When I was still studying for my masters in tech management, I was one of very few female students. During my time, the faculty was predominantly male. I found comfort in one of my professors, a female electrical engineer. This professor worked closely with the US Navy and was a total badass when it came to development, design, and algorithms. She was a true role model who succeeded in areas that many others didn’t even try, and a true inspiration in a time when female engineers were considered to be an urban myth.
In one of her sessions, she recommended Sheryl Sandberg’s “Lean in” as a must-read.
Boy, did that message resonate with me loud and clear!
Sure, I had my doubts about some of the points mentioned in the book (which she admitted to being wrong about and revised years later) such as the ways she maps out her network: paid help, etc - resources which are not necessarily accessible to every woman out there. But all-in-all, I liked what I read. “Lean In” validated several of my own thoughts as I reflected on my life, and would ask myself “why am I not seeing a more diverse crowd?”
Fast forward a few years, I was returning from maternity leave with my first son, and looking to go back into the startup marketing field after years of independent consulting. Being a proud hyphenated mother and wife, an enthusiastic feminist and liberal, I began sending my resume across to open positions. Despite having extensive marketing experience, I received zero leads for jobs in my field.
I was left in awe at the alarming silence in my inbox.
A few more weeks went by without any response, and I started feeling, well...suspicious. I thought to myself, “I know it’s 2016 and I’m sure that this ecosystem I dwell in is egalitarian and promotes equality. But, what if I’m wrong?”
So, I took it upon myself to run a little test of my own. I quickly removed my hyphenated last name from my resume and LinkedIn profile, and what do you know? My inbox was suddenly enjoying an influx of positive responses, gladly inviting me to interviews.
I was unpleasantly surprised to discover that my gut feeling was right and that claiming my home life and my marriage was an issue for so many companies. So, my parenthood and commitment to my family label me as a “non-hire?”
Turns out, that was exactly what was happening.
A few years later, after applying the results from my own tests, and preserving my identity, I was finally asked to join a startup as a co-founder on paper and to serve as an acting CMO. This was an exciting time, taking an active part in a startup, being in touch with groundwork. But then, in one of the conversations with the founders, who were two young highly-motivated men, they mentioned experiencing pushback when trying to appeal for VC funding. They needed a female presence on the founding team. They asked me to join the founding team since my female-ness would give the company a boost.
There was obviously an emphasis on female empowerment and presence, but on the other hand, that conversation left me feeling like I was nothing more than a box to be checked, not an individual with skills and experience of my own.
Because of the work I do, I’m often exposed to the ongoing discourse many candidates feel after being hired to a position or company simply because they’re “diverse.”
For me, personally, I often think to myself in these oh-so-familiar situations: Am I just a diversity hire? Was I hired despite my status and am I hired because of my qualifications? Despite my qualifications? Do my colleagues think I’m only here to be a token, not a true coworker?
Today, I’ve chosen to own my truth. I am not a box to be checked off on a diversity list.
I am a great hire no matter how you look at it. Although my diverse background is important, I bring so much more to the table. I offer my experience, my professional toolkit, my wisdom as a mother, and my nurturing strengths. I’m more than a checkbox, I’m an all-inclusive package that makes me a better professional and a valuable team member. Being a working mom adds a lot of value to my professional presence, and research shows that working moms make great employees. Simply put: working moms get the job done. We provide a broader perspective and we’re consistently dedicated to the job.
I can only share from my own experiences of what it’s like to be a working mom. It’s different for each of us, but providing for your family is another set of commitments outside of working hours. Since my very first days as a mother, I have seen a change in the way I view things.
I’ve been assured by many (mostly from male interviewers) that their company is family-friendly and they support my active role in my children’s lives. I’ve been privileged to work in a start-up with founders, all fathers to young children, that reprimand anyone who dares to schedule a meeting or call between 6:00 to 9:00 PM as these are crucial hours for “family time.”
In a recent conversation I had at a D&I workshop I helped facilitate, the discussion led to the topic of the parenting-work life balance. Some of the ideas consisted of a stronger understanding when parents need to leave early, and recommendations for extended parenting time both maternally & paternally while maintaining a sense of job security upon their return.
To be frank, parenting should never be an obstacle in the workplace, and we still have a long way to walk until the conflicts shift into complementary components. We need fierce leaders showing employees of all “ranks” that a workplace like this is possible. Leadership has to take a stance and start promoting parents in the workplace rather than leaving them behind because of their home-life commitments.
I feel lucky to be present in these impactful parenting conversations where the dialogue is surrounded by vital feedback from all types of parents.
I do think the world is starting to change. It might feel slow and we might appreciate a quicker pace, but I encourage you to reflect on the progress we’ve made. D&I work is about more than just having these conversations, it’s about setting examples and leading others to a future that’s inclusive and full of belonging for everyone.
To all the other parents out there, you’re not alone and you have myself and the entire team at Joonko cheering you on.
- Pe’era Feldman
To celebrate the accomplishments of women and provide a fun, educational resource, Joonko created Remarkable Women: HERstory Memory Card Game. Download here to share with your family or employees at your next D&I event.
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