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Interviewing Mummy: Work-family juggle in India

Here we are on a Sunday afternoon, interviewing our mother about her longtime work-family juggle in India. Meet Indira, a government officer for more than 30 years with two grown daughters — Shivangi and Himani.

Shivangi: So Mummy, would you like to introduce yourself to our readers?

Indira: Sure! I’m Indira and I have been working in the government for many many years now. I’m currently the Library and Information Officer in Niti Aayog (which used to be known as the Planning Commission of India). I am in my late fifties. I have a beautiful family and am blessed with two daughters. In my spare time, I love to watch movies, cook my favourite dishes and knit. 

Shivangi: Thank you for sharing that. We’d like to understand your views and opinions on being a mother and managing your work simultaneously. Maybe we can start with your description of motherhood.

Indira: As a mother, I wanted my babies to be healthy. I wanted to give you ample time, to help you grow and to provide a great education for you. I also needed to devote time to our multigenerational household. But as a working mother, my time was scattered and limited. I still feel a sense of guilt that I could not give the two of you more of my attention. I do feel, though, that children benefit from having a working mom. They learn about hard work and the importance of independence.

Himani: True — hearing stories about your work taught me lots about real life. So, what did others expect of you as a working mother?

Indira: In our generation, our in-laws expected us to work as well as fulfill the responsibilities of a typical daughter-in-law in society. There was all of the cooking, chores, and child raising. We were required to attend every family function, so there was very little time for a working mother to do anything for herself over the weekend. There was even an expectation for us to look presentable at all times. 

Shivangi: Have these expectations changed in recent years?

Indira: I think there has been a big change. Earlier a working mother could not rebel or express her feelings out loud. But today’s working mothers know their rights. They know that they don’t have to bear all family responsibilities alone. 

For example, I used to cook dinners for 20 people on a fairly regular basis. This was common in our family, as we often had guests. Online ordering didn’t exist and takeaway wasn’t socially acceptable. I used to feel exhausted as I had to start cooking the second I got home from the office. I was happy doing it at first but then it became an expectation, and I was a little resentful. However, today, with online ordering and quick deliveries, you can easily host dinners without exhausting yourself. It’s also acceptable now to hire domestic help to cook food, which was not preferred before. 

Shivangi: Things have definitely changed for the better. Did your workplace support you when you were struggling to balance everything?

Indira: As a government official, we had to be present in the office most days. But we also had family friendly policies that made it easier. After my first pregnancy, I could take leave for up to 3 months. Later, I had to frequently take time off to look after you, Shivangi, and also to take care of your grandmother, who had asthma. My office was aware of the situation and was very cooperative. I also learned a lot about juggling work and motherhood from my senior colleagues.

Himani: Are there any examples of this support that stood out?

Indira: I was incredibly lucky to have male managers with families who supported me and gave me the flexibility I needed. They went above and beyond to make sure I could take care of the two of you when you needed me. Another thing was that when you had summer vacations, my office allowed you to spend the day in the office with me. In some offices, this is not allowed, so I was extremely appreciative.

Himani: I totally remember running into the office and all the office people getting me snacks to eat. 

Shivangi: Yes! Do you remember the time you tried to bring ice cream home to me from Mummy’s office? That didn’t work so well.

Himani: Please see the gesture, not the logic. Mummy, given that Shivangi and I are more than 9 years apart, did you notice any similarities and differences in raising the two of us?

Indira: The similarity is that I was studying during both pregnancies while also working a full time job. When I was pregnant with Shivangi, I was doing my second bachelor’s in Library and Information Sciences, and with Himani, I was completing a master’s. The difference is that the first time, I was young and had no health concerns. In my second pregnancy, I was diagnosed with diabetes and there was an age factor. So I had to take a lot of precautions to deliver a healthy baby. 

I also feel there was much more support during and after my first pregnancy than with my second. After Himani was born, I struggled because my mother-in-law who’d helped so much with Shivangi had sadly passed away. So, for almost 3 years, your father and I used to drop Himani at my parents’ house and then bring her home after work. Also, there is a difference in personality and nature between the two of you, so I had to adapt to your individual needs and ensure you both felt heard. 

Shivangi: So when you went to the office, what did you do to make sure we didn’t miss or need you during your working hours? 

Indira: Well, I would cook and pack food for you before leaving for the office. I also used to talk with you daily over the phone after you came home from school. I would ask how school went, and if you needed any paper or prints for your homework. Maybe most importantly, I would bring home fresh fruit and snacks for you. And then I gave you the space to share your day with me and provided whatever support you needed. 

Shivangi: I clearly remember rushing to the door in the evening to open it, greet you and check your bags for snacks! When you were in the throes of it all, do you think society judged you as a working mom? Especially in India, typically families don’t approve of women leaving their kids to work outside the home. Did you experience that?

Indira: Well, it is highly regarded in Indian society to be a government officer, so I didn’t experience any judgement, even as a woman. I think both sides of my family were proud that I was working. However, there was invisible pressure for sure to excel as a mom, an employee, and a daughter-in-law and all the other roles I had. All of my colleagues experienced the same pressure, so it felt normal to me back then.

Himani: You know, my psychology professor once asked if it was difficult for us when our mothers worked. Did we feel we were missing out on memories? I got very emotional. When my turn came to speak, I said that as a child it hurt that I did not see you at home very much. I used to get so excited when you would take leave and be there when I came home from school. But as I grew up, I started to understand your side of the story. I am so proud that you worked and were also there whenever we needed you.

Do you have any tips that you would like to share with the working women of today?

Indira: Our society has changed and being self-dependent is important. As a working mother, you need to develop strong communication with your partner and family. And do not hesitate to get help if you need it. 

Shivangi Mehra is an Associate at Liftery and founder of Limitless Stree, an initiative to empower women and girls in India. She also serves as the Research Mentor for young researchers at UNESCO. She can be reached via LinkedIn.

Himani Mehra, a passionate advocate for mental health and gender equality, leverages her background in psychology to drive positive change. She’s founding member of Limitless Stree, an initiative to empower women and girls in India and is currently working with Sangath India, a mental health nonprofit for their suicide prevention programme, Outlive. She can be reached via LinkedIn.

 

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Motherly’s 2024 State of Motherhood Report

Gen Z moms are signaling a continuing future birth rate decline; childcare access and affordability issues continue to impact mothers’ ability to work.

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Musings From a Recovering Tough-Girl

A reporter reached out to me when the Barbie movie came out. Usually when this happens, it’s to talk about policy or fights between Democrats and Republicans or what’s happening in Lansing. But this reporter said, “You know, Senator, you’re on recess, would you have any interest in being interviewed about the Barbie movie?” And I thought, I have been waiting for this moment for years. 

With a past career designing Hot Wheels cars for Mattel, I’ve done a lot of thinking around what it means to be a boy or a girl or a man or a woman. There’s been a lot of ink spilled on how we set girls up with certain expectations — that girls are given certain colors, dolls and play sets, and boys are given cars and action figures and superheroes.

And I reject that premise because it’s too simple. Because it implies that one set of skills or personalities is less than the other. That girls are somehow set up to be less in life because they’re given dolls. Because they care about other people. Because they tell stories. Because they look out for each other. And if we look around the world right now, I think we could use a little bit more of that skill set — caring, kindness and empathy.  

For a long time in my career, I really prided myself on being a guy’s girl. I grew up with brothers. I loved cars. I was so excited when I could finally buy my first car and loved it so much that I slept in it the first night that I had it in my driveway. (My mom was very concerned about me.) And that was something that I kind of wore as a badge of honor. I graduated from college at the University of Notre Dame and I always wanted to be a car designer. There was something about always being the lone woman in a man’s space that was exciting to me. But it was also really lonely.  

In 2007, I won a national car design competition. That’s actually how I met my husband, who was editor in chief of Jalopnik at the time, and they wrote a story about me. That win afforded me the opportunity to go to the Los Angeles Auto Show. And I distinctly remember one of the conversations that I had at the show with a dad who had brought his son and one of his son’s friends. We got to talking about my education and how I got here and what I wanted to do with my career. I thought it was a really inspiring conversation. 

And then later, as I was reading Jalopnik, there was a comment in the comment section from this dad. And I know that because there were enough details in the comment for it to be identifiable. He said, “I went to the LA auto show. I met Mallory McMorrow. She’s a lot better looking in person. And to my surprise, she’s actually articulate.”

At that same event, when I went to check in at the hotel, I was 21 years old and I was talking to the man behind the counter. He asked why I was there and I said, “I’m here for the auto show.” And he immediately said, “Oh, you’re one of those booth babes,” referring to the women who just stand in front of the cars to be looked at, meant to be seen and not heard. 

Years later, I moved to New York. I applied for an apartment in Brooklyn after being recruited for a job, and I brought with me three years of bank statements, a letter from my previous landlord, a letter from my employer, and my salary information. I made more than enough money for this apartment, and I had excellent credit. But in my meeting with two older male property managers, they reviewed all of my documents, and they immediately asked, “So will you be moving in with your husband?” despite only seeing one name on the application. And they followed by asking, “Is your father going to be helping you with this apartment?” These stories go on and on, and these small things add up over time where the message is: You’re not welcome here. This space is not really for you.

This is why the Barbie movie resonated so much. When I was at Mattel, I remember thinking about how tricky it would be to make a Barbie movie, because Barbie is such a controversial figure — which is impressive when you’re only 11 inches tall.  But the movie did such a great job because it drew the dichotomy that Barbie exists in a fake world where she can be anything. She can be an astronaut, she can work at McDonald’s, she can run a puppy swim school. She can be president many times over. But she exists in a world that doesn’t have any of the challenges that women face in the real world. 

Ruth Bader Ginsburg understood this reality better than anybody else, because nowhere in the Constitution did it explicitly state that there were equal rights for women. In fact, the only mention of sex at all is once in the 19th Amendment. Perhaps you’re familiar with Ginsburg’s story.

Despite graduating first in her class from Columbia Law School, she was rejected in 1960 for a clerkship position because she was a woman. She later co-founded the Women’s Rights Project at the ACLU. And as you can imagine, people approached her every single day with cases demonstrating blatant discrimination against women. She refused to take up any of them. Instead, she had a much more strategic plan, and that was to take up discrimination cases against men. In Oklahoma in the 1970s, men were legally allowed to buy beer at the age of 21. Women, on the other hand, were allowed to buy beer at 18, because they were viewed as the more demure, responsible gender.

Ginsburg found this obscure case, submitted an amicus brief, and took it all the way to the Supreme Court. She knew, probably better than anybody, that in that moment, an all male Supreme Court simply would have no sympathy for cases of discrimination against women, not because of any malicious intent, but because they just wouldn’t understand. They would think the stories were crazy, because they’ve never faced that discrimination. But they could relate to a guy who couldn’t buy beer until he was 21. Therefore, by making the case that men should have the same rights as women to buy beer, the underlying reading of the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause would be that differential treatment on the basis of sex was worthy of additional scrutiny and could be discrimination under the law for the first time in American history.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s work allowed me to get an apartment in my name, even though men didn’t think that I could have it. It allowed me to have a job, a bank account and a credit card. 

Just as Ginsburg passed away, my colleagues allowed me to give the statement on the Senate floor recognizing her. And at the time, I was very pregnant. It wasn’t lost on me that I was allowed to be in that space visibly pregnant because of her work. But just because we’re allowed to be in these spaces doesn’t mean that these spaces are made for us. And again, going back to the Barbie movie and the monologue that we all remember, women try to contort themselves to fit into spaces that weren’t designed for us.

I’ve seen this play out throughout my entire career. Our nation’s lack of support for women, especially working mothers, has found its way insidiously into our culture as if to tell American mothers that if we couldn’t handle it all, it’s just because we weren’t strong enough. 

For all of the accomplishments and gains that women have made, we have found ways to make it harder on ourselves. In 2017 before I was in office, I hosted a panel at the Women’s March convention in Detroit. It was titled Standing in Our Own Way: How women tear each other down. I had no idea if anybody would show up. But the room was full  — the fire marshal was called to tell people to leave the room. The title alone had piqued people’s interest and I opened the panel by asking all the women in the room to raise their hand if they’ve ever felt torn back down by another woman at work. Every single hand went up. 

And that’s when I really started to reflect on my own tough-girl stance. I liked being the woman who could cut it. I liked being the woman who could laugh at crude jokes, didn’t take myself too seriously and didn’t get offended. But then I looked around and I was the only woman in the room. 

When I was at Mattel, I distinctly remember one of my colleagues who was eight months pregnant. She was getting ready to go out on leave and Mattel as a company offered a robust paid leave benefit.

We were all planning for who was going to pick up her work while she was out. And then she started regaling us with stories of her first pregnancy, and how she was answering emails and taking phone calls in the delivery room. We tried to cover her meetings, but she said, “Don’t. Put me on them. I don’t want to miss anything. I can do it.”

And the impression, even for those who believe in paid family leave and support for families, was that it’s nice — but it’s for people who aren’t tough enough. And we keep doing this, to the point that the United States is now the only industrialized nation in the entire world that has no paid leave at all. 

So in my job now, I became the second senator in state history to be pregnant while in office. The first actually planned her pregnancy for when we would be on recess, because there is no leave policy for legislators, and there’s no way to vote remotely. We can’t do our jobs from home. You have to be in the Capitol. So there’s a political risk that if you take time off to be with your newborn, you’re going to miss votes. She planned to give birth heading into a recess so she wouldn’t miss anything. I wish I could say that my husband and I planned that well, but we didn’t.

My due date was January 21st, which was about 10 days after the start of the session, right when we were getting started. And I had a decision in front of me. I could try to tough it out and get back there as quickly as I could. Or I could take the full leave. I thought really long and hard about this. 

State employees in Michigan are granted 12 weeks of leave. I’m not technically a state employee — I’m in this weird purgatory of employees within the state — but I took it anyway. I decided that it was important to be with my newborn, to figure out how to be a mom, to heal.  And I knew that it was a risk. I knew that there would be an attack. I knew that there would be ads against me. But I decided to take it head on and share my own experiences because if we don’t live our values, other women won’t have the same opportunities that we do. 

On day 2 of being a new mom, we got a call in my office from a lobbyist who told my Chief of Staff, “Hey, I know Mallory’s on break, but could we get some time with her? Maybe tomorrow, for a client?” And I don’t even blame them for reaching out, because again, the impression is that it’s this nice surface level thing, but we don’t actually believe in it. She’s tougher than that. I wanted to share very viscerally the graphic details of what it was like two days after giving birth, but simply declined the meeting.  

I think it matters that people try to show up as their whole selves. As women, we need to model what we want to see. I am a mom who is a senator. That means that sometimes I’m not going to be able to attend evening events. I’m not going to want to go out for drinks. I’m not going to want to do the old boys club thing where we stay away from our families and we don’t come home, which is still very much how politics works. 

Let’s reform the systems and the spaces instead of contorting ourselves into being something that we’re not and that we shouldn’t be. We shouldn’t try to make ourselves into boys or men because the world needs a lot more women who care right now. 

 

Mallory McMorrow is an American politician who has served in the Michigan Senate since January 2019 and became senate majority whip on January 1, 2023. You can reach out to her on her website, on X or on Facebook.

 

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Why Your Partner Should Max Out Their Parental Leave

As you gear up for your parenthood journey, let’s talk about parental leave — not for yourself but for your partner. Some non-birthing parents are hesitant to take it, perhaps because of social norms or a workplace vibe that makes them feel it’s not a safe career move. And some moms may have ample help and so are fine with their partners taking only a few days off. Even so, there are solid (research-backed!) reasons why your partner should max out their parental leave. Let’s explore.

Why Paternity Leave Matters

As we dive into the nitty-gritty, let’s chat about why paternity leave** is so important. Beyond helping with middle-of-the-night feedings and diaper changes, having your partner by your side during those early days can set you up for more equal parenting over time. When non-birthing parents are involved from day one, it eases the load for moms and helps foster a more equal partnership at home — which means a stronger relationship with less resentment.

Research shows that dads who take paternity leave are more involved in caregiving long-term. This means more support for you and a stronger bond for the whole family.  New moms with partners who are actively helping with the baby have a better chance of avoiding postpartum depression. And studies also show that fathers’ involvement in childcare from the outset brings stronger bonding and positive outcomes for children, including better cognitive development and emotional stability. 

There are financial reasons too. Paternity leave increases mothers’ wages in the short term and helps to increase total household financial well-being in the long term. Research conducted on roughly 9,000 families measured parental pay one year prior to childbirth and again when children were on average four years old. Surprisingly, it found that mothers’ incomes rose about 7 percent for each month that a father spent at home on paternity leave. 

In the Workplace

Taking full advantage of any paternity leave benefits also sets a powerful example within organizations. It normalizes that the benefit is for all parents and signals to colleagues and employers that caregiving responsibilities are not just for women. And if parental leave is simply something that everyone does when they become parents, then there won’t be negative repercussions when women take it. 

We should set expectations in an organization that [partners taking parental leave] is normal,” said Erica Lockheimer, former VP Engineering at LinkedIn. “This is called creating a human population and creating families. This is part of life. And so embracing that in our policies is also really important.” This shift in mindset can help combat the stigma surrounding mothers in the workplace and the motherhood penalty, and encourage more equitable policies and practices in the long run.

Important Yet Illusive

That said, not everyone can take advantage of parental leave. In the United States, The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) offers up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave, but not everyone qualifies. You have to have been with your employer for at least 12 months beforehand. And let’s be real – unpaid leave isn’t always feasible. 32% of partners reported getting paid parental leave in 2023 through their state of residence or their employers. In fact, more than 70% of American fathers return to work full time less than two weeks after the birth of their child.

Only slightly better than the US, India offers 15 days of paid paternity leave only to government employees. Contrast this with Sweden, touting a whopping 480 days of paid leave per child with 90 days reserved just for each parent. Partners use 30% of all available days, and more than 80% of fathers are taking it. In fact, foregoing paternity leave in Sweden has actually become somewhat taboo. And not surprisingly, more generous leave policies, especially with “use it or lose it” days reserved just for partners, often mean more dads are taking time off. And that’s a win for everyone. 

Best Practices

Most partners who take paternity leave do one of two things:

  • They take their entire leave at once to really immerse themselves in those early days and make it easy for their employers to find a replacement.
  • Or they split the leave into two chunks, taking a month or more at the beginning to help through the adjustment period and then the rest when you go back to work. This allows partners to take on significant responsibility, with the bonus of delaying paid childcare.

Occasionally partners aren’t quite sure what to do with themselves when they’re home, since so much of the physical load is on mothers who are trying to heal and feed their babies. Presence, helping wherever possible, and demonstrating support go a long way.

Business consultant Caitlin Leverenz Smith believes it’s important to establish the norm of fathers taking parental leave the same as mothers do. “It’s so simple and seems so obvious, and we’ve even felt it just in the tension between my husband and I,” she says. “He’s like, well, I can go back to work. You know, he doesn’t physically have a child attached to him trying to feed off of him… But it’s important to be intentional about taking that time so that there’s equal space held.”

The managers we’ve interviewed would agree. “I think one of the things I like as an engineering leader is having different folks on the team that take leave,” said Erica Lockheimer. “I love when the men take parental leave because sometimes in the early days of my career, I’d hear like, ‘Oh, she took time off. This project is behind.’ How is that okay? Those are not the kind of conversations we should have.” 

Deciding on Leave

Sometimes partners are hesitant to take parental leave, even if they’ll still receive paychecks. They might feel a huge responsibility to their jobs and fear being gone for an extended period. If they’re in a new role, they may think they haven’t proven themselves yet and so don’t have stable footing. They may assume the company will not be able to function without them. Or they could be afraid of being sidelined for future promotions or projects, like mothers often are. 

If your partner isn’t yet sold on the concept, look at these results from a McKinsey study of 126 fathers who took parental leave:

  • 100% were glad they took the leave and would do it again
  • 90% noticed an improvement in their relationship with their partner
  • 20% felt that a career setback was the main downside, but that the benefits outweighed that worry
  • Many fathers in the study said that paternity leave gave them perspective and helped them change the way they work, becoming more productive and better prioritizing their time
  • Fathers in the study liked that their leave-taking could inspire others to make similar choices
A Thought to Leave You With

As you embark on this incredible journey into parenthood, paternity leave isn’t just about time off – it’s about building a foundation of love, support, and equality. Advocate for equitable parental leave policies in your organization and encourage your partner to take it too. Your family will be healthier, closer, and happier. And you’ll also set yourself up for greater success both at home and in your career.

**We fully acknowledge that non-birthing partners can have any gender. For the sake of clarity, we’re using “paternity leave” in this article as a succinct, non-gendered term which is interchangeable with “parental leave for non-birthing parents” or “parental leave for partners.”

 

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Payscale’s Annual Gender Pay Gap Report 2024

The uncontrolled gender pay gap tells us that the distribution of high-earning prestigious jobs in society favors men, while the presence of the controlled gender pay gap tells us that at least some women are still being paid less than men when doing the same jobs.

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Closing the Gender Pay Gap

Keith and Maura are work colleagues in similar roles. Keith negotiated confidently for his salary, citing his prior earnings as a starting point. Because Maura had a 1-year career break on her resume, the company offered her 8% less than it originally offered Keith. Afraid that her offer might be rescinded if she pushed too hard, Maura was not as assertive as Keith and agreed to the lower salary. 

This is one example of the gender pay gap — a persistent and pervasive problem that affects women of all backgrounds, ages, and levels of education. On average, women workers make 83 cents for every dollar a man makes. But as they rise in the ranks, the pay gap increases. Female managers and supervisors earn 83 cents, directors 82 cents, and executives make 72 cents on the dollar. Women may enter the workplace at a lower wage, and then work disruptions like maternity and caregiving leave play a role. 

The pay gap is not only unjust — it’s also bad for the economy, society, and a company’s performance. It reduces women’s income, wealth, and economic security, which in turn affects their health and well-being. It also limits women’s opportunities and potential, hampering their contribution to a company’s innovation and productivity. It’s important to note that diverse teams have been proven to make better decisions and to boost the bottom line — so it’s in an employer’s best interest to take action.

According to the World Economic Forum, it will take 169 years to close the global gender pay gap at the current rate of progress. But fortunately there are concrete steps corporate leaders can take now to avoid this disparity while also lowering the company’s legal risk. Let’s take a look.

Set new employees’ starting pay without regard to their prior pay. One of the factors that contributes to the gender pay gap is the history of discrimination and undervaluation of women’s work in the labor market. Women often start their careers with lower salaries than men, and this gap widens over time as they face fewer raises, bonuses, and promotions. To break this cycle, base your new hires’ pay on the value of the job, the skills and qualifications required, and the market rate, rather than on their previous or expected salary. And avoid asking candidates about their salary history or expectations, since this can lead to anchoring bias and perpetuate the problem.

Adjust your existing employees’ pay to match new employees’ pay for the same job. Setting fair and transparent pay for new employees is just part of the equation. You also need to address any existing inequities among your current staff. Regularly review and update your compensation practices to ensure all employees are paid equitably for the same or comparable work, and that there are no unjustified or discriminatory gaps based on gender or other factors. Communicate openly with your employees about how their pay is determined and how they can advance in their careers.

Establish an objective compensation policy. Lack of clear and consistent criteria for setting and adjusting pay can result in arbitrary and subjective decisions that favor some employees over others. So don’t leave it to the hiring manager’s discretion. Develop and implement a policy that defines the roles, responsibilities, and expectations for each job, the methods and sources for determining the level and pay range, and the procedures and criteria for granting raises, bonuses, and incentives. Train and monitor your hiring managers to ensure that they follow the policy and apply it fairly and consistently to all employees.

Reject affinity bias. Affinity bias is the common tendency to like, trust, and favor people who are similar to ourselves. It creates a homogenous culture in the workplace, where men are more likely to hire, mentor, and promote other men, and women are more likely to face barriers, challenges, and isolation. To overcome this, foster a diverse and inclusive culture in your organization, where people of all genders and backgrounds are valued, respected, and supported. Encourage and facilitate cross-gender collaboration, networking, and mentoring, and ensure that women have equal access to opportunities.

Make sure assignments and promotions are offered equitably. The type and quality of work assigned also contributes to the gender pay gap. Women often face a double bind: they are either assigned less challenging and visible tasks that limit their exposure and advancement, or they are assigned more demanding and stressful tasks that increase their workload and burnout. They are also less likely to receive credit and recognition for their contributions, and more likely to face backlash and criticism for their achievements. So make sure your employees are assigned and evaluated based on their skills, performance, and potential, rather than their gender or other demographics. Provide constructive feedback and recognition, and reward them for their results and impact.

Offer the same parental leave and caregiving benefits to all employees. Unequal distribution of unpaid work and care responsibilities between men and women is another contributing factor. Women often bear the primary or sole responsibility for taking care of children, elderly, or sick relatives, which affects their availability and flexibility at work. They also face more workplace bias for juggling their work and family roles, and penalties for taking time off or reducing their hours. To address this, provide equal and adequate parental leave and caregiving benefits to all your employees, regardless of their gender or marital status. Also create a supportive and flexible work environment, so your employees can meet both their personal and professional needs. Just as importantly, encourage and enable both women and men to share the work and care responsibilities, and to take full advantage of the benefits and flexibility available to them.

Conduct an annual pay equity audit and analysis. One of the most important steps toward closing the gender pay gap in your organization is to measure and monitor it regularly. Regularly collect and compare employee salary data and identify and explain any disparities based on gender or other factors. Also measure the impact and effectiveness of your policies and practices on pay equity, and address any weaknesses. Then communicate your results and the actions you have taken or will take to close the gaps.

Make your pay scale public. Another way to promote pay equity in your organization is to make your pay scale public and transparent. This means that you disclose and share salaries and pay-setting policies with your internal and external stakeholders. This can help you increase the trust and confidence of your employees, customers, investors, and partners, and demonstrate your commitment to pay equity. It can also help you attract and retain more diverse and talented employees, and enhance your reputation and competitiveness in the market.

Allow employees to talk about their wages. A common barrier to pay equity is the lack of information and awareness among employees about their own and others’ pay. Many employees do not know how much they are paid compared to their peers or counterparts, or whether they are paid fairly and equally for their work. Many employers also discourage or prohibit employees from discussing or disclosing their wages, either explicitly or implicitly, which creates a culture of secrecy and silence around pay. To address this, allow and encourage your employees to talk about their wages, and to seek and share information and feedback on their pay. You should also educate your employees about their rights and responsibilities regarding pay equity, and the resources and support systems available to them.

Encourage ERGs and other affinity groups to help determine pay policy. Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) and other affinity groups are voluntary and employee-led organizations that bring together workers who share a common identity, such as gender, race, disability, or LGBTQ+. These groups can play a vital role in advancing pay equity by providing a platform and voice for your employees to express their needs, concerns, and suggestions regarding pay and other issues. They can help you design and implement your pay policies and practices by providing input, feedback, and recommendations based on their perspectives and experiences. And they can help you communicate and engage with their members around these issues.

Realize that pay equity is not only about gender parity. Finally, recognize and acknowledge that pay equity is not only about gender parity, but also about intersectionality and inclusion. For some people, different forms of discrimination, such as sexism, racism, ableism, and homophobia, can overlap and interact to create unique and compounded disadvantages, so it’s important to make sure that all people are valued, respected, and supported in the workplace, regardless of their identity, background, or circumstance. To achieve pay equity, do address the gender pay gap —  but also the racial pay gap, the disability pay gap, the LGBTQ+ pay gap, and any others that affect your employees. Handle all of it together, ensuring that your pay policies and practices are inclusive and responsive to your employees’ diverse and specific needs.

Gratitude to Craig Leen, K&L Gates Partner, Former OFCCP Director, Law Professor of Government, and gender equity expert for his contribution to this article.
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Coaches, Mentors and Champions

Who’s got this work-thing wrapped up and so completely under control that you never need to ask anyone for suggestions or advice? 

Anyone? 

Us either. 

In our journeys towards personal and professional success, we can all benefit from a support system. You’ve probably heard that coaches, mentors and champions (also known as sponsors) can provide guidance and encouragement. But how do you know what you need at any given time? Let’s take a look at each one, the differences between them, and why all three are important for working women, in particular.

The Coach

Have you ever thought it might be nice to have a strategic partner by your side to help you identify and tackle your personal and professional goals? Enter the coach! Think of them as your reliable ally, offering support, guidance, and feedback to help you navigate challenges, make informed decisions, and achieve your desired outcomes. They’re not just advisors; they’re the professionals who show you the ropes in the most efficient and polished manner, assisting you in honing your talents. A coach’s expertise makes you better equipped to handle workplace challenges and reach your true potential. Coaching is typically a paid service, an investment in yourself that can yield significant returns.

Here are some benefits:

Skill enhancement. Coaches provide specific feedback to build skills and address weaknesses.

Goal setting. They help in setting and achieving realistic, measurable goals.

Accountability. Coaches keep you accountable for your actions, which helps you work toward your goals with discipline.

There are many types of coaches, and here are a few that provide support at the crossroads of work and life:

  • Career coaches help you grow in your current role, guide career decisions, and advise on work-life integration.
  • Entrepreneurship coaches support you in building a business. 
  • Executive / leadership coaches enhance your leadership skills at work.
  • Life coaches focus on personal growth and relationships, self-worth and self-confidence, and taking action towards living a life with purpose.

Consider this scenario: you’ve been laid off from your most recent position, you’re feeling a bit uncertain and not-so-confident about your career prospects, and think you might like to pursue a different type of role or industry. That’s where a career coach comes in. They’ll team up with you to assess your skills and interests, focus your sights on the right role and type of company, boost your confidence, sharpen your interviewing skills, and craft a strategic plan for attacking your job search. From updating your resume to refining your networking skills, they’ve got you covered. Think of them as your career makeover partner, guiding you through a seamless transition. 

Or let’s say you’ve been in the same company for a few years and are hoping for a promotion into a leadership role. An executive coach could work with you to evaluate and hone your executive presence, identify opportunities both inside and outside of your workplace where you can demonstrate your authority, and help you level up your leadership game.

So how do you find the right person to work with? Start by researching coaches in your industry on platforms like LinkedIn, or explore online coaching platforms like BetterUp and WRK/360. You can also ask around at industry events, conferences, or workshops where coaches often hang out.

Once you identify someone you’d like to consider working with, schedule a consultation — it’s like grabbing a coffee to see if you click. Discuss your goals, their approach, and see if it feels like a good fit. Ask for client testimonials or case studies to check their track record. Think of it as doing your due diligence. And if you want more info, you can check out this article for extra insights on how and when to choose a coach. 

The Mentor

Wouldn’t it be great to have a career guide who’s been there? That’s the essence of a mentor — someone with a treasure trove of career experience, both successes and setbacks, ready to share their lessons learned. Imagine reaching out to this wise person for valuable advice, constructive feedback, organizational know-how, inspiration and encouragement. 

Here’s the key. For this mentor-mentee relationship to flourish, there has to be openness and honesty on both sides. It’s like having a heart-to-heart with a trusted friend who genuinely cares about your success. The cool part? Most mentors do this out of the goodness of their hearts and see it as an opportunity to give back.

Key benefits include:

Wisdom transfer. Mentors share valuable insights and lessons learned from their own career journeys.

Networking. They can introduce you to valuable connections within their networks.

Longevity. Mentorship often develops into a long-term, mutually beneficial relationship.

Mentorship can take various forms, ranging from formal arrangements within organizations to informal relationships developed through networking or personal connections. Mentors may be found in diverse settings, including the workplace, educational institutions, community organizations, or social circles.

Let’s say you’re a working mom who’s constantly juggling, with a goal of leveling up to a leadership role without dropping any balls. Cue the potential mentor — another working mom, a seasoned player in the senior management game.

This mentor is your go-to guru. At regularly scheduled meetups (which can be in person or virtual), you’ll have the opportunity to ask your questions. And she’s all about spilling the secrets on networking, building a supportive team, and mastering the corporate maze. 

At the same time, mentorship is a 2-way relationship. Show your mentor you have their back by demonstrating interest in their lives and sharing information, news or insights that will help them in their own roles. 

Finding the perfect mentor is like searching for your career confidante. Sometimes a mentorship relationship develops naturally. But if you need to actively seek one, start off by spotting the stars in your organization or industry whose career stories vibe with your goals. Look for those mentors who not only possess qualities you admire but also have the time to invest in your mentorship journey.

If you’re aiming for an in-house mentor, hit up internal networking events, mentorship programs, or affinity groups. And if you’re looking for someone outside your current company, platforms like LinkedIn, industry events, and your alumni network can be treasure troves for finding potential mentors. There are also established organizations that can match you with a mentor — you can find them at liftery.com/resources!

Once you’ve found your desired mentor match, graciously ask them for a 30-minute coffee or video chat, taking care to clearly and succinctly explain why you’re seeking their wisdom and how your needs and interests align with their expertise. In this first meeting, ask how they achieved [whatever it is you’d like to emulate] and listen. If the vibes are good during this first meeting, you can ask for another… and eventually suggest making it a regular gig, like a catch-up every month. 

For more details, dive into this article for an extra dose of mentorship insight. 

The Champion

Ever heard of champions or sponsors? They’re like your personal hype squad, actively cheering for your success both in public and behind the scenes. These amazing folks use their influence to strategically place seasoned professionals — like you — in the perfect spot at just the right time.

Why? Because they’ve seen you in action, tackling situations like a pro, and knocking goals out of the park with the perfect approach and timing. They have you on their radars and when the time’s right, they’re ready to sing your praises as the perfect candidate for that coveted project, role, or promotion. Isn’t it awesome to have someone out there actively rooting for your success? We think so too! 

Here’s why having a champion is crucial:

Visibility. Champions promote your achievements, ensuring you get the recognition you deserve.

Opportunity Matching. Because they’re at the table where new initiatives are discussed, they tell you about related opportunities for advancement and how to go get ’em.

Advocacy. They actively recommend you for plum projects or roles.

While coaches focus on goal setting and skill development, and mentors provide guidance based on personal experiences, champions actively advocate for an individual’s success. Champions are particularly known for their public support and proactive efforts in promoting the interests and achievements of the person they champion. 

Let’s say you’re a determined software engineer with your eyes set on a leadership role. Sarah, a respected senior manager, has noticed your great work in the past. You decide to reach out, sharing your career goals. Sarah’s not just impressed; she becomes your advocate. Because she’s in the room where the decisions are made, she recommends you for key projects and even offers valuable pointers along the way. Thanks to Sarah’s sponsorship, you land that coveted leadership position.

Finding your real-life champion can be an organic process, where your good work catches the eye of someone influential in your organization. Or it can take some intentionality. 

If you’re in the latter camp, start out by keeping an eye out for leaders who recognize potential and have a history of supporting others. Look for the well-connected and respected ones within your organization — ideally those with the influence to make things happen. They’re the ones you want in your corner.

Now, the key. Do good work and make it visible to them. Take on impactful projects and ensure your achievements are on their radar.

Engage with these potential sponsors. Seek their advice on challenges and get feedback on your work. It’s about building a connection and letting them see your potential.

You’re the architect of finding and securing the right champions. Once you’ve got them, keep them in the loop. Provide all the info they need to champion you in meetings and negotiations that take place behind closed doors.

For more insights, check out this article.

Why Women Should Actively Seek Career Support

We all know that women are ambitious and just as dedicated to their careers as men are. But we also know that there are hurdles that women in particular need to jump over in order to achieve the same upward mobility. McKinsey’s recent Women in the Workplace report points out the typical broken ladder and glass ceiling moments — women stuck in junior roles, feeling overqualified, and notably underrepresented at the C-suite level, where only one in four leaders are women, and women of color represent just one in 16.

Focusing on leadership readiness with a coach, making good use of a mentor’s tangible advice and contacts, and having the internal support of a respected sponsor can help you ascend through the typical trouble spots. And as you do so, consider being that mentor or champion for a woman who’s your junior.

Because here’s the coolest part. This is not just about individual growth. By having these awesome figures in your corner — and by being that awesome figure for an up-and-comer — you’re personally contributing toward building a workplace that mirrors diversity, counters historical gender imbalances… and experiences greater profitability as a result.

 

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Why Parents Struggle So Much in the World’s Richest Country

If you have children in America, it is up to you to keep them safe, healthy, and well cared for. This philosophy shapes government policy in some obvious ways: The U.S. is one of the only countries in the world without guaranteed paid maternity leave.

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Things I Wish I’d Known When I Started My Career

Having spent more than two decades in the IT sector steering teams, overseeing projects, and confronting the challenges posed by the ever-evolving technical landscape, it’s fair to say that I’ve had my share of both failures and successes. And from both, I’ve emerged with many learnings. To give you a head start in your own leadership journey, I’m sharing some of the things I wish I’d known when I started my career.

What is leadership?

Leadership involves much more than simply issuing directives. It requires a delicate balance of skills, openness to feedback from a variety of sources, and the ability to identify and draw valuable lessons from the chaotic buzz that surrounds us. True leadership necessitates the ability to inspire, encourage, and guide others toward a common goal.

Leadership doesn’t occur in a vacuum. It happens in the dynamic environment of an organization, a team, or a project. True leaders can detect patterns, extract significant lessons, and use these insights to make educated decisions amid a frenzy of actions and constant noise.

Leadership isn’t about the destination. It’s also about the journey — and the people traveling with you. Effective leaders recognize that the people they lead are just as important as the goals they pursue. They place importance not only on the assignments at hand but also on the growth and well-being of their team members. Building strong, collaborative, and motivated teams is a leader’s top objective.

Leadership isn’t about success. It’s a multidimensional journey that includes both success and failure. It entails not only steering a course toward goals but also accepting feedback from various sources. Effective leaders are not threatened by feedback; instead, they actively seek it out and use it to refine their approaches. It requires adaptability, the ability to learn from mistakes, and a focus on developing and nurturing others. 

The principles below guide my leadership strategy. They’re my compass in navigating both challenges and opportunities, they anchor me in purpose, and they inform my decisions and activities.

My top five principles of leadership

  1. People tend to remember your latest accomplishments — so it’s vital to keep up a strong, consistent performance.
  2. A collaborative workplace requires the establishment of a proficient and balanced team.
  3. Your reputation is crucial, as it influences trust and the willingness of others to listen and act on your advice.
  4. You need to stay optimistic in the face of challenges to effectively inspire and lead a team.
  5. While talent is important, character plays an equally significant role in achieving success, as employers promote candidates who possess the right values, a positive attitude, a hunger for learning, and who fit the company culture.

I firmly believe that these five things — consistent performance, teamwork, reputation, optimism, and character — form a critical foundation for a successful leadership career. 

Now let’s take a look at some action items.

Ten actionable strategies to drive your success

Actively think about your next project now. Be intentional in planning for your future experiences and growth, and don’t passively wait for opportunities to land in your lap. Start by setting short term goals that lead you toward your longer term objective. As you reach each milestone, celebrate and allow your growing confidence to carry over into your next endeavor. I discovered that the more deeply I involved myself in a project, the more creative and idea-generating I became. So invest thought cycles into making sure that your projects are leading you in a direction you want to pursue.

Don’t be afraid of failure. Back in school, I was studious but timid. I worried about what my peers would say if I contributed ideas or asked questions in class. But failing and seeking answers are both necessary steps in the learning process. If something’s on your mind, speak up. Your idea might be accepted or rejected, but both are okay. Embrace failure, as that’s when you truly discover success.

Absolutely negotiate. I discovered the power of negotiation when I came to North America. I was keenly aware of my status as an immigrant, and at first, I was afraid of being thrown out of the country. As I became more comfortable with life in the United States, I started seeing it as a place of opportunity. This new mindset helped me begin to value myself, my skillset and my time, which I channeled into my budding negotiation skills. And I have been using them to shape my career ever since. Artful negotiation takes time, practice, self-confidence, and instinct. So start working on it now.

Find an advocate. Growing up, we are taught that hard work will be rewarded. I have found in my career that this is not the case. It is who you know, as well as what you know that will advance your career. The tech industry, my stomping ground, is still dominated by men, and I have needed to overcome plenty of obstacles, especially as an immigrant. I have become frustrated watching perfectly qualified, talented women become disillusioned and leave the industry, never to return. Women succeed when they support each other. And if you’re the only woman in the room, then turn to a male ally. Find yourself an advocate who has your best interests in mind and vouches for you behind closed doors.

You may look different from your peers, but you have just as much value. I have sat in many meetings where I have been the only brown-skinned woman in the room. It can feel lonely. But every time I feel like an imposter, I remind myself of all the hard work and sacrifice that got me here. Regardless of the path we take to reach our destination, we’re all sitting around the same table with our shared commitment to the project at hand.

As a manager, I recognize and celebrate that everyone has their own unique perspective. All are valuable, and we need to create a supportive environment where everyone feels comfortable enough to speak up. Having team members with diverse backgrounds at the table makes for better decisions. Just make sure your team is focused on your similarities and common goals.

Success will come and go, and that’s okay. Success is not a solid destination but more of a feeling. You feel that sense of pride and fulfillment when you achieve something — and then it disappears. But the ebb and flow of success is normal. The key is to use each success as a building block for the next one and to let your learnings motivate you to rise to another challenge. As my career has progressed, I’ve realized it is not about that elusive feeling of success. It is about building a life solid enough to withstand the currents. Surround yourself with loved ones, and you can do anything.

Do not compare your success to others’. You are the only one who can define your success. I am a goal-oriented person. My leadership superpower is my ability to motivate my teams to unite and focus on achieving a common objective. I feel a sense of accomplishment when a project’s milestones are achieved, and when my team is able to collaborate without me. Your feeling of success might come in meeting a goal. Or it might be triggered by a new position with a corner office. Or something else entirely. You get to decide.

It’s not just the giant leaps that count. Sometimes your dreams can feel so far away. You know what you want and have a plan to get there, but life can get in the way. Break down your dreams into small goals. When you achieve each goal, celebrate it. But also listen to your inner voice to identify the kind of life you want at each stage. Sometimes it is okay to say no to advancement because of the time it takes away from your family. Work hard, and other opportunities will come your way. 

Dreams have no end. The wonderful thing about dreams is they have no expiration date. And they often materialize when you least expect, sometimes in an unanticipated form. To achieve them, relax and work on yourself. Nothing else. The impact of the work you are doing today may not be fully realized for weeks, even months. Remember that life is a journey. Enjoy the process and learn from it.

It’s never too late to start a new journey. When I was working in the United States, I shared rides with someone who had been in the armed forces for 15 years. Despite having no prior expertise or knowledge of the IT industry, he boldly became a developer and excelled. His bravery in trying something completely new was incredibly motivating, reminding us that age should never be an impediment to reaching our goals. It is never too late to start over.

Success is not about an elusive destination but rather the journey. Celebrate the small steps and your own unique victories. Strive to chart and embrace the path that leads to your fulfillment — a narrative written by your personal definition of success.

 

Neelima Mangal is an IT executive, entrepreneur, diversity advocate, and the author of Climb, Lead, Succeed. She was nominated for the Forbes Tech Council 2023 Thought Leadership Exchange — Top20 Published Member as well as the Top 50 Most Powerful Women in Tech 2022 from the US-based Tech Inclusion Committee. She also hosts The Power of Women in the World of Tech podcast, holds a nomination for Scrum Board Member, and has earned accolades like WOI22’s Authentic Leader award and Women of Inspiration. You can reach her on LinkedIn.

 

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