Becoming a mother ‘makes women better at their jobs’ was an article in HR Grapevine based on a Microsoft survey which really got me thinking today. Which is unusual in itself as throughout my 25+ years in a very male dominated IT industry I have purposely ignored any (and there were many) inequalities between myself and my male counterparts. My attitude has always been to ignore any discrimination injustice and to drive, drive, drive forward with my eyes firmly focused on reaching my goals in my own sweet way. If that meant I had to run twice as fast to reach half as far, whilst at the same time managing a home and raising two sons single handedly, then so be it. It had been my choice all the way down the line and I wasn’t going to bleat about it.
But this article did make me think. It made me think about some of the people I’d employed over the years; the mums, the dads, the singletons and marrieds, the rising stars, the climbers, the loners and to be quite honest the odd no hopers. All day, on and off, I’ve been conducting my own mini research drawing on personal experience of building, managing and leading teams of IT professionals.
As I mentally flicked through the contacts database stored in my head I recalled a number of characters who might lend substance to these findings from Microsoft.
Let me introduce you to just a few of these characters. Obviously I’m not going to mention names but for those of you who know me, you will very quickly recognise either yourself or a colleague or two.
Ok, so first up is Larry, an extremely bright and talented single male in his mid 30’s with no personal responsibilities. Larry had a real knack for taking in the most complex of architectures and technical designs in record time and relaying them in clear and concise terms that could be easily understood. Larry lived 15 minutes from the office but could not, for the love of God nor money, get his lazy arse into the office by 9am, 9.30am or even 11.30am on a regular basis. He lost the respect of his colleagues for this and, to be honest, other reasons I won’t go into here.
Under the Thumb
Then there was George. George was a great guy, highly technical, good communicator, great developer and manager too. The problem with George was that he had four very young and beautiful children and a wife who struggled to cope at home despite having a strong family support system around her. I found myself in a tug of war with George’s wife: I wanted him to work at least part time in the office while his stay at home wife wanted him home 24/7. Even if he managed to escape out on a work social event he would get a phone call early on in the evening and there’d be a reason why he had to go home straight away.
Under the Rugby Team
Now meet Katie, a highly experienced project manager who had the skills and knowledge needed to be truly magnificent in her chosen field. Katie was also single, footloose and fancy free so again, no family responsibilities to juggle alongside her working life. However, Katie’s main ambition in life appeared to be to shag her way through the local rugby team and anybody else who wandered into her line of vision. Katie therefore found it difficult to keep her mind on the job (her daytime job) and as a subsequence performed at a mediocre level rather than that the exceptional level she was both capable of and being paid for.
Super Mum, Super Employee, Super Sally
Finally here’s Sally who worked her way through the ranks from BI developer through to a middle management position. You knew where you were with Sally, always capable, reliable, on time and always went that extra mile; both before and after she had two children as well as throughout each maternity period. Sally’s work was always top quality and you never had to worry about her ability to deliver or her commitment to excellence. Though this wasn’t easy for Sally, it couldn’t have been with her personal commitments, you would never have guessed it. Like a lot of working mums, she just got on with it.
While other singletons in the office were struggling to get up and into the office on time, or even in at all, there was another small band army of diligent workers, including Sally, who were up at the crack of dawn and putting in a full shift of nappies, packed lunches, doctors appointments and school runs before turning up and putting a full and productive day in at the office.
Sally wasn’t the only working mum in my team who tirelessly delivered day after day whilst at the same time being a great mum, there were several. And as a working mum myself for many happy years I never had a moments hesitation in either employing a mum or supporting a female employee through maternity leave and her right to have both family and career.
I’ve had the privilege of working with some great people, men and women, mums and dads, married and single. The characters mentioned here are exceptions not the rule. Hand on heart I can’t say my days pondering backed up Microsoft’s survey, that becoming a mother made women better at their jobs. But it did confirm my strong belief that on the whole women more than earn their right in the workplace and becoming a mum does not diminish that ability in any way what so ever.
So the next time you look over at a working mum in your workplace, be aware that her day started very early that morning. She’s already made a massive difference to someone’s world and on clocking off will be heading home to make dinner, help with homework and do the whole bedtime routine. For this if nothing else, she deserves your total respect.