• Women 2.0 HowTo Conference San Francisco, September 30 - October 1, 2014

When Babies Become Taboo (Work/Life Balance)

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By Melissa Fudor (Program Manager, Women in Wireless) I have babies on the brain. As a woman in my mid-twenties, starting a family has always been something that will eventually happen in the far and distant future. I have the timeline figured out: finish college, travel, start a great flexible career, meet someone, fall in love, get married by 30, and get pregnant (the latest) by 32. But recently I’ve been dreaming up some pretty hefty career goals which includes becoming an entrepreneur and starting my own business, which has left me wondering two things:

  1. Where a family fits into my ten-year plan
  2. If having a baby will sabotage my career goals.

It isn’t easy to break the news of a pregnancy to an employer; the topic is hush-hush from the beginning of the interview process to full-time employment. For the most part, men make far fewer compromises when balancing a career and children. Studies show women still do twice the amount of housework as men and three times as much childcare. It’s evident that there will be definite break in my career where I will need to take time off, and multiplying that by two, three, or four (!) might take a toll on my advancement in the workplace. Kit Scott Brown, chief executive of InterExec seems to think so,

“Many of the top headhunters were keen to see more women in senior executive positions, but at the same time believed that, in order to reach those top positions, many of them would unfortunately have to give up any career break, whether it be for health reasons, to travel or, in particular, to have children,” </>he said.

Even with the most supporting partner, a female who wants both a family and to climb high on the corporate ladder faces far greater repercussions than her male coworkers. Melody Adhami, President and COO of Plastic Mobile, has wondered if starting a family would undermine her role in the industry. She explains the anxiety some business women face when making this decision:

“There is the perception of leadership and pregnancy (‘can someone really take me as a serious industry professional if I am pregnant or a mom?’). It may be anxiety about the pregnancy and then their role as a mother and how that might perceived by their peers. However, I know that I’m not alone in that concern as women have been struggling with various stigma attached to gender roles in the professional arena for generations. We’ve come a long way in overcoming those but we’re not home free yet.”

Timing is everything. Being an entrepreneur and starting a family when your company is still in its growing stage might not be the best balancing act. Neither is becoming pregnant before you’ve made your mark on the industry. In Sheryl Sandberg’s words, “Don’t leave before you leave”, aim high in your career, find a job that’s compelling enough to make you want to return. A British study found that “a third of female corporate managers moved down the career ladder after having a child. Two-thirds of that number took clerical positions and the rest moved into other lower skill jobs.” Women who ensure they are indispensable in their field before they take time off will have ample opportunities re-entering the workplace-their company and team notices when they are not around. The secret to a successful work/life balance may lie in your who they choose as their life partner. Although counter-intuitive, Sandberg refers to it as the most important career decision a woman will have to make. A partner who is going to share the responsibilities of home life and who also feels that a women’s professional goals are as valued and important as theirs is. The reality is that sacrifices will have to be made, but how they will be divided can very well be negotiated. Adhami agrees it all boils down to support:

“Having the support of family, friends and colleagues is really what helps all of us get through challenging situations. I think that it’s the notion that one woman has to ‘do it all’ that dims the light on possibility, and as long as we rely on a strong support network, ‘doing it all’ becomes more realistic.”

Being a successful entrepreneur and Mom is possible, and we don’t need to resort topacking it all up and moving to a farm in Wisconsin. Starting a family is undeniably the most important career decision a woman will have to make, and one in which they have complete control over choosing their partner, timing, and building a great support system. In my opinion getting your ducks in a row is a lot more important than listening to your biological clock ticking in your head. This post was originally posted at Women in Wireless. Photo credit: Melissa Fudor. Editor’s note: Got a question for our guest blogger? Leave a message in the comments below. About the guest blogger: Melissa Fudor is currently Program Manager and Blogger for Women in Wireless in New York City. After a year teaching English in Prague, Melissa assisted with the 9Health Fair as an Event Coordinator in Colorado, and also worked with the Communications team at the Greenbelt Foundation in Toronto. She holds a BA in History from York University in Toronto. Follow her on Twitter at @melissafudor.

  • Jenn

    Yes, children change your life but thanks to my children, I took a leap of faith and chose to start a consulting business 5 years ago and today am I’m a Mom of two young kids, the Executive Director of a non profit, and a budding entrepreneur.

    I do wish I would have done more to support my professional career before I had kids (grad school?) but hindsight is 50/50. I wasn’t ready to go back to school or start my won company back then but having kids forced me to figure out what my passion was, what my legacy would be, and how I would spend my valuable non-kid time (at a desk job I loathed or in the throws of bringing an idea to market, working for myself).

    Having kids is a challenge at any stage of your life and you’ll never have your ducks in a row. But if you look at it as another opportunity to become a better you, then it will help you reach your professional and personal goals just in a different way.

    It’s tough to be a woman with a career and women with children and those without make sacrifices and choices most men do not have to make. I applaud those choices b/c none are easy.

  • Marie

    Ditto Jenn. I had my daughter at 32 and was very career-oriented before I had her. I led projects. After I became a mom, though, my priorities shifted completely and it is a wonderful thing. I am one of the women who has taken a step down from a career perspective (project assisting instead of leading) but I have taken a step up in regard to living my life more fully.

    Now my daughter is 2 and I would love to initiate a start up but I want to give her a little sibling first :) I would advise women in their 20s to follow their passion and not stress too much about a career. If joining the executive ranks or starting a business is your true passion, you will find a way to do it and if it’s not, you will realize that and find a position that suits you. Maybe it is easier for men career-wise but I’d take being a mom over a dad any day. Not saying dads suck – my husband is a fantastic one – I’m just trying to give motherhood the praise it deserves too :)

  • Marie

    Back again just to stress I do think it’s easier for traditional dads to pursue career goals than moms who want to do the same, my point is when you become a mother you might find out you don’t really acre about all that. And if you still want to pursue a career, like Jenn experienced, being a mom may make you even more determined even though it’s not easy but nothing in life that’s worth doing is, right?

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    Select wonder exactly why sleep deprivation is a type of war do-it-yourself torture. All of us give thanks to ColicCalm with regard to rebuilding peace in our house. Limitless thanks!