By Katie Patterson, Founder and CEO, Happy Medium
It’s not lost on me that I’m sitting down (finally) at 7:59 p.m. on Tuesday (this blog’s due date) to write it. And like clockwork, the second I sat down, after working all day to run my companies followed by a Pinterest-inspired homemade pasta night with my 8-year-old son for some much needed and requested quality time with him, my 2-year-old (who I thought was fully asleep) starts crying and I need to go check on him. Be right back …
OK, got the pacifier back in and we’re set up for success (hopefully). Also, note to self, wean 2-year-old off the pacifier.
The mental load of a mother is unmatched and often referred to as “invisible labor.” For women who want to be in the workforce, we’ve come so far through the years. I am so incredibly grateful for the women before us who pushed our gender to the position it’s in.
As a woman who started my own company in the Midwest at 27 years old, I took this for granted. It wasn’t until I was in the trenches that I realized my own grandmother was born during a time where women weren’t allowed to vote. We often have to look backward to see how far we’ve come.
When I look backward, I see the generations of women before me being incredible in each of their own ways. My mother will tell me stories of growing up and never once eating any form of store-bought bread. My grandmother made everything homemade. She did the books for my grandfather’s plumbing and heating business and raised my mother and aunt. She spent her days in the house and her primary responsibility was being a mother.
My other grandmother also didn’t work full time until my dad was in high school. Their jobs were to raise the kids because, let’s be honest, raising children is a full-time job. Both of my grandmothers were progressive in their own way just for doing some work outside of the home even though their model was flipped from where many women are now. The majority of their time was spent with their kids and maintaining their home, with a few hours spent doing paid work.
Today, many women have progressed not only to working 40 hours per week in full-time jobs outside the home, but also filling incredibly demanding roles – managers, C-suite, and “always on” positions. So we’ve pushed through and earned our seat at the table, except now we’re just responsible for more tables (dining room and conference room), and it feels really overwhelming and often very lonely.
Beyond feeling these emotions of the mental load, as women, we also take on the physical demands of childbearing, labor and giving birth. We’re called birth warriors, then we’re sent home with a newborn, often just 48 hours after giving birth or having major medical surgery. We have to immediately transition into the full-time caretaker of a completely helpless tiny human whose sleep schedule is completely backward.
When we have any other type of surgery, we’re given significant time to heal and not be responsible for a newborn. Mothers are asked to go through all of this, and then are often within days pushed back to working outside their home again. All this is after nine months of the physical demands of pregnancy and working jobs during all of it.
Why are we having any conversations other than fully supporting women to be paid during this traumatic time? But here we are, fighting for the right to be treated with basic human decency.
The U.S. ranks last among industrialized countries relative to employee benefits like health care, paid leave, vacation days, unemployment and retirement, according to Zenefits. States can raise their standards from federal minimums.
When I started my company I didn’t have children. I was only 27 and living blissfully unaware of the mental load the former female colleagues who were mothers had the entire time we worked together.
I did, however, know that the company I worked for before I started Happy Medium had me on a 100% commission plan, and I knew that their maternity leave plan was to not pay you your commission. Even if you had pre-sold everything and placed the orders, you would not get paid on them. You were put on short-term disability at a fraction of what you were owed and the company actually profited from you being out. They would then ask the other sales reps to manage your clients for three months and pay them $0 on it. Nothing. The money you sold was just going directly to the company, and people were forced to work on it for free and you were not paid what you were owed.
I didn’t know what it was like to have a baby yet, but I absolutely knew this was not OK. So when I started my own company and eventually started to need to build company policies, it was never a question in my mind if we were going to pay the women on our team 100% for 12 weeks’ maternity leave. Eventually, we evolved it to be even more inclusive and supportive of our families by adding in fathers and adoptive parents to this benefit. I am a firm believer if my small company can find a way to do this, many more can as well. Yes, it’s hard and sometimes complicated, but I consider it a basic human right – so we make it happen, no questions asked.
We’ve come a long way, but in the progress chain of events, we seem to be at the point where women can be anything, anywhere, and we’re expecting them to be everything, everywhere. That doesn’t work. It makes for frazzled mothers, which often makes for frazzled children and co-workers. Then the mothers blame themselves for not being able to do it all, and we slightly tell them they shouldn’t have to, but our actions do not support our words.
We have babies, and within days people are asking us to be at events, on meetings, come over, plus we feel the social pressure to have a clean house or entertain. I remember being on my leave and right after my kids were born I just wanted to completely be on my own with my little family for a while – I didn’t want visitors or to open up Slack or email. Even so, I felt so much pressure to let visitors come over and check in at work. I own a company so perhaps this felt slightly different for me, but I doubt it. The pressure is too much.
So how do we make it better? It’s unfortunately become very clear our country is not going to prioritize this. I don’t understand how women aren’t marching and demanding paid leave, but we’re not there yet.
What we can do is localize the support. Work to use our newer presence in the C-suite and leadership roles to change our company policies. This is a huge priority for me and I’m always happy to do what I can to help other leaders see the way. We can no longer ask this much of women. We are humans and need to be treated as such.