Mothers in Tech: Design your Own Work-Life Balance

According to a survey of 100 women in the tech industry, 72 percent believe their career is still suffering because of childcare and family responsibilities.

This is an absurd statistic and, sadly, the reality for many Mothers in Tech. I have worked in the technology industry for 8 years now and have faced many challenges trying to balance family life with my career path. But the answer isn't to submit to these constraints, rather we should collectively work towards a solution that closes the gap of disparity between professional men and women in the workplace.

For the remainder of this article, I'll share my experiences and some relevant advice in hopes that it will help and inspire the next wave of Mothers in Tech as well as further the conversation for gender equity in the tech sector.

Struggles for Mothers in Tech

I began my career in tech one year before I became a mother. And by all accounts, I was considered a valued member of the team. I really felt my work was making a difference and that I was on track for advancement.

Unfortunately, this all came to a screeching halt once my employer found out I was starting a family and would be out for an extended period on parental leave. The conversations quickly shifted from, “How can we expand your role and workload” to “Who is going to take on your responsibilities?” and “Who is going to train them?”

This is a good example of why women get nervous, anxious, or even frightened to inform their supervisors of such a life event. They often elect to wait for the last possible moment to reveal their pregnancy out of fear of reprimand, adding stress to their work situation and, more importantly, the pregnancy.

When it came time for my parental leave, I only received 12 weeks (about 3 months) – which is 17 weeks less than the global average. To make matters worse I only received partially paid – 4 weeks at 100%, 4 weeks at 75%, and 4 weeks unpaid.

Sociologists have labeled this situation as the motherhood penalty. It describes the socioeconomic disadvantages for working mothers in earnings as well as the perceived professional competency.

Once I returned from my leave, another issue I was struggling with was figuring out the right balance of time and attention to devote towards my career and my growing family. The demand of a tech role along with the set hours and long commute forced me to give more energy toward my job.

And while families send their kids to daycare all the time, I was still a new mother and the initial separation caused me to feel tremendous guilt. How many times have you heard people tell you that you can only be one – a good employee or a good mother? This was frustrating to me because I feel that I shouldn't have to choose.

Advice for Mothers in Tech

According to a recent survey, around 56 percent of women who enter the tech industry leave at the midway point of their careers. The primary reason isn't that they are unhappy at their current jobs, it's due to the lack of equal opportunities and lobsided gender pay gap.

With all the challenges Mothers in Tech face it's important to establish channels of support to fall back on during difficult times as well as sources of inspiration to continue moving forward. Here are some things that work for me:

Build a Support Network

My family has been a tremendous source of support throughout the years. Specifically, my mom and husband. Growing up my mom was a single parent. She worked full time and served as the primary parent raising me and my siblings. She was the best role model because not only did she provide for our family but never missed any of our childhood activities or events.

My husband is an amazing father and has always been proactive as far as helping with our kids. He understands that having a career in technology has always been important to me. Times are changing in our society. More and more fathers are recognizing the need to be flexible in their work schedule to help with children. In fact, in 40% of U.S. households moms are either the primary or sole provider.

Now, I realize that many Mothers in Tech might not have a reliable family dynamic like myself. In those situations, lean on your friends or seek out other mothers at your workplace or even join a support group.

When I joined a support group it allowed me to strengthen my circle of support by connecting with other working moms that can empathize with the dueling pressures of the office and home. I also use my experience to support teammates at work who are recently dealing with the balance of motherhood and a tech career.

Planning & Boundaries

Be diligent with the planning of your schedule. Make sure you devote enough time toward your work responsibilities but also know when it’s time to stop. Now, I understand that work, especially in technical fields, can be fluid and during busier times you may need to devote more time than anticipated. This is why I do my best to work ahead on tasks that I know I can accomplish with relative ease. This will free up time when those unexpected projects do happen. And if you need to work a bit during personal time that’s fine too so long as it doesn’t become the norm. I can't stress that enough.

To help keep you on task with your schedule consider setting up boundaries at work. These boundaries can include:

  • Establishing cut-off times for work calls & emails and stick to it
  • Keeping your work calendar up to date
  • Blocking out times & set up away messages when you’re unavailable (busy, taking your kids to school, etc.)
  • Delegating when you can
  • Remembering, it’s ok to say no to work

I’ll admit that planning & setting boundaries for your schedule isn’t the most glamorous part of being a working mom. It takes a lot of work and effort but trust me it’s worth it. Remember you're trying to find a work-life balance, not a work-life blend.

The Right Workplace

My friends and I always say, “Raising kids takes a village”, and part of that village, especially for Mothers in Tech, include the workplace. The key is finding a company that has policies in place that support employees with families and a good work-life balance. A good indication of this is hybrid or work from home (WFH) options.

Another great indication of a progressive workplace is one that offers on-the-job training and career development opportunities. This allows working moms to continue to advance their professional skills without having to sacrifice time away from family activities. This is especially helpful for Mothers in Tech given the speed of emerging technologies. According to research there was only a 1% increase in the number of women holding senior management positions in companies from 2018 to 2020.

The last thing I’ll point out is a strong work culture. In order to be successful as a working mother you need passion, drive, and courage but most of all you need the support from your employer and trust me this means a lot. Research the organizations you’re applying to and joining. Get as much of an understanding of their values as you do their business model and financial statements. Know that the workplace is cultivating safe spaces for employees and celebrates their triumphs both inside and outside the office.

In Summary

I hope some of my experiences and advice will help and inspire more women to seek out careers in the tech industry. I also hope this will continue the discussion for gender equity within tech companies. Most parents, especially moms, feel the need to hide from their employer the fact that children are a part of their life plan and that raising them right requires a good amount of attention. Unfortunately, it's mainly because the work culture has stigmatized certain aspects of the working mother and organizational policies to this day lack the built-in support to change this point of view.

However, the situation for Mothers in Tech is improving. A 2018 poll of new moms working in the tech industry showed that 48% of them felt their return-to-work experience was a good one. We aren’t asking to be treated differently but by creating a workplace that honors the realities of personal goals, such as motherhood, as well as professional goals, you then are giving working moms the ability to find the balance and continue to thrive in their careers.

As a working female and Mother in Tech, I am grateful to have a solid support network in place and work for a company that celebrates inclusion and allows me to grow my career and family simultaneously.

If you are struggling or not sure where to get started with your working mom struggles, please don’t hesitate to reach out! My LinkedIn contact info is listed below. I would be more than happy to help you find that balance where you can flourish in your tech career and still be an attentive mother!

Shelley Nolte

Written by Shelley Nolte

Senior Consultant at Data Ideology

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