clear with my own values and owning what I feel my role is as a business owner and mother.
For example, I hate cleaning the house on the weekends. Scott and I talked for years about hiring someone to come in and help us clean once a week, but I was resistant to the idea. I kept saying we couldn’t afford it or that I didn’t mind doing it myself, but the truth was, I was holding on to a deep-seated implicit bias that my worth as a mother was based on the number of domestic tasks I completed. If I stopped scrubbing the toilets, wouldn’t that mean that I was an inferior mother? It sounds silly now, but it was a real struggle to identify and dispel this core belief. I had to get over the idea that I needed to do it all and get clear on my own values towards motherhood. There are two sources that I found particularly valuable during this exploration: Brené Brown’s audiobook The Gifts of Imperfect Parenting and NurtureShock by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman.
The Right Support Makes All the Difference
The biggest reason that I’m able to balance my work and family life is because I have an incredibly supportive partner and extended support network. In her book, Lean In, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg makes the same assertion — “Until women have supportive employers and colleagues as well as partners who share family responsibilities, they don’t have real choice. And until men are fully respected for contributing inside the home, they don’t have real choice either.”
I’ll be the first to admit that, at this point in time, having such a supportive network is an incredible privilege that not everyone has. Unfortunately, there are many organizations that don’t offer flexibility and partners who won’t participate in an egalitarian relationship. But I think my experience might still be valuable, because it’s something that works for me and might inspire others. Here’s a look at how my home life works today:
First, Scott is an amazing dad and we’ve set things up at home so that we share domestic tasks. For example, I cook, and he cleans up. He encourages me to take sick days and rest while he watches the kids. Finding a partner who values an egalitarian relationship over traditional gender norms is so important.
We also have extended family who love and want to help us. We turned down job opportunities so that we could stay close to home. We chose a remote team structure instead of one that comes into an office. When we were building up our revenue, my mother looked after the kids two days a week for almost a year. When the business started really taking off and Scott and I were both being asked to travel, we moved in with Scott’s parents to get extra help with child care. Because we saved money on rent, we were able to pay for child care.
All of these support networks are critical to me as a parent who is also an entrepreneur.
Get Creative, Ignore Balance, and Embrace Integration
The last piece of advice I have towards the question of balance is to ignore it. Balancing work and life implies that they are two separate things that can’t mix. I’ve worked in environments like this and it’s definitely tough. My strategy has been to bring my full self to both work and parenting.
For example, some of my favorite memories are coding while my kids snuggled next to me. In team meetings, it’s normal to see toddlers bouncing on a knee. The culture at Corgibytes makes it easy to be a parent because Scott and I are right there trying to figure it out.
Here are some of my favorite stories of mixing work and life together over the years:
When my daughter was ten weeks old, I needed her with me all the time so I could nurse her. There wasn’t child care at a conference, so I wore her and then gave a lightning talk about how I arrived at the decision.
In a few months, I’ll be speaking at two conferences in one week. On the Tuesday, I’ll be in Philadelphia and, on the Friday, I’ll be in Boston. Instead of taking a plane, we’re renting an RV and making a family adventure out of it.
I bring my kids with me to work events, especially if they’re in the evening. For example, when we were sponsoring a Free Code Camp event at our co-working space, we brought our kids and had them play with Legos during the event.
One trip that’s coming up has me super excited. My son (who is four) was devastated when he learned that his best friend was moving to Austin for a few months while his father is on a teaching fellowship. So I arranged my travel so that I would have a business trip, and he can come with me. We’re making a big deal out of it because this will be his first time on an airplane. My son is writing letters to his friend, we’re learning about the type of airplane we’ll be on, and we got a map of the United States so we can learn about where we’re going.
Having an attitude of opportunity has helped me find creative ways to be both an entrepreneur and a parent.
Start the Conversation
As I mentioned earlier, things are better than they used to be, but there is still much room – and need – for improvement.
It’s my firm belief that when your culture makes it easy to be a parent, everyone benefits. But someone has to go first. Someone has to be willing to push traditional boundaries to create new solutions where both parents can participate fully in all aspects of their lives. Including family and career.
These were the solutions that worked for me, but how about you? Maybe your company already does something different and supportive? If so, share it with us. Or share your own ideas that you’d like to see implemented. Let’s start that conversation.