“I don’t know how you do it.”
It’s a phrase every working mother has heard, and it’s one that can be quite deceiving. Because while there are times it’s meant as a compliment, it often takes on a doubting tone — “I don’t know how you can do both jobs effectively.”
If you’ve never heard this, consider yourself lucky. Because despite all the progress women have made in the workforce, there is still a widespread belief that a mother (especially one with young children) cannot be fully committed to her career. Her mind will always be wandering, whether it’s Johnny’s allergies or Mary’s dance recital.
If you think I’m reaching, read this gutsy piece in which PowerToFly President Katherine Zaleski issues the ultimate mea culpa to working moms. You see, Zaleski wasn’t exactly sympathetic to those who, after putting in a long day at the office, had to tend to little ones at home. Her track record, as she admits, was pretty shameful. Not only did she regularly cast judgment on mothers who couldn’t bond with the team over happy hour drinks, but on one occasion, she turned down a major partnership opportunity with a female executive after seeing pictures of small children on her desk.
Perhaps her worse offense came when she sat in on a job interview and said nothing when a male colleague questioned the work ethic of the female candidate, remarking, “How in the world are you going to be able to commit to this job and all your kids at the same time?”
Now a mother herself, Zaleski is “embarrassed” by her past actions (and inactions), and is now working to create a better working environment for parents. Her company, PowerToFly, matches women with technical positions that offer flexibility or can be done remotely. She’s fighting the workplace “culture” that “pushes women out” instead of helping them to thrive and, in turn, has gone from being part of the problem to part of the solution.
Still, I can’t imagine how it must’ve felt the first time Zaleski had to eat her words and walk in the shoes of a working mom. It must’ve been quite the moment of truth. Maybe it was the first time she had to leave work for a prenatal visit, and she caught a colleague rolling her eyes and saying, “Great. Another person whose slack we’re going to have to pick up.” Maybe it was the first time her work ethic was questioned because she had to forego happy hour to pick up her daughter from daycare.
I give her a ton of credit, because realizing you were wrong is one thing; having the courage to admit it is quite another.
I thought about this during a recent interview with Jim Wellman, CIO at Comanche County Memorial Hospital. Earlier in his career, he sought a promotion that he figured would be a sure thing. When he didn’t get it, he was shocked — until he asked around and learned that quite a few people didn’t believe he was ready to be a leader. Hearing that forced him to do some serious soul searching.
“It wasn’t very pretty. I really looked at myself, and honestly, I would not have wanted to work for me,” Wellman said. But after the shock set in, he picked up the pieces and used the experience to his advantage. “If I’m going to do this, I needed to do it. I needed to trust the people who were working for me” and hire “the smartest people I could find.” By embracing his shortcomings, he was able to eventually become the leader he knew he could be.
Of course none of it would’ve happened if he hadn’t been willing to take a long, hard look in the mirror and face some rather harsh realities. But he did, and as a result, he’s a better person and a better leader.
Let’s face it, there’s always room for improvement. But in order to truly reap the benefit of our experiences, we have to keep our eyes and hearts open, even if the truth hurts.
That’s how you do it.