As offices reopen, working parents are facing a new dilemma: how to continue remote work but avoid a career off-ramp. The global pandemic ushered in remote and hybrid work, giving working parents much-needed flexibility to juggle family and careers. Now, with employees returning to in-person work, these parents don't want to be forced onto the so-called "mommy track." To stay in the game, veteran working moms say companies should continue prioritizing flexibility and equity, and that working mothers -- and fathers -- need to self-advocate and stay visible.
For many Americans, hybrid work has greatly improved work-life balance, noted Melissa Wasserman, Senior Vice President of Product Marketing at the video ad sales and tech firm Cadent. "You have the opportunity to be more present for your family and your office," she said.
On International Women's Day, Wasserman joined working mothers on a panel sponsored by the Female Quotient titled "Preventing the 'Mommy Track': How to Build an Intentionally Hybrid Workplace for Women."
Many mothers are thriving with their newfound flexibility. When companies offer hybrid work, women can be their "whole selves," the panelists said. Moms can schedule nursing sessions between Zoom calls or help older kids with homework before finishing a work project and returning e-mails. Women can log work hours in the early morning or late at night. Some want to keep working from home, while others want a few days in the office. The point is they have choices and options.
"By offering flexibility, it meets employees where they are in their lives, so they can contribute the most," said Devan Vaughn, SAP's Director of Diversity and Inclusion. A new mother, Vaughn said she used to commute two hours to her office in Seattle. Now, with the option to work from home, she can reallocate that time to "getting a big project done, spending time with my family and [working on] one of the 1000 things I have on my to-do list." For example, Vaughn blocks time off on her calendar to feed her son.
At the same time, these parents face a new quandries: As some colleagues return to the office, will remote workers get overlooked? Without in-person face time, will they get the same shot at promotions or plum assignments?
Whether in the office or at home, working mothers need to self-advocate, according to several women on the panel. Remote and hybrid female staffers need to be vocal, sharing updates on ongoing work and touting their completed projects, measurable results and achievements.
"In a hybrid environment, we hear a lot of what we expect companies to do, but in turn, a big part of not being put on the 'mommy track' is self-advocacy," Wasserman said. "Make sure you have a relationship with your managers, that there is an understanding of what the accomplishments and goals are and how you express achievement."
And don't shy away from trumpeting success, added SAP's Vaughn. "One of the biggest reasons people aren't self-promoting is this fear of being too cocky or that they haven't hit a milestone yet to share broadly," she said. "Advocacy isn't shameless self-promotion, but a show of how you've helped your firm. If they know where you can make an impact, they'll use you as a resource for full benefit."
Even from home, women can recreate office networking. It just takes creativity and a little extra effort, said Sandra Moerch, Chief Content Director, Purpose & Sustainability Marketing, SAP.
"You can still make things happen in the virtual space," Moerch said. "Don't look at the office as a place you have to go." To stay present -- even remotely -- she suggests women invite managers or company leaders for virtual coffee, participate in remote networking events, be active on social media and write thought leadership pieces.
To advance while working remotely, Loredana Crisan, Meta's Vice President of Messaging Experience, said women need to assemble a strong support system. That can keep mothers off the mommy track. For example, when her childcare provider would call in sick, Crisan said she and her husband would compare schedules to see who had the bandwidth to stay home. "That decision was not defaulted to me, and it was a boon for my career," she explained.
Of course, going into the office isn't always a bad thing. Mallory Newall, Vice President of Public Affairs Polling for Ipsos, noted some women will benefit from going to the office a few days a week or when they need to focus on a major project. Put another way, "Look at the office as a resource, not a requirement," Crisan said.
When parents have options, it builds loyalty and resilience, and it improves productivity. And mothers can be a company's secret weapon. After all, they are master multitaskers and negotiators, Wasserman asserted. "Moms are incredibly efficient and they have incredible time management skills," she said. "They are very good at settling fights on the playground and making sure people feel heard."
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