Posted by: hannahcroyle | March 20, 2019

Apology to Mothers in the Workplace

I was intrigued in class when we discussed the perceptions of commitment between men and women in the workplace, where women are frowned upon if they are unable to make the 4:30 meeting or struggle looking for day care solutions, but men are applauded if they leave work to catch the soccer game. In this article, Katharine Zalenski writes a humbling apology letter to the mothers she has worked with before, admitting she was someone who showed similar attitudes to her male and female coworkers.  Katharine rolled her eyes when her fellow mother coworkers would decline getting drinks, questioned commitment of the women she worked with when they could not make her late afternoon meeting, and overall did not have a lot of respect for women when they balanced work and family. In my opinion, it takes a strong person to admit to past mistakes and show where previous weaknesses have been. This is especially the case if you are so far to one side in your beliefs, changing that perspective is hard to recognize and discuss out loud.

All of this changed for Katharine when she had a child and was suddenly embarrassed to admit she had to make the same choices the women in her office had.  She ended up eventually quitting her job, deciding to help launch a company which would allow women to work from home. With these new remote advances, many women and millennials (who are also very interested by the flexibility) are able to live a more adaptable lifestyle while maintaining their commitment to family. She mentions watching Sheryl Sandberg’s “Lean In” TED Talk we saw in class and was further depressed by it. The lean in strategy Sheryl advocates for, pushing women to sit at the table and be as involved as possible is not for everyone.  Some women do not desire or prioritize that level of commitment, and it is not practical in many modern situations. She also discussed Slaughter’s “Why women still can’t have it all” piece and was saddened that she had contributed to this reality until it became her life. This further drives home the overarching point I took away from Slaughter’s article, which displays women can’t have it all because they lead a different life and have different priorities, not because they are not committed enough.  Katharine, unfortunately, did not come to this realization until she was in the position of a woman depicted with “commitment issues”, someone she had only assumed other women to be.

After scanning the article and watching the quick interview, what are your thoughts on Katharine’s overall leadership? Does gaining this new perspective of being a mother allow her to be more empathetic to other women in the workforce? Would she have been able to truly understand what other women were going through without having a child?  Why could this understanding be valuable to her leadership skills?

http://fortune.com/2015/03/03/female-company-president-im-sorry-to-all-the-mothers-i-used-to-work-with/


Responses

  1. It’s sad that this woman had to have a kid to understand other women’s struggles and reasons for why they were acting the way they were, but I’m glad she came to this realization. This can make her a better leader because it encourages her to think about how certain workplace practices can affect different people’s home lives instead of just being consumed by an all-encompassing workplace environment. I think her realization will make her leadership style slightly change because she understands how women’s careers could be damaged by declining opportunities that show commitment and talent. So going forward from this, how do we educate women and men to think this way without having to have a child, especially since men usually are not that affected mentally when they have kids? What can we do to get people to have the realization Katherine had before it is too late and in time for us to make some changes?

  2. I loved reading this, thanks for sharing! I think this highlights a really important aspect of leadership, which is holding off judgment on another individual until you truly understand what they are experiencing. In other words, do not make assumptions or form judgments about someone else’s leadership until you are in their shoes or have a complete understanding of their context. It is so easy to look at someone’s life and form our own opinions of what they are doing wrong or how they could improve, but we are not in their position so we cannot truly understand their situation unless we too are dealing with the same things. I loved the example Katharine gave. In her case, she had this idea in her head of what being a mother is like and how you should still be committed to work. However, after having a child herself, she was finally able to understand these other mothers’ perspectives. I think this is a great and practical example of how we must respect others’ choices and think about the various aspects of what they are going through.

  3. I really loved your thoughts and questions on this topic. I’m sure a lot of women have had similar experiences to Katharine; it can be hard to empathize with mothers when you aren’t going through the same experience they are. I admire Katharine for admitting her mistake and going one step further to reach out to one of the women she passed harsh judgment on. I admit, after watching Sheryl Sandberg’s TED talk, I felt it was applicable to my life. I didn’t think of all the women that her advice couldn’t apply to and how frustrating it could be to hear that message when you can’t make those changes to your life and career. As a leader, it is so important to think outside your own box and recognize that there are so many others that have different experiences and circumstances.

    Even if Katharine didn’t end up having children, I think she would’ve eventually learned to be more empathetic to working mothers. It may not have happened as quickly or intensely, but as you become more exposed to people that aren’t like you, you’re forced to think about their perspectives and experiences.

  4. This was a really enjoyable post to read and think about. Similar to what Hannah Yazdgerdi mentioned in her comment, this story is a really good example of how you never really understand what someone else is going through unless you’re in their shoes. I think that is something to be mindful of in everyday life and especially as leaders. For me, it is really important as a leader to understand my followers and colleges needs in order to best serve them as a leader. As a women in the workplace, being a mother is a huge factor that should be understood. Without having her own children, I do not think Katherine would have been able to completely and fully understand what her colleague was going through, but I think if Katherine had taken the time to talk to her and really know, her story, and how she is handling the work-life balance then I think they could have both understood each other better and even come up with some compromises.

    I do think that it is interesting and admirable how Katherine took something from her past that she isn’t particularly proud of and turned it into something to benefit others. I love that she now launched a company which allows women to work from home. By doing this she is taking her story and struggles, along with the stories and struggles of many other women and creating an opportunity for them to have success in the workplace and at home.

  5. I thought this was a very interesting article to read! Like Libby said, it is sad that it took her to have a child of her own to finally understand what her colleagues were going through. However, sometimes a person needs to physically be in another person’s shoes in order to understand them. I do admire Katherine for stepping up and admitting she was wrong and I think that also makes her a stronger leader because it shows she has courage and she is able to admit her faults. I know for me, I did not necessarily agree with everything in Sheryl Sandberg’s talk because I don’t feel it is applicable to me, which Katherine also realized after she had a child. It is so much harder to lean in and try to make it to the top after you have had a child or are planning to in the near future and that is something Katherine did not understand until she was a mother herself.

  6. I also found this concept very intriguing and considerably “double – binding” in itself. If a women needs to take off work due to a commitment at home, they are often ridiculed for this, yet at the same time women are expected to balance a home and work life without any issues. I think the biggest fault with all of these comments regarding women in the workforce, is they are often made by people who are ignorant of what it takes to fulfill this position.
    The issue with Sheryl Sandberg’s TED TALK is that it is trying to find a solution for multiple types of women, and I don’t think that is possible. Where some women can be less involved at home because they have a Nanny, or have the funds to make a day-care next to their office, it is debilitating for all women to try and relate to this approach. I think instead of trying to find one answer for all different types of women, we must find multiple ways to balance this act and try to glorify all ways and not shed light on “one way” being the “only way”.
    With regards to the article on “women having it all” I think that is a personal choice, and when people group motherhood and career advancements into one area of life, no one else will be able to relate to that, because it is such a different journey for each of us. Although Katherine seems to be more empathetic towards women in the workforce, it is hard to make assumptions about a life that you do not have. Even with motherhood being a common factor in people’s lives, each parenting journey is different and the uniqueness of such should be treasured instead of diminished.

  7. I really enjoyed this article and your thoughts on it! One of the pieces that really stood out to me (aside from what has been mentioned) was her statement that if you want something to get done then you should ask a busy person (which was in reference to mothers). Again, this quote is very accurate and helps with the emphasis of applauding mothers and their work-life balance. However, as women begin to become more and more recognized for this balance they are achieving, it is also important to not overemphasize it to where it loses its meaning. It is also important to recognize men who are single dads doing the same thing. While we have really emphasized mothers, I think a way of alleviating this stigma and problem is to begin to applaud parents as a whole rather than mothers or fathers separately.


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