I recently had a powerful (and painful) conversation with a friend who shared her story of coming back from maternity leave. There was both courage and bias in her story that reminded me of the many (unhelpful) assumptions about mothers in the workplace still looming over us.
Here’s the story.
She came back after her maternity leave and her (male) boss asked her casually – “How come you are back? I thought you’d stay home with your child.”
She was hurt, angry and frustrated with the (yet another) example of the maternal bias so deeply entrenched in our workplaces that is rarely questioned.
Here she was very excited (and slightly nervous as any new mom is) and instead of receiving support & encouragement her decision of coming back was judged and questioned.
She sat with her emotions for a few days but realized she needed to do something about this situation and speak up for herself. She knew she deserved better and wanted to be an advocate for herself.
So she let her manager know the impact of his words. It was uncomfortable and took some courage but it was important. Conversations that truly matter, that question the status quo and ask us to examine our assumptions and biases are never easy.
And here is the most beautiful part of the story.
Her manager saw his blind spot and acknowledged with humility that he made an incorrect assumption that “all” women want to stay back home after having a child. He mentioned that he had not seen any woman go back to work after having a child and never thought this woman would want a different choice for herself.
I am celebrating this woman because what she did not only impacted her thriving and her relationship with her boss but in a powerful way helped her manager see his own bias, likely prevented more incidents like these, and hopefully opened doors to him being more self-aware.
But here’s what gets me angry. The onus on making managers and leaders more aware of their assumptions shouldn’t just be on their direct reports. It’s not a woman’s job to make her male coworkers and managers more inclusive of mothers. Creating a workplace where everyone belongs should be a part of the overall business strategy and we need more accountability & responsibility in our systems so people in formal positions of authority and power demonstrate the right behaviors in our workplaces.
This story also was a powerful reminder of expanding our circles of relationships. Here was a story of a man with good intent but his actions didn’t ladder up. I am now making an “assumption” that had he heard stories of other women and had been a part of spaces where diverse opinions and identities are present, this could have been prevented.
Here’s my invitation – Find a person to connect with this week who is significantly different from you and notice where your judgment comes up & see if you can practice curiosity instead.
Story published with permission
Pic Credit: Harshit Jain