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Working Moms Shouldn’t Have To Choose Between Girlboss And Tradwife

Why must women choose between 40 hours per week outside the home or homeschooling, sourdough, and gingham dresses?

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It’s 3 p.m., and I’ve just pulled into the carpool line to pick up my two older children from school when a client calls. We’re in the middle of negotiating a multi-six-figure deal, so I take the call.

We discuss the big picture of the project, mainly consisting of a new brand identity and website for their organization. As we’re going over the finer points, the school bell rings, and the kids start rushing out.

“Can we revisit this later, Jack?” I ask. “The kids are getting in the car.”

“No problem,” he says, “I’ll hit you up on Slack with my final comments, and you can get back to me later.”

He pops off the line as I kiss the kids and get the scoop on the day’s happenings in third grade and kindergarten.

On the way home, I call one of my team members, who I know focuses most of her working time in the afternoons, when the neighborhood babysitter comes over after school.

“Hey, Jill, can you run some quick edits on that contract? I have a lot of kid stuff going on this afternoon.”

“Sure thing,” she says. “I’m on now until 5 p.m. and then again after 8 p.m.”

After an active afternoon of piano lessons, running in the sprinkler, and a doctor’s visit for my 18-month-old with an ear infection, we sit down to family dinner, a nonnegotiable daily event in our house.

“Mom, what kind of website are you making now?” my 6-year-old son asks. “A cool one — orange this time?”

“Maybe!” I laugh.

“Sweet!” he says.

Later, the kids are in bed, and my husband, who also flexed work time that morning to attend our daughter’s preschool concert, also has a little work to do. So we pour a glass of wine and chat as I review Jill’s notes and send the contract for signatures.

Corporate America Isn’t Accommodating Moms

Integrating work and life as a mom of four hasn’t been easy. There is a dearth of jobs that offer flexibility on the scale that mothers need. Most of the time, what companies tout as “flexible” company culture is occasional work-from-home days, unlimited sick leave, and maybe a month or two of paid maternity leave, if a woman is lucky. But most employers don’t offer a type of “flexible” that truly supports the complicated logistical and physical challenges of motherhood.

It seems the world wants us to choose: either the corporate life of 40 to 60 hours per week outside the home, with kids in daycare just as long (if a woman decides to have them), or sourdough, homeschooling, and gingham dresses. If she would like to have a little bit of both, there are millions of people lined up to tell her she just can’t.

Sadly, these aren’t just personal lifestyle choices, where each family makes the decisions that suit them best. They’ve self-sorted into teams, where either side has very strong opinions about the merits of their path and the drawbacks of the other’s approach.

The stay-at-home mom side champions the view that women achieve maximum fulfillment by abandoning professional aspirations and embracing a higher calling for stay-at-home motherhood. They say such sacrifice is necessary to protect children from an out-of-control culture that is transforming childhood into something unrecognizable and even dangerous for modern-day kids. Some contend that a woman’s place has historically been inside the home precisely because she’s genetically wired to prefer the domestic arts over corporate ladder-climbing. To many, a woman’s desire to seek professional fulfillment is filled with vice, not virtue, and ultimately leads to an empty existence.

The working mom side shares cautionary tales about the fates faced by women living in pitiful servitude who, without any marketable skills, are left penniless when their husbands ultimately desert them. They insist that homemaking diminishes the gifts of women in the world and denies their need for adult connection and intellectual stimulation. They declare the one-income household an impossible luxury and one that leaves women desperately unhappy. Some even uncharitably sneer at those who have opted for a more traditional path, casting these women’s choices as efforts to satisfy men not enlightened enough to care about their wives’ contentment.

This debate is rooted in vestiges from the past, when technological and physical limitations really did make this choice rather binary. A generation of latchkey kids can testify to the impossible choices their mothers had to make — provide for their families or be present for their children.

Deliverables, Not Billable Hours

Fortunately, in this aspect, it is no longer 1968. It is now 2024, and we can drop the boxing gloves of the past and start embracing change and the advent of a new, third way of working that works for moms.

Instead of pushing women to choose between their children and their jobs, employers can implement a few simple changes to give moms freedom to work and parent in a way that fits with their families.

Moms thrive when work is tied to deliverables, rather than hours; when schedules move and wrap around sick days, half days, pick-ups, and drop-offs; and when there is a way to set one’s own bandwidth and have a job that fits it, rather than sweating to eke out an arbitrary 40 hours (which is a nearly 100-year-old idea, by the way, and designed for a very different time).

It took starting and building my own company to find a job that allowed me to create a life where I could be a loving, constant presence for my kids and give my professional skills and ambitions a channel to grow and thrive. And now that I am in a position to employ others, I have the opportunity to give them the same.

As a firm, we can attract untapped talent by appealing to parents who want to work for a company that understands childrearing isn’t a lifestyle choice but instead a fundamental part of healthy societies.

We allow our employees to set their own bandwidth — 25 percent, 50 percent, 100 percent, and they can increase or decrease as life circumstances allow. Babies are born, elderly parents need care, and sickness happens. We understand that and believe work should mold around a life rather than the other way around.

That means our workplace might look a little different from most. There are always nursing babies on calls or toddlers poking their heads in to make silly faces at the Zoom camera, or a slew of Saturday afternoon activity as one of our teammates catches up on work over the weekend after a busy week.

We still bake bread, make meals for friends going through tough times, cuddle feverish toddlers, and attend impromptu peanut butter and jelly picnics. But we also pursue what we recognize as a deep calling to professional work and the benefit of contributing meaningfully to our families’ financial goals.

It’s also a big part of why our clients choose to work with us. There is a beautiful collaborative harmony that happens when a client and consultant have a shared vision for the good we want to see in the world. It’s especially important for our line of work, since we target our business towards mission-driven organizations that are genuinely trying to make a difference in their fields.

They know they are getting access to some of the top talent out there — highly skilled moms who are also fighting for the healthy growth of their families.

We appreciate that this approach might not be a good fit for every prospective client, and it might not be replicable in every industry or at every company. But there are enough places where it can work and enough prospective customers for whom it does too. By changing how we do business at our own small firm, we’re charting a course so others may follow, one where women’s performance is judged not by an outdated system of work but instead by the quality of it.

What started as a “will this work” prayer has turned into a big dream. We want to inspire a movement of CEOs who realize that caring for the well-being of women and their irreplaceable roles in their families will create a healthier work culture, more productivity, and more growth.

Together, we can make work actually work for moms.


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