In another life, long long ago, I worked in finance. I worked long hours in a white and blue high-rise, constricted in equal measures by my corporate suit and the anti-female atmosphere of the corporation.
I was a young woman, taking space in what was very clearly a man's world.
Yet I had an advantage, apparently. Because I was yet to bear a child. So according to the Powers That Be, my effectiveness and efficiency at climbing my allocated professional ladder was not yet hindered by any offspring that would surely sap me of my professional abilities and aptitude.
Too many of us face these prejudices and astonishingly, most of us are told that it's all in our heads. We have human resources departments set up to protect our rights as employees, no matter our maternal status, yet if we dig a little deeper, we learn that our perception of workplace culture is actually pretty spot on.
Take for instance, a study published in the Journal of Social Issues, which showed that telling people that an employee was also a mother, made people view her as less competent:
"Women operate under pressure from ambient stereotypes saying that mothers can't be serious professionals...Perhaps most noteworthy, participants expressed less interest in hiring, promoting, and educating the working mother compared to the childless woman."
And if that doesn't cement our suspicions of workplace inequalities, perhaps some cold hard figures might do so, since a study published in the American Sociological Review journal, titled "The Wage Penalty for Motherhood", highlights a 7% financial penalty for each child.
Yet all is not lost, truly. Because there are many studies, which categorically show that productivity actually increases with motherhood:
"...mothers in general are more productive than childless women..." (Zimmermann et al)
So instead of focussing on the misplaced prejudice that so many of us find ourselves battling, I wanted to focus instead on this notion of heightened effectiveness...of furthered achievement...of real life kick-ass awesomeness, working mama style.
Because if there's one vital business skill that is credited to mothers, time and time again, it's multitasking. We can change a diaper while talking on the phone and simultaneously split up a soon-to-be-toddler fight without even blinking.
And if you've ever forgotten the words to a nursery rhyme and found yourself improvising, you'll know a little about creativity. Ever been asked to make up a story, when there are a hundred books already written on the shelf? It feels like no big deal at the time, but if there's one thing that I am certain about, it's that motherhood gives our natural creativity a huge almighty boost.
Perhaps this creativity is responsive, as we meet the needs of our children, or perhaps we are inadvertently absorbing the creative, joyful playfulness of our babies as we go about our mothering...whatever the cause, the result is clear: creativity is an essential part of life, both personally and for society overall. Just take a look at any corporate job specification...you'll see creativity listed as one of the top skills needed by employers, right across the globe.
I was supposed to feel empowered as I climbed the corporate ladder all those years ago, yet I didn't. Because in fact, the sense of 'empowerment' being offered was incomplete. It was inauthentic. It was somebody else's 'empowerment' and I was playing a role that I didn't recognise.
Because in its simplest sense, empowerment comes from within. It compliments our wants and needs as individuals, and needless to say, the world of corporate finance did not satiate my own personal cravings for life and motherhood.
Yet what if we are all out of giving? What if we're running on empty and can't catch a break? The answer is actually pretty simple: we empower each other.
Far from the studies quoted above, about women being viewed as less competent once they have embarked upon this journey of motherhood, there are so many instances of women creating and managing successful businesses - many from home - and the best part, we are very often found supporting one another as we make waves in the wider business landscape.
Because far from the outdated perception of mothers as incompetent workers and in spite of the proven 'Wage Penalty' of motherhood, it is being proven time and time again that productivity comes in many different forms....profits, customer satisfaction, personal achievement, family security, charity...and a million others. Our stories as working mothers are all unique and ever-changing, but one thing is for sure - together, we are stronger.
A version of this post originally appeared on MamaBeanParenting.com.
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