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Coming out of the closet… as a mom

Categories: Working Women Issues


A few weeks ago I was speaking on the phone with a woman who works as a consultant with big corporations. She is also a mom of two kids. She has some great ideas about how to make the workplace more flexible and work-life balance friendly, so I invited her to blog on Work It, Mom! There was an awkward pause and then she said the last thing I expected her to say: “I really like what you’re doing but I try to not be associated with mommy sites. I don’t want to be pigeonholed as a mommy blogger.”

I literally didn’t know what to say (which is rare, as those of you who know me would attest to). The woman I was speaking with realized that I was surprised and went on to tell me about the horrible stigma she encounters when she mentions her kids or being a mom to some of her clients. “It’s like all of a sudden, they take me less seriously,” she told me.

Two days later, I was having an email exchange with a prominent author - also a woman and a mom - about contributing to Work It, Mom! She was excited to work with us, she said, but she wanted me to assure her that Work It, Mom! would not turn into “one of those mommy sites.” When I asked her to clarify, she said that she wanted to work with us because we struck a good balance between focusing on both the mom and the career aspects of being a working mom. She was approached by a few other sites for moms and felt that if she worked with them, she would be termed a “mommy blogger” and it would hurt her career.

I am not going to name these two women - both are bright, hard-working, incredible moms who have managed to successfully (at least from the outside) juggle work and family. But what they talked about really struck me. They didn’t want to be prominently identified as moms because they thought it would hurt their career. Their clients would take them less seriously, their opinions would be given less weight.

This is scary. How many other working moms out there are hiding in the closet so that their co-workers, bosses, clients, or readers take them seriously?

As I was thinking about this, I read this article by Eileen Goodman about how moms are consistently penalized in the workplace for being moms - they are seen as less competent and are paid less. Smart, educated, hard-working women accomplishing the same tasks and reaching the same objectives as their male counterparts are being seen as less competent for no other reason than the fact that they have children.

I’ve been a mom for three years and I am lucky - I made the same money as all the men at my firm who were at my level and I did not feel any type of judgment from my male colleagues or bosses for being a mom. But I did endlessly run into situations where other people I interacted with in my industry asked me about “my life as a mom” before they talked to me about whatever professional issues we had to deal with. Most of the time, this was innocent, but often, it was demeaning and infuriating. One situation in particular made me so angry that I wrote about it for Work It, Mom! (click here to read the story).

And I know I am not alone in trying to find that delicate - and perhaps unachievable balance - of how much of my mom identity to bring into my professional interactions. Mir writes about it in her blog posttoday, and Elana Centor talks about it in her interview.

I think this a really important conversation and one we should have collectively as professional moms. How many of us are hiding in the closet and limiting how much of our “mom” life to include in our professional interactions? We can talk about work-life balance until we’re blue in the face but if we’re afraid that coming out as a mom at work makes us appear less serious or less professional, can we really achieve any type of progress?

Please share your thoughts and reactions, as well as your personal experiences, by posting a comment.

And because I think this such an important topic, I am going to do something we’ve not done before - I am going to “tag” several great bloggers who are working moms to share their perspectives on this issue. Sara, Charlene, Susan, Penelope, Elana, Pam, BusyMom - you are it!

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15 comments so far...

  • Nataly, this is something I struggle with all the time. I actually take the radical approach. I talk all the time about my son and the things I’m dealing with. I tell people I need to work at home because my son is ill, and I’ve sent clients my blog. I flaunt being a working mom whenever I can. I think it adds to my personality and gives me some “flavor.” I will say, though, that it does irk me when people stop by office and only ask me about my son and nothing about work, but usually I just pass it off as them just making small talk to be nice. I hope to never encounter the serious side of working motherhood as in worse pay or less credibility. Actually, when I meet really successful working women and find out they’re moms too it makes me like them more. But that’s just me.

    Selfmademom  |  May 29th, 2007 at 2:55 pm

  • I find the wariness of being pigeonholed as a “mommyblogger” a little different than what I wrote about yesterday. One is about being seen as a one-note wonder, and the other is a fear of just being seen as incompetent in general. Both are interesting issues, though. Like Sara, I consider my mom-related writings sort of part of my signature, but if I didn’t have other (non-mom-related) work as well I’d likely be worried I was limiting myself.

    Ah, the joys of being a working mom. ;)

    Mir  |  May 30th, 2007 at 5:44 am

  • I responded at Career and Kids, a very interesting topic, indeed.

    Busy Mom  |  May 30th, 2007 at 7:10 am

  • Hi Nataly - thank you for posting about this. I have also been referred to as a “mommy blogger” and half of me was offended like it was some sort of insult and the other half of me embraced it. It is just so hard to define your online identity. At the end of the day, if you have children, people will eventually find out. And if you “blog” or write about parenting issues I think that shows your interest in parenting, and therefore makes you a wiser parent. Perhaps not for all, but for some of us. However, I understand there could be negative connotations out there, but isn’t that what WorkItMom! and others are trying to change? I think so! Keep it up!

    Becki  |  May 30th, 2007 at 10:29 am

  • YES! That is part of what we’re trying to achieve here at Work It, Mom! - you can be a mom and a serious professional who is great at her job and successful in her career. One does not preclude the other.

    But this has been a fascinating topic for me personally because until I came up with the idea for Work It, Mom! and started to work on building the company, I had never before brought my identify as a mom to my work. I spent years in a male-dominated venture capital industry and was I usually - save for a few incidents like the one I wrote about - taken seriously by my colleagues and partners even though they knew I was a mom and I often did have to run off to take my daughter to the doctor or relieve the nanny who had to leave early. But then I started Work It, Mom! and as I talked about it with some of the same people who were my colleagues and partners in venture capital, I sensed this almost dismissive judgment: “Oh, you’re doing some mommy business now.” It is truly amazing to me that this stigma exists - I was just on the other side of the table from these guys, negotiating multi-million dollar deals, and now because I am working on a business with a mom component to it, I am not taken seriously any more.

    Nataly  |  May 30th, 2007 at 1:08 pm

  • hi nataly,

    my response is up at jobmom:

    a great question that raises so many more. i came up with about ten other questions out of it. thanks for asking for my thoughts.



    Charlene - thank you for posting about this issue - I replied on your blog. And I think the question you bring up about fathers at work is such an important one - Work It, Dad! will be writing about it for sure! (I sent your post his way.)


    charlene/jobmom  |  May 30th, 2007 at 10:29 pm

  • Great topic Nataly.

    I am fortunate to work for a large corporation (formerly VERY male-dominated) that is deeply concerned about work/life balance and really trying to support Moms (and Dads) to “stay out of the closet”. 60% of our workforce are home-based (benefiting the company by reducing overhead), so hearing a child in the background on a conference call is just the norm for us now. And I am happy I don’t have to worry that I will be perceived negatively if I have to juggle my son in my workday if he happens to be home.

    I have always felt that blogging about my experiences makes me a better Mom to my son. And when I press that submit button posting something new or reading a blog post that I could identify with, I drop back into my work day feeling a little more energized. Which is good for my professional role and as a Mom.

    Yeah, it does bug me that we are sometimes pigeon-holed into the “Mommyblogger” tag, but it is what it is. I’m glad I found this site because these are the issues I think about every day.

    Shelli  |  May 31st, 2007 at 5:44 am

  • Shelli - thanks for posting about your company - it’s always great to hear bout large corporations that are work-life balance friendly. (I’ve personally not had that experience, having worked for a few of them.) In fact, one of the things we’re going to start doing here at Work It, Mom! is to highlight employers who are committed to making the work-life juggle a bit more manageable for their employees. (That way, we hope to create some peer pressure for other employers, who may not be as focused on the issue as they should be.)

    Nataly  |  May 31st, 2007 at 7:44 am

  • I have to say, as a former lawyer, I know it is DEFINITELY better not to talk too much about your kids at work. Many women that I have interviewed for a variety of articles almost all agree that as soon as they are pegged as a mother, they get less of the choice work, fewer networking opportunities and are viewed as less available for the long hours and travel. The large accounting firms are starting to tackle this with some success, but I’m not holding my breath for most professional service firms.

    PunditMom  |  May 31st, 2007 at 8:30 am

  • PunditMom - unfortunately, I have to agree with you. I have a lot of experience with lawyers - when I was in venture, I dealt with them on every one of my transactions - and the ones that were moms were always very careful about talking about it. It’s sad. I think law firms are extremely old-school regarding this issue, as well as the issue of work-life balance. When I interviewed Sylvia Ann Hewlett last week (will be posting it on the site soon!) she said that law firms are certainly not leaders or early adopters when it comes to being a family-friendly workplace.

    Nataly  |  May 31st, 2007 at 8:34 am

  • [...] was an interesting post over at Work It, Mom!. In the post Coming out of the closet… as a mom, Nataly wrote about a couple of moms who keep their mommyhood private in the workplace. They feel [...]

    Mommyhood in the workplace :: The Bean Blog  |  June 1st, 2007 at 10:07 pm

  • Hi, Nataly. I think I am the author who didn’t want to be on mommy blogs, yes? Here is how I see it:

    I blog for my profession. I mean, I support a family of four with my blog. No one, in any profession, talks about all aspects of their life at work. We talk about the aspects of our lives that we think will help us make authentic connections with people. We are careful to not talk about stuff we think might hurt us in this process of making authentic connnections.

    So, for example, I like to have sex, but I don’t talk about which positions I like best. It’s totally irrelevant to what I’m trying to get done in my work. And I think the same is true of many aspects of parenting.

    Also, we do not have to share every aspect of lives with people in order to be authentic. And it’s clear that topics like the missionary position and play dough each push people away in their own way. So why do it unless you want to make a statement? And, when it comes to making statments, please remember that it’s a lot easier to be a vocal activist if your are not risking your family’s main source of income.

    For myself, I have decided that some discussions of work and parenting are essential if i want to live at the intersection of work and life. But too many disucssions of parneting and then I’m not at that intersection — I’m somewhere else.


    Penelope Trunk  |  June 2nd, 2007 at 11:25 pm

  • Penelope - thanks for posting, but actually, you were not the person I was thinking of. The two bloggers who decided not to participate, are, however, quite similar to you in the sense that they make money through their blogs, writing, and speaking. Both write about career and entrepreneurship, both are wonderful. But the interesting part to me was that I wasn’t asking them to blog about being moms - I was asking them to blog about career success, and other related topics. But just being associated with a site that was focused on moms didn’t jive with them. And that’s the part that made me think about this issue and write about it.

    It’s the same issue I’ve faced - and written about - having left venture capital to start Work It, Mom! There are many social networks and communities being started, it’s a “hot” area for venture people, and there are many niches to be filled. I don’t think that the few guys that dismissed me for doing some mommy thing would have felt similarly if I started a community for say, entrepreneurs in general.

    Nataly  |  June 3rd, 2007 at 8:32 am

  • Jumping into the conversation a little late over here - I came across your HuffPost article only yesterday because (oh, the irony) - I have tried very much to shun the whole mommy blogging thing myself in the past.

    You’d think with a name like eMoms at Home I’d write about mommy stuff - in fact, it couldn’t be further from the truth.

    I find it SO interesting when men link to my blog, especially men who aren’t dads. Usually it comes with some sort of disclaimer of caveat - like “she’s really not like those ‘other’ mommy bloggers”. Sadly this makes me both somewhat proud yet at the same time I feel a bit like I am denying a part of who I am.

    But imagine my own internal turmoil when I realized in the last few weeks of diving into my analytics to find that the most popular posts of all time on my blog are the ones that are also my most ‘mommy’ posts of all time.

    Talk about an identity crisis.

    I don’t have any answers yet - but I have to admit that I have been really avoiding networking with other mom bloggers until recently - I guess out of the whole stigma fear you have written about. And I’ve decided that I’ve been a bit foolish to do so.

    So, hi, my name’s Wendy and I’m a mom. I also LOVE business and entrepreneurship. Nice to meet you. :)

    Also, I just threw up my own post on the subject - I know my readers will be quite vocal on this and I figured you may want to track the conversation over there, too.

    Wendy Piersall  |  June 22nd, 2007 at 1:54 pm

  • [...] of mine hides behind her motherhood like a coat in the closet.  Other women keep motherhood a secret too.  I like a good coat and all, but my feeling is that if you can’t stay true to yourself [...]

    I’m out of the closet. Again. » Self-Made Mom  |  August 1st, 2007 at 12:00 pm