Last week, Inc. magazine unveiled the cover of their October issue. Featured prominently and beautifully pregnant, Audrey Gelman, the CEO and cofounder of the women-focused coworking space The Wing, became the first visibly pregnant CEO to appear on the cover of a business magazine ever in history. The working woman exalted – momentous, right?
The media was all over it—what a huge step it is, how it’s changing the landscape, how women everywhere might be able to exhale a little bit more, sit up straighter. Except, not really. While I agree it’s a great moment in time, the working world has a long way to go to truly respect the working mother. It has a long way still to go to even understand the working mother.
When I started my career in tech marketing eons ago, 80-hour work weeks were the norm. We were expected to not only keep up, but to exceed, work harder, and push forward. Our focus was our work. Work led our personal lives. It was, in short, my life. I worked hard, climbed the ladder and found myself leading big teams and managing international development programs before I was even 30.
Soon after I got married and quickly after that, pregnant. My first child brought with him the whirlwind that encompasses new mothers. I hunkered down as best as I could and used my maternity leave to recalibrate. At three months, I returned to the workforce ready.
Two weeks upon my return, my manager asked me to travel cross-country for a week. I told him it was impossible – I was nursing my young son, he refused a bottle and my body needed to be where he was full stop. His reply was, “Hmm. When are you done with the breastfeeding?” It was 2010. With one question, I learned my place in his workforce and what he valued. I was in that role two more months before it became impossible for me to work at his level and be a mother. I left, stunned, demoralized and pissed off.
2010 wasn’t that long ago. Sure, we’ve made steps to accommodate working mothers. For the evolved, there are longer leave periods, cushy pumping rooms, telecommuting benefits, flex hours and the like. But across the board, motherhood is still a “thing” that people consider when looking at performance. Would Gelman have made the cover on her professional achievement alone? Maybe. But this cover focuses on her achievement in context of her pregnancy. What does her mothering have anything to do with her ability? Why does her being a mother play into anything where merit and achievement are involved?
When we started Action Mary, we longed for a culture that works for all walks of life. To meet people where they are and accept them and their life wholeheartedly. We don’t evaluate human value based on the circumstances of an individual’s life. In short, we try not to quantify success based on the challenges an individual faces due to sex, ability, preferences, or any other circumstance. We evaluate them based on achievement made through the same hard work, commitment, sweat, smarts and conviction that anyone should give. We aren’t perfect, but we aspire to perfection as the next step. Women didn’t fight for equal rights to have their successes judged by the fact that they are women, but because they are equals.
Fifty years ago, a cigarette company, of all things, created an ad campaign telling women, “you’ve come a long way baby.” We have. But there is more work to do. Whether, we are breastfeeding or not.