One of my favorite things to do after a day of work is to settle in with my iPad or laptop and research what’s happening in the space of female entrepreneurs, working mothers, women in the workplace, and the constant struggle for gender equality. I guess it’s the entrepreneurial spirit in me, but I have a hard time quenching my interest in and passion for these things; I’m not one to ever really “veg out” on mindless TV or scroll endlessly through social media sites. I’d always rather be learning something new. Several of my friends and colleagues have mentioned the show “Workin’ Moms” to me, and after what seemed like the fiftieth person asking if I’d seen it, I decided I should at least give it a few minutes of my time. (After all, an argument could be made that it was market research.)
I made a deal with myself that I would watch at least five minutes before turning it off and opting for my regulars – Forbes, Entrepreneur, Fast Company, Inc.
The women on the show all seem to be struggling to find their voice, caught between a familiar pair: caregiving and career. At the office, their colleagues don’t know how to treat them, and the new mothers all seem to have lost some of their identities as the driven business executives; management treats them differently, an outside employee was hired as a vice president while one of the women was on maternity leave (a job for which she was in line), another finds herself pumping in a bathroom stall. While these experiences are all exaggerated for entertainment, they are very real issues that new mothers face every day returning to work.
I found myself completely engaged with the women in this show – absolutely able to relate to each of their struggles as a working mother. Throughout the show, I was reminded over and over of how difficult it is for women to return to work after becoming a mother, not just because of the obvious – leaving your child in someone else’s care, colleagues treating you differently, adjusting to the “new normal” of being a working mother. The very design of our workplaces today sets new mothers up for failure. Rigid, inflexible offices make it virtually impossible for employees with children or other caregiving responsibilities to succeed. Having to put in a certain amount of “desk time” to be noticed by management, being limited in when and how long you are able to be away, forcing employees to keep strict 9-5 business hours, prioritizing presence over product – these are all ways that businesses ensure the success of one type of employee: the person (largely men) with no outside responsibilities to interfere with work obligations.
We are starting to see a shift – a slow crumbling of the outdated workplace architecture. Many companies are embracing flexibility and allowing their employees a more equitable balance of work and caregiving responsibilities. There is, however, still work to be done. The reason Netflix’s “Workin’ Moms” is so popular is because we see ourselves in the characters. Every mother I’ve ever met has her own tale of workplace re-entry, and none of them are completely smooth sailing.
The first episode was over before I even thought about Fast Company or Forbes. I don’t want to ruin the ending for you, but I will tell you this – one of the women does find her voice. It’s my hope that more women find their voices, and that we begin to see real, lasting change in workplace design. I am more convinced than ever that what we’re doing at Stay In The Game matters, that it is important, and that lives will be changed for the better because of it.