Starting a family is a long-held point of contention for women in the technology industry. It can significantly slow down female career progression, exacerbate the gender pay gap, and lead women to take career breaks – or leave the industry altogether – before the age of 35.
If you’re a mom in tech, you may be faced with unfair bias and stigma on a daily basis. But we’re here to tell you this:
Tech needs you.
For many reasons.
So let’s explore exactly why that is in more detail, and ways you can overcome the obstacles facing mothers in tech.
Real Talk: Mothers in technology face unique struggles
While working in the male-dominated technology industry is tough for all women, those that want to have children face the pressure of trying to balance career progression within the constraints of the female fertility window. (After age 40, there’s only a 5% chance of falling pregnant, even with the use of assistive technologies.)
What’s more, the ‘motherhood penalty’ means that women literally take a pay cut when they have kids. (Men’s salaries, by contrast, go up.) This further amplifies the gender pay gap issue.
We also can’t ignore the pressure that society often places on working mothers. Karin Lachmi wrote about this in a 2019 Forbes article:
“From the social structures and norms around me, I got lots of mixed signals — one side told me to stay home as long as possible, while the other side pushed me to go back to work as soon as possible. It felt like they expected me to work like I didn’t have a baby and to raise my baby like I didn’t have to work.”
These unrealistic expectations often force women out of the workplace to raise children, or prioritize work at the expense of becoming a mother.
But we need them
Despite these common struggles, mothers are a valuable asset to tech companies for several reasons:
Mothers make excellent workers and incredible leaders
2014 research from the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis found that parents are more productive at work than people without children, while McKinsey & Company research shows that mothers display greater ambition at work than childless women.
Mothers in the workplace boost diversity and productivity
Company productivity is known to benefit from a diverse workforce. People of all genders, color, and cultural backgrounds bring fresh perspectives and ideas, ensuring that data isn’t skewed and products are representative of all. Mothers contribute to the diversity of teams, which in turn boosts innovation.
Mothers have the capacity to shift perspectives
There’s a serious deficit of female role models in the tech industry, which could contribute to the lack of participation of young girls in STEM fields. Even today, the industry is susceptible to ‘bro culture’ and stigma towards mothers. But bold, confident women that persist in the field despite the lack of representation are changing this narrative.
If mothers can continue to work in tech while raising children, we’ll start to see more female role models in tech, and inspire younger generations to pursue STEM jobs.
Tips for navigating motherhood and a tech career
Think like a data scientist
If it helps, treat your motherhood journey as you would any project. Gather your data and research first.
This may involve organizing your financial situation before starting a family, pushing for early career promotions to ensure you reach your
professional goals earlier on, or connecting with stories from other moms in tech.
Speak to colleagues and connections about how they’ve made it work, or simply search for stories online. Here are some great examples:
- Cat Noone, CEO of tech company Stark, shares her insights on Medium.
- Andrea Echstenkamper, marketing professional at LaunchDarkly, discusses her experience in a blog post.
- Pimothers is a blog that shares inspiring stories of mothers in technology.
Note: Motherhood is different for everyone, so while it helps to research, you can never base your expectations entirely on someone else’s experience.
Plan it like a project
Consider all the stages of your motherhood journey, and what you’ll need when. Here are some examples.
- Family planning – Consider your health insurance needs, your reproductive health, what support systems you’ll need, and whether your company offers support with fertility. (Psst… Check out the top 10 tech companies with fertility benefits.)
- Pregnancy – Consider what you’ll do if you experience pregnancy complications or illness, and how you might need to negotiate workplace contingencies.
- Returning to work – This can be a difficult process to navigate: when to return, how to return, and in what capacity? Develop a clear and transparent communication channel with your employer, and consider what you’ll do if you change your mind or if you experience challenges with your birth/adoption or recovery.
- Ongoing challenges of motherhood – Rationing your parental leave to manage sickness, balancing the needs of your family and work, managing work around childcare hours, and even affording childcare in the first place – all things to consider. Exploring your options and best case scenarios can help you plan your career and family into the future.
Advocate for your rights and push for change
Companies are becoming more transparent and open about their parental leave policies and initiatives to support parents. But many are still behind the times. That doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re stuck with what they offer, though.
Consider negotiating with your workplace so you can give your best to your work while balancing the needs of your family as well. You speaking up and advocating for the needs of mothers in the workplace could spark much-needed change in the organization.
The best companies will be open to discussing things like:
- Fair and equal parental leave policies – more generous paternity leave can help level the playing field, ensuring both women and men are equally supported in child rearing.
- Financial support for parents – i.e. paid leave, paying superannuation during parental leave, and childcare assistance.
- Support for returning to work – including training programs, keeping in touch days and re-onboarding.
- Case by case management of mothers – the opportunity to discuss what you need, as everyone’s journey is different.
- Internal training around subconscious bias towards mothers – including gendered language, making assumptions about what working mothers need, and treating male and female parents differently.
Remember what it’s all for
Like your career, your motherhood journey will have its twists and turns. It won’t necessarily follow a linear path from inexperience to success. There will be challenges along the way, and at times you may wonder why you’re bothering to do both.
When doubt hits, remember the importance of your work – both your day job and caring for your child – equally important work.
Tech needs more role models doing what you’re doing, showing young girls that women in STEM can work and be mothers. Advocate for yourself, have tough conversations, show your sons and daughters that there is a place for women in tech.
And as always, we encourage you to lean on your global community of women in tech who are with you on your journey.
Mothers in tech, we need you here.