Why working moms shouldn't play by the rules

Pumping milk in a grim closet three times a day (maybe crying, maybe on conference calls) is a working mom's reality, says Green Stone's CXO.

Before I became just another mother, I was just another design executive with a seemingly unstoppable career trajectory. I worked with the world’s greatest brands. I worked all night. I worked all over the world. I rolled my eyes at the mansplainers. I ladysplained back. Gender headwinds felt more like gentle zephyrs, because I could work, more or less, like a man.

My idea of working motherhood: pop out the baby; install exquisite, Instagrammy nursery; he sleeps like an angel; hire some darling nanny 70 hours a week; cry just the first day back at work then; resume previously unstoppable trajectory. Then my little son appeared. What actually happened: Total meltdown; baby in NICU, C-section recovery; OMG he is a colicky insomniac; oh, he is the sweetest child I could ever imagine. How can it possibly take eight hours to feed a baby from my body? Why. Doesn’t. He. Ever. Sleep.

They wanted me to go back to work at four months. It took me eight months to crawl feebly back into my Aeron chair. For excellent reasons, no one clearly breaks down what being a new working mom will entail. That you will pump milk in a grim closet at work three times a day (maybe crying, maybe on conference calls). That insomniac infants make mandatory work travel a virtual impossibility. That you will make regretful child care mistakes (like a nanny who sleeps on the job).

I returned to work, pinned between seemingly the only two possible mother-archetypes: double down as a stay-at-home-mom and "peace out" on your career; or become an overachieving working mom warrior (if you can stomach and afford the full-time childcare).

Our workaholic culture worships the mom-warrior goddess. Yet, what an impossible goddess she is. As journalist Annabel Crabb puts it, "The obligation for working mothers is a very precise one: the feeling that one ought to work as if one did not have children, while raising one’s children as if one did not have a job."   

Yet accommodating the brutal reality of women’s lives in the workplace is urgent and essential to closing the stubborn gender gap. The power to do this lies within all-male C-suites, who have the power to make policies that retain and develop mom-talent. Policies that allow moms to work like they have children and raise children like they have jobs. For those in the C-suites, here’s how to build a workplace for working moms:

Make part-time seriously sexy
Part-time work is a synonym for "career dead-end," but since 47 percent of mothers say part-time work is their ideal situation, we should the take that idea seriously and treat it as a valid career path, with its own growth opportunities by creating highly-skilled, highly-paid part time work that prevents professional dropout. Organizations need to embrace part-time policies systematically from the top down. BBDO London offers a set of permanent half-time roles with access to the best briefs. This strategy aims to keep experienced mothers in the business over the long haul.

Your baby is welcome
Bringing your baby to work feels shocking. But why must working mothers painfully forgo bonding time with their babies? Women all too often must stop breastfeeding earlier than intended because of short maternity periods. It’s high time for babies to become socially acceptable in the workplace.

A growing movement, championed by Parenting in the Workplace Institute, promotes bringing infants to work. It’s a policy that costs employers nothing and could reap much. Patagonia’s amazing onsite daycare is a masterful expression of how investing in parents pays the company back. Patagonia’s CEO has elegantly explained how daycare pays for itself in both hard rebates and the retention of loyal, experienced women.

Allow radically flexible days
Flexibility is the single biggest factor that will keep many working moms employed in professional jobs rather than out of the workforce altogether.  But flexibility comes with a professional penalty. A report by the UK government concludes that all jobs should be made flexible by default to eliminate the gender gap. Companies like Werk, with their tagline, "Flexibility is the Future of Feminism" offer the same conclusion. Werk matches highly-qualified moms with flexible opportunities and even trains and certifies organizations in flexible policy.

Green Stone’s own 100 percent flexible, experimental business model is built entirely around a remote team, collaborating through messaging app Slack, video conferences and Realtime Boards. This represents a growing tech-world trend. When the expectation of an organization is flexible, time-shifted and not tied to a physical office, the stigma of flexibility evaporates in favor of raw performance.  

Make the culture female-first
If companies touting a work-hard, play-hard ethos where bestie employees booze after hours and catch the game and /or strip club together sounds tiresome to you, you’re not alone, girl. Winnie, a Yelp for parents, is building a parent-friendly company culture. It has ditched much expensive startup frivolity in favor of investing in more meaningful benefits like quality medical care and unlimited time off. Flexible hours are built into the core of the company and boundaries between work and home life are respectfully observed.

Leave it better than you found it, mamas
We know organizational change is glacial. It falls on individuals to fight for what they want from their workplace. If you want flexible hours, a part-time schedule or a job share, maybe just ask. It will test the limits of your workplace culture, in a good way. While you’re at it, why not create a legacy for other women via a nicer pump room, normalized flexibility or formalized part-time roles. It will give you a glow that lasts way beyond your personal win. The micro-policies we fight for can fundamentally change the way work works, and change the course of our lumbering organizations.

Tara Greer is the CXO of Green Stone.