“Sarah Lacy has been challenging the male-dominated culture in Silicon Valley for years, never backing down. She’s paved the way for more women to stand up and speak out. Her persistent pursuit of equality is in all her work, including this necessary book.” (Sallie Krawcheck, bestselling author of Own it, and Co-founder and CEO of Ellevest)
When I began my blog six years ago, I was a working mom with a baby, a Stay at Home Dad (unemployed Veteran), and had just had a miscarriage in my second trimester. My blog concentrated on early education. What I didn’t tell you is that I was dealing with harassment and retaliation at work – for doing my job and doing it well. I talk a lot about the importance of reading and education for our children to help their future, but what I haven’t told you is that you can do everything ‘right’; get the degrees, get the training, ‘Lean In’ until your brains hit the floor, and still find yourself in a situation in the workplace that is toxic for working moms. I would say it’s the same for all working parents, but in my experience that hasn’t been the case, so I’d be lying. Take, for example, some of the unique unfairness of my uphill battle in the world of finance in which I have a Master’s degree and 18 years experience just because *gasp* I had children in my 30s.
- Having my supervisor deny me access to breast pump on breaks.
- Having to take condensed maternity leave (with my own accumulated leave) to just six weeks after giving birth to a preemie.
- Being called ‘Cinderella’ when I disclosed fraud, waste, abuse and Prohibited Personnel Practices.
- Being forced to sit in a receptionist desk as a highly paid analyst to answer phones and do timekeeping.
- Having an internal investigation done by my management after the Director put me in an awkward position of a reassignment I didn’t know about after having a miscarriage.
- Being denied access to FOIA documentation related to that investigation with no assistance from the Inspector General, Office of Special Counsel, or the Accountability Office to refute claims and to receive Whistleblower protections after disclosures during a corrective action plan.
- Having reasonable accommodations not filed during a high risk pregnancy when I had to go to Internal Fetal Medicine appointments bi-weekly.
I can go on about even more numerous unfair situations I have found myself in, but I don’t think it is unique in the United States workforce for working women. We bend over backwards to accommodate, wondering why we are considered a liability when in reality, we are major assets to our organizations and the inequality of my treatment did not affect my productivity or high performance appraisals. Where is the accommodation for us? There has been a cost – a personal and professional cost – to having to navigate a work environment where working women are silenced for speaking up or face serious consequences to their career.
A Uterus is a Feature is a rallying cry for working mothers everywhere that demolishes the “distracted, emotional, weak” stereotype and definitively shows that these professionals are more focused, decisive, and stronger than any other force. Working mothers aren’t a liability. They are assets you—and every manager and executive—want in your company, in your investment portfolio, and in your corner.
There is copious academic research showing the benefits of working mothers on families and the benefits to companies who give women longer and more flexible parental leave. There are even findings that demonstrate women with multiple children actually perform better at work than those with none or one.
Yet despite this concrete proof that working mothers are a lucrative asset, they still face the “Maternal Wall”—widespread unconscious bias about their abilities, contributions, and commitment. Nearly eighty percent of women are less likely to be hired if they have children—and are half as likely to be promoted. Mothers earn an average $11,000 less in salary and are held to higher punctuality and performance standards. Forty percent of Silicon Valley women said they felt the need to speak less about their family to be taken more seriously. Many have been told that having a second child would cost them a promotion.
Fortunately, this prejudice is slowly giving way to new attitudes, thanks to more women starting their own businesses, and companies like Netflix, Facebook, Apple, and Google implementing more parent-friendly policies. But the most important barrier to change isn’t about men. Women must rethink the way they see themselves after giving birth. As entrepreneur Sarah Lacy makes clear in this cogent, persuasive analysis and clarion cry, the strongest, most lucrative, and most ambitious time of a woman’s career may easily be after she sees a plus sign on a pregnancy test.
My industry has a long way to go before there is equality in the workplace and as a working mom of two young girls, I do not want to have the only options to lean in or opt out. I want to be part of paving a new path for working women, one that is sorely outdated since women came into the workforce in droves during WWII. We owe it to our families, the men and women, that we support; some, like me, who are the sole or majority supporter of the family’s finances. I don’t mind working long hours, but they sometimes need to be flexible. I don’t have a safety net or childcare or make enough money for childcare around the clock. I am proud of what I have accomplished, but it shouldn’t be THIS HARD to choose between my family and my career. I don’t want this choice to be what is given to my children and I would hope that both men and women are on board to give support to working mothers because we are a large majority of the workforce and we deserve income parity and workforce equality. Yes, I have a uterus and because I am able to bring new life into the world and multi-task school and work and family, that makes me an asset to a company and it is time we have laws in place that are adhered to in order to achieve the balance we desperately deserve.
About the Author: Sarah Lacy is the founder, CEO, and editor-in-chief of the investigative tech news site Pando.com. She has been covering technology news and entrepreneurship for over fifteen years, with stints at BusinessWeek and TechCrunch before founding her own company while on maternity leave in 2011. She lives in San Francisco. Most importantly of all, she is the mother of two young children.
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