With International Women’s Day next week, women across industries and professionals will reflect on the mentors and managers who shaped their careers. I’d like to thank the woman to whom I truly owe my career and livelihood. No, she didn’t hire me or promote me. No, she’s not leaning in and making six figures. She – instead – built my career before I could. My mom, Beth.
It’s the day after Christmas and I’m lying next to my mom in her bed. She asked me to help her create a LinkedIn profile for the very first time, and I’m now typing away as she peers over my shoulder. For anyone who knows me, I’m a LinkedIn geek. I’m talking border-line-embarrassing-the-company-should-hire-me LinkedIn geek. I’m oddly thrilled to finesse profiles, share inspiring content and retire my business cards for QR codes.
When my mom tells me she wants to step up her career game in 2019, I transition into life coach mode and make her a checklist. Create a LinkedIn (we work on it right then), meet up with three people for coffee, dust off your resume, subscribe to my recommended newsletters. She’s already getting overwhelmed by it all. Did I mention she’s an introvert? The idea of getting coffee with a stranger is anxiety-inducing.
My mom’s new years resolution was inspired by harsh recognition and a story thousands of women share. And, we can’t forget it.
In 1990, my mom graduated from a public university in Connecticut. Before getting married to my dad (her now ex-husband) and having three daughters, she took a job as an accounting associate at a small local company. Her career started out much like my own – navigating post-college adulting, working long hours to exceed expectations and building the skills necessary to move up the ladder. The difference? It seemed like my mom’s options were black-and-white: keep crusading in the workforce or stay home to raise kids.
She chose the latter and doesn’t regret it for a second. Now, twenty-five years have passed and we’re inputting her previous roles into LinkedIn.
“Mom, when did you go back to work?” I ask.
“My former boss hired me back to the company as an accounting coordinator in 2007. I know that’s a big gap. Is that going to be a red flag?,” she replies nervously.
Thirteen years. They were no gap years, let me tell you. I was a beneficiary of those thirteen years, and could write a hundred stories about memories of my mom pushing her three girls to strive for success, creating special moments to celebrate or teaching us that time heals all wounds when it came to heartbreak. I can tell you about the times when my mom would volunteer to watch my cousins so my aunt could thrive at work (can you imagine keeping five kids entertained?!) or about her ability to get any job done with a positive attitude and humble disposition. She’s mastered conflict management, influencing without authority, empowering others, the list goes on… and she didn’t need to do it within office walls. As a women in business and creative, I’m standing on her shoulders.
And, there’s an issue we don’t talk about enough. There will be hundreds of articles, blogs, videos, social posts next week about women thriving in the workforce and our fight for gender equality. We need to crusade on, ladies and supportive gentlemen. However, I wonder how many of these articles will mention or focus on age discrimination of women in the hiring process? We need to hold up a mirror up to this very real issue. Women who chose to stay at home in the 90s, like my mom, are approaching middle age with many years left to add value to organizations. The women who chose to remain in the workplace back then will also experience the same prejudices and barriers to new opportunities. Women clearly can’t win in this current system either way.
Regardless of the choices they made in their 20s and 30s, they’re all just as deserving of retirement savings. They’re ready to take on new challenges. They raised a generation that wants work with purpose.