How to avoid being classified as being on the ‘Mommy Track’

First being on the Mommy Track was a good thing. Companies offered moms the opportunity to work part time, from home or take a break while keeping options open for them to return to their roles later on. But as it spread to less friendly workplaces and the cauldron of office politics, the term being ‘on the mommy track’ has taken a life of its own.

Coming back to pick up something she forgot one evening, Diya, a mom of two,  was stunned to overhear a colleague tell her boss ‘Oh Diya doesn’t work late anymore, you know – she is on the Mommy Track’.

Backstabbing aside, the Mommy Track is often an excuse for overlooking moms for promotions or opportunities (‘your current role is better as it means less pressure which will be better from a family standpoint’). It is used by coworkers to sideline moms (‘I don’t think Riya can take this on. Does she really want to travel with a small baby?’ or ‘She is at home again. Her kids are sick’).

At first it’s a break and a relief. You gladly give up that out of town trip to an able and willing colleague or bask in the glow of motherly sacrifice when using your kids’ activities as a reason to leave early.

But then it becomes part of your brand. It surrounds you in an aura of motherly glory you want to shake off at work. It attaches itself to emails you send as you work from home. It weighs down discussions you have in performance reviews.

So until we can get a line to separate our lives as moms from our lives as engaged, high performing career women, here are 8 practical tips to avoid being ‘Mommy Tracked’ at work. Note that these are not expert tips – just tips from moms in the field. So let us know if agree, disagree or have more to add on your own.

  1. Don’t say you are sorry: If you need to leave early to pick up your kids, don’t feel pressured to justify it to all and sundry. Just let your boss know and do what you need to. You may be leaving early, but you may be putting in more hours at night. So no need to talk too much about it, apologize or even mention it to the general population. And if you do mention, don’t make a big deal about it.
  2.  Talk like a Dad: Watch what the dads do in your office.  Dads go for kids sporting events and other school activities too, but never ever justify it. Talk like dads do – note and use the same words, if you need to.
  3. Dress it up a notch: Even if your personality was to dress down before, now is the time to look put together and dressed up. Moms struggling with the morning rush often make the mistake of putting their office attire last. Or, they dress in kid friendly clothes, when they will actually be in a workplace setting for the entire day except the commute time. You may need a few wardrobe additions to update your style. Do it, and do it without guilt.
  4. Keep an adult workspace: Don’t cover your table with baby pictures and artwork. Have one or two nice photos or artwork in frames. Keep a couple of your (not your kids) awards or work related mementos around. Or decorate with things that highlight other aspects of your personality – some cool prints, or your volunteer work etc.
  5. Turn down the baby (or kid) talk: Don’t keep talking about your child and their achievements and problems with one and all. It’s hard for people to not let your role as a mom influence their workplace thinking if you keep talking about it.
  6. Be Home Work savvy: When working from home, project confident in your announcements and emails. Make sure people know that you are working or are accessible even if you are buried in a report.
  7. Get Backup Childcare: Have a good backup childcare arrangement before you need it in case your child is sick or child care provider is sick.
  8. Keep a private outlook: Make anything you put from the school calendar onto your office calendar as private. Name the appointment as private too.

So there are many companies, maybe on Fortune’s 100 best companies to work for that offer ways to blend in your mom and work lives, or provide a more enlightened work environment. For the rest of us, here’s to balancing our dual lives!

Do you agree or disagree with these ideas? What have we missed? Please share your thoughts and ideas so that we can build up the list!

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  1. Khushi

    I went through this myself. I refused to go on a few sales trips and then found myself out of interacting with customers altogether. Something I wish I had thought of earlier.

  2. rajvi

    One mistake I think that lot of us make is talk frequently about how hard it is to balance work and parent hood all the time. It is okay to commiserate with few fellow moms from time to time. But it is not okay to talk about it with everyone around you all the time.

  3. Anon

    Another piece of advice I’d give is to constantly speak in terms of “we”: “We had a hard time with the baby last night” “It’s been hard for the two of us to adjust.” I find that re-affirming that my husband and I BOTH parent the child actually gets through to some people. Mothers who refuse to delegate and take everything on themselves are part of the problem.

  4. It’s kind of sad that both mom’s and dad’s need to downplay the importance of family in the work place. Especially, when people with families due to monetary situations are often tied more to the work place than their childless/single counterparts.

  5. Shanta

    Finally got a moment to read this. So true!! It is absolutely true how childless colleagues can use the fact that you are a mom of a young “demanding” child…against you. Happened to me after the first two months at my work place. There are many childless professionals in the work force today who continously lobby for companies not to give time off for school events/activities/emergencies. Boy you are done for if your manager happens to be child/pet less.

  6. Tana

    It’s interesting to hear about experiences on the parenthood side of the experience. My workplace experience was quite the opposite – everyone from senior principals down to title-less employees got extra attention and consideration for being parents. It was as if a photo of kids on the desk was a way of saying, “Sorry, gotta bail when I need to.” There was a principal whose clarification I once desperately needed on a project at close of day. (I, the single, childless one was going to stay late to finish the work, for what else might I have to do?) She said to me tapping her foot impatiently at 5:05pm, “You are costing me $12 a minute in daycare fees.”

  7. Tana

    I would also like to offer that “separation” of a person into compartments is an artificial endeavor. I love all the ideas presented in the list – but they should be undertaken because it makes one feel good as a woman, and feel like one has other aspects to one’s existence and life than motherhood. But separating one’s self into “professional” and “personal,” “employee” and “mother” is like compartmentalizing our whole. It is our integrated selves we bring to our best work. Because one is a wife and mom, one may have entirely new perspectives other people at work may miss. So why hide, compartmentalize, separate? Why not convert motherhood into a workplace asset?

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