Katharine Zaleski, a manager at one point for both The Huffington Post and The Washington Post, recently wrote an op/ed for Fortune.com regretting the way she thought about and treated fellow employees who were mothers. It wasn’t until Zaleski became a mother herself did she realize just how (wrongly) judgmental she was. Her piece struck a chord with many women, as I saw it pop up all over my social media feeds for days after it was posted.
In her piece, Zaleski details what she calls the “long list of infractions” she committed against working moms while in her 20s. Among them:
1. I secretly rolled my eyes at a mother who couldn’t make it to last-minute drinks with me and my team. I questioned her “commitment” even though she arrived two hours earlier to work than me and my hungover colleagues the next day.
2. I didn’t disagree when another female editor said we should hurry up and fire another woman before she “got pregnant.”
4. I scheduled last-minute meetings at 4:30 p.m. all of the time. It didn’t dawn on me that parents might need to pick up their kids at day care. I was obsessed with the idea of showing my commitment to the job by staying in the office “late” even though I wouldn’t start working until 10:30 a.m. while parents would come in at 8:30 a.m.
Zaleski goes on to explain that when she had her own daughter and was faced with the choice of staying home or going back to the career she spent years cultivating, she realized just how wrong she was about employees who are mothers. Her essay works as a mea culpa as well as an explanation of why — in fact — mothers make excellent employees (who’d a thunk?). And that’s great. I mean, good for her. I’m glad that Zaleski had this realization. But, to be honest, it kind of sucks that it took having a kid of her own for it to really sink in that mothers are treated as second-class employees a good chunk of the time. (I’m sure it also doesn’t help that she has a new business to promote, so what an opportune time to write such an editorial… but I digress).
The reality is that mothers in the workforce are treated differently. Many of them have to work extra hard to break through the stereotypes that exist about working mothers, something men rarely face as fathers. And many women who don’t have kids are seen as potential problems, as Zaleski noted herself in her list of transgressions (#2). We’re still slowly working our way out of the mindset that women are mothers and wives first and employees second.
Hopefully people will read Zaleski’s editorial and perhaps recognize themselves in it, and next time they’re thinking about a co-worker who also happens to be a mother, they’ll push aside their stereotyped ideas and just focus on the work that she does.
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