We’ve all seen it. If you are capable of growing babies in your body and also desire to work outside the home, you’ve probably felt it: the bias against birthing people in the workplace. Are they as committed? Do they really dare imagine their “real family” is more important than us, their work family? Is the kind of person who might need to take a few months off after pushing another person into the world really capable of leading a successful team for several years?
Even in the rainbow wonderland of Silicon Valley, with its weapons-grade optimism and culture-shifting apps that allow us to perform miracles like watch other people play video games and pay strangers to do our laundry, I still see a lot of bias against mothers. Granted it’s not universal; some companies are quite evolved, offering parental leave benefits that far surpass federal minimums. Other companies see a woman with a bump under her shirt and roll their eyes, already planning who will be promoted into her position once she leaves to “do the mommy thing.” Worst of all, many employers don’t even need to have the bias against mothers. Facebook COO and Silicon Valley’s favorite working mom, Sheryl Sandberg, noted almost a decade ago that many women are too afraid to procreate for fear of losing their place on the corporate ladder — the ladder our fearless suffragette ancestors fought so hard to put into our hands. In other words, we’re discriminating against ourselves before our bosses even have the chance! How’s that for being a proactive self-starter.
Which is why, after working in Silicon Valley for nearly a decade, I’d like to share a recent epiphany: Working with mothers is absolutely tits. I am not a parent, but I don’t have to be in order to open my eyes and see what’s in front of me. For example:
1: They are motivated. This one is easy. Let’s say I have two employees scheduled to show up for a shift. One is here because they want to afford a Tinder Plus membership. The other wants to make sure their kid eats next week. I know who I’m betting on to show.
2: They are master de-escalators. If you work in customer service, you can tell immediately who has ever had to engage in negotiations with a toddler about why we can’t, say, wear our Frozen-themed winter coat and grandma’s diamond ring into the kiddie pool, and who hasn’t. Yes, everyone can be trained on de-escalation. But moms come with a plus 10 xp bonus at handling people who are screaming about not getting their way — regardless of age.
3: They have boundaries. You know. That “work-life balance” thing that is paid so much lip service by the more benevolent CEOs in the Valley, yet seems to elude so many of us. The people who are most likely to actually rise to this bait challenge are moms. A mom has real motivation to be home by 6pm every day, whether it’s for bathtime and goodnight snuggles, or to avoid a $200/hr therapy bill for an eyeliner-streaked teen screaming “you were never there for me when I was young.” Put simply: moms have their priorities straight. Watching a C-suite executive log off at 6pm in order to make sure little Brecklyn’s cauliflower is prepared just so is a healthy reminder to all of us that there are more important things in life than TPS reports being filed on time. Their example permits all of us to do the same: actually log off and spend quality time with the very people we are so keen to earn money for. (And, yes, of course, moms reliably log back on at 11:30pm to send the verboten slew of emails whose timestamps we all pretend not to see. Just like everyone else on your team).
4: They have thicker skin. I don’t know why this is. As a non-parent, I hate to fall into the trope of believing you aren’t a “real woman” until you’ve pushed a bowling ball out from between your thighs, but I have to concede there’s something about this experience that relativizes other forms of suffering. That or the experience of living with someone who only lets you get four hours of sleep per day for several years, while simultaneously loving them so much you’d die for them. If you can survive that kind of mindfuckery, I don’t know how anyone else makes you feel bad about anything.
6: They are the emotionally intelligent leaders you say you can’t find. There’s boss energy and then there’s mom-boss energy. You don’t have to be a mom to have mom-boss energy, but if you’re already a mom, there’s a good chance you’re in possession of it. Every mother I’ve had the pleasure of working for has displayed notably higher amounts of care for my emotional wellbeing, and my career beyond the current company — which inspired me to stay put and work for them, longer. I don’t know why this is. Probably something to do with oxytocin. At any rate, it works. And before you even go there, no, this “care work” is not a fluffy waste of time. When workers can tell (and trust us, we can tell) that their boss actually cares about their emotional health as well as their regular performance metrics, they are happier. And when they are happier, they are more likely to show up and work hard. Hire a mom to lead a team and watch moral rise and churn plummet.
5: They are brave. American population growth is officially declining, with more citizens over age 80 than under age 2, and a slew of potential crises ahead if that pace keeps up. Elon Musk is not fixing this problem. People with uteruses are (at least until Silicon Valley can give us this). And they do it, knowing that their government gave better parental benefits to women living through WWII, knowing their co-workers will be side-eyeing them the entire way, and knowing that their personal calendar is about to become a nightmare. The 9–5 workweek is a uniquely tenacious form of patriarchy, tying wages to the idea that you must leave your house for eight hours a day — necessarily assuming (really, requiring) that someone else will be at said house tending to all the unpaid domestic work that needs to be done while you’re out hunting boars. Even as knowledge work shifts to a remote and digital-first norm, companies still cling to the 9–5, almost as if we fear what will happen without it. A mother’s ability to lean in to the 9–5 workweek is still considered a sign of successful feminism, rather than her transmogrification into an idealized 1950s white collar American patriarch (just with boobs and servants). All of which is to say, if you can look at the prospect of both raising kids and working a 9–5 and say “yes please,” you are probably more confident than anyone else on my team. And confidence sells. I don’t care if it’s day 2 of training, you’re going on the floor tomorrow.