Oh yes, we leaned in, but on our terms.
The LinkedIn profiles of most of the Not-So-New Mothers Group look like a direct trajectory to the top of our professions, but buried deep within our resumes are twists and turns, pull backs and pauses. You wouldn’t know that Patricia worked part-time for four years, first at McKinsey & Company, then at Trinity Ventures, one of Silicon Valley’s leading venture capital firms. Or that a few years before Lisa co-founded the hugely successful media company BlogHer, she left her television producer job and took a nine-month career pause to focus on the needs of her young son while she figured out her next professional move. Tibi, who runs the computer programming department for the city of Santa Cruz, has worked a condensed four-day work schedule for years. Earlier in her career, she worked part-time and, at one point, took a full stop for nearly seven months. And yet she has, to all outward appearances, always been a “working” mom
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I’ve had two brief pauses, each of which inspired career pivots. After I left my job as a vice president at Foote, Cone & Belding, I became a “single shingle” marketing and strategy consultant to keep money coming and help plan my next move. Eventually, I became a social entrepreneur, cofounding a nonprofit called Supporting Our Sons in partnership with Dr. William Pollack, a clinical psychologist, associate professor at Harvard Medical School, and author of Real Boys: Rescuing Our Sons from the Myths of Boyhood. I ran that organization for five years. When our funding sources dried up, I paused and then pivoted again.
I loved writing. In fact, my dream job had always been to be a writer. It became clear that pursuing that dream was a now-or-never proposition, so I returned to school to get my master’s of fine arts with a concentration in prose. Since then, I’ve become an independent journalist covering issues facing women, families, the workplace, the tech industry, and life in Silicon Valley. My work has appeared in such influential media outlets as The New York Times, Fortune, Newsweek, Salon, and others.
Over the years, young women have reached out to me for career advice. They start by asking the usual questions about mentors or pay negotiation or working with challenging bosses, and then the conversation shifts. What they really want is insight on how to integrate work and home. I realized what’s needed isn’t more career advice, but life advice. The young, driven women I have spoken to had clarity about their professional goals; they just couldn’t square their ambition with their deep desire to be mothers.
The sad truth is Millennial women are facing the same dilemmas, same work-first culture, same unyielding demands that I, and other college-educated, professional women of my generation, faced. Despite all of our well-intentioned women’s initiatives and leadership training programs, nothing has changed for mothers in the workplace.
And yet, looking back now, I see that my friends and I somehow managed to weave our careers in with our families and our families in with our careers. While that weaving didn’t happen at the same time, over the course of decades we found, not balance per se, but integration. It wasn’t easy, it wasn’t obvious, and our paths went against what we were told to do, but we did it anyway. We pulled back, we paused, and we managed to have careers that by most accounts would be considered successful.
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