Being a woman in a male-dominated industry like denim comes with its own set of challenges. Being a mother adds even more.
The Covid-19 pandemic, which forced down the barriers between work and home, helped expose the otherwise invisible plight of being both a professional and a mother. For parents, video conference calls carried a potential for interruptions at the hands of needy children navigating their new normal.
According to Katie Tague, vice president, marketing and sales at Artistic Milliners, kids were the pandemic’s “great equalizer” that exposed employees’ human side and offered the rest of the team a glimpse of their daily challenges. Put simply: Sometimes it takes a child appearing on a screen to demonstrate the reality of balancing parenthood and professionalism.
On Wednesday, The Women in Denim—which originated as a panel topic at the Munich trade show Bluezone and evolved into a global network for female denim professionals—brought together industry leaders to discuss some of the unconscious biases projected onto women. One topic centered around the idea that a woman can’t excel in her career while also maintaining a family.
This concept, which stems from the traditional belief that the maternal figure within a family should also be the main caregiver, is reflected in women’s salaries. A 2018 study published by the National Bureau of Economic Research found that after women have children, their earning potential drops 20 percent below their male colleagues’. It’s what has caused many working women to work and live in silos, keeping their family life private as a way to curb judgement and present to the world that they can do it all.
“Before Covid, I felt like I was putting on this persona that I didn’t have kids. I became the super worker or the super mom,” said Kristina Berrios, global accounts director at U.K.-based industrial thread manufacturer Coats. “It was an identity crisis that I just had to break.”
Giving 100 percent both at the office and at home is unsustainable—especially if a workplace maintains a rigid or outdated structure. Mothers’ rooms, flexible work hours and remote work opportunities are necessities for an expecting or working mother. And while many offices are now equipped with these elements and are opening up to the idea of a more flexible structure in light of Covid-19, that wasn’t always the case.
Like many other working mothers, Tague detailed moments throughout her career in which rigidity and structure were prioritized over all else. Though her request for alternative work hours was approved, she still felt a sense of guilt if she needed to miss an evening meeting.
“Understanding the culture of your company is very important,” she said. “I couldn’t find that level of support in a corporate setting, so I left and started my own.”
The experience taught Tague a valuable lesson that all professionals should learn: Work unseen is work not done, and over-communicating is often necessary when juggling multiple responsibilities.
“It’s much easier for someone to see what’s not being done than to see what you are doing,” she said. “Don’t be shy to list out what you’re working on and how you’re making up any gaps.” Transparency, as it relates to workload and personal challenges, can help the team understand the full value you bring to the table, with or without a child, she said.