“Time to use voices and leverage to be trailblazers in women at work conversations” says the US First Lady Michelle Obama, and I agree 200%

Several weeks ago, I came across an article on the White House Summit on Working Families which was held earlier this year (2014). Convened by the US president, Mr. Barack Obama the focus was on how to strengthen workplaces to better support working families, boost businesses’ bottom lines, and ensure America’s global economic competitiveness in the coming decades . According to the web-site, “The White House Summit on Working Families, hosted jointly by the Center for American Progress, the Department of Labor, and the White House Council on Women and Girls, will convene businesses, economists, labor leaders, legislators, advocates, the media, and ordinary citizens for a discussion on issues facing the entire spectrum of working families – from low-wage workers to corporate executives; from young parents to baby boomers caring for their own aging parents.

As I read more about the Summit, the speakers and discussion areas, I came across a video interview by the First Lady, Michelle Obama. If you are a working woman / mother, you should watch it! Her  openness to speak about the ‘real issues’ which plague working mothers, honesty, grace, articulation, style, humor and wit make it a compelling watch.

It was one of those videos which I found myself nodding all along – because I could connect with her observations, reflections, insights and perspectives.

In this post, I am sharing the key messages that resonated with me, and why?

1) Right time to Connect and Converse about topics related to women at the workplace

One of Michelle’s key message across the video is that “It is important for individuals in a position of influence to use their voices, power and leverage to discuss woman at work issues, and make positive changes within their sphere of influence” .

This is probably as relevant as in India as it is in the US. I agree that the time is right. If not now, then when?

Looking back at my professional experiences and my writing / blogging journey, that is probably one of the main reasons why I write about “Women At Work” on my blog. It is my way of leveraging my voice and influence to bring to the fore-front conversations, observations, insights and solutions on this subject. Trust me – as a working mother of two, this takes time and effort from my end, and compels me to de-prioritize several other things in my life to keep my blog regularly updated. But I feel strongly on the subject, and hence I make that effort in the hope that my voice and views can make a positive difference to some women somewhere in the world and at some time in her life.

2) Kids are the most important legacy we will ever leave

Again Michelle’s key message is that as a mother, children are among the top priorities in your life. She says that acknowledging and accepting your reality as a working mother (and all that it entails every single day) can be empowering because you can be open and up-front with your employer / team / workplace environment. This is important as it helps set expectations which holds you in good stead on the long run.

I couldn’t agree more. Children will be among the most important legacy any mother / parents leave, and hence it is important to do the best you can for their growth and development. As a working mother, I know I struggle with getting the priorities right in my head, and then living them every day. But I also know that the days my priorities are crystal clear to me, navigating through the course of the day (both at work and at home) becomes a lot easier.

3) Work Life Balance is fragile

I particularly like the way Michelle Obama mentions that work balance is fragile, and is thrown off with a broken toilet, a sick child, a sick parent, the day a baby-sitter is on holiday, etc.

Again, so very true. The number of variables that can influence the daily life of a working mother is mind-boggling that thinking about it can be truly unnerving.

In India when most working mothers rely significantly on paid domestic help / support stuff for day-to-day home maintenance it is indeed a very fragile thread that one treads on. And not to mention with the variety and rounds of infections doing the rounds, as a working mother I wake up everyday praying and hoping that my kids are healthy and can go to school. Almost all working mothers I know struggle to find the ways to keep that balance intact.

A few years ago, when I resumed work after my maternity leave, I was in conversation with a well-meaning work colleague who asked me about my long term career plans. Honestly, I said that my only goal was to show up to work every day, and give my best and make it count as long as I am there. Really, I couldn’t think beyond this because I really didn’t know if I’d wake up on a sick child, on a baby-sitter calling in sick, or anything else. The reality is that it is impossible to think long term when you are a mother of a small baby. The other fact is that kids grow up and their needs change, so these are passing phases. So if you are a working mother, it is important to hang in there and try to have career continuity if you are keen on a long term career

4) Women at Work issues are real and affect both men / women

This is so true! Women at wok issues affect the lives of men, women, children, workplace and society at large, and hence it is not only a “woman’s issue” really. Time has come to get men into the conversation, and to get them to think, speak and act – to support the women in their lives.

For a lot of men I know, women at work issues are really “women’s issues” – by virtue of their DNA, conditioning, upbringing and life pressures. No, they are not! Simply because that woman can be your daughter(-in-law), sister(-in-law), mother(-in-law), grand-mother, friend. And the decisions, choices and trade-offs made today (by both men and women) affect the life of women at large in the long run.

So the time is right to do what needs to be done.

5) However strong you are, being a working mother can make you vulnerable

Again in all honesty, Michelle confesses that she is a strong woman, but “the minute your kids come to the world, they rip your heart out of your chest. Every child is different, and you don’t know how you are going to feel when they come into the world”.

I think any mother will echo with this sentiment. Again, I speak from personal experience here – There are several moments in the course of every single day when you feel vulnerable as a working mother- flooded with emotions of guilt, self-doubt, concern, anxiety wondering if you are doing the right thing, worrying how things will work out, wondering if your kids will turn out okay. The sooner you learn to accept your “vulnerability”, and find a way to deal with it – The better things get with time.

6) Never take education and opportunities for granted

I couldn’t agree more. I think as a working mother, it is so important to value your education, knowledge, skills, opportunities and support. Never ever take anything for granted.

7) Employers need to do their very best to support the case and cause of women at work

In the start of the video, the discussion is around the fact that “Less than 5%, only 24 CEO’s of US Fortune 500 companies are women” which means there is ample room for making things better. And that holds true for India too.

Another note-worthy point was about how working “part-time” on part time salary is really not a wise choice because you continue to work full-time for a half-time pay.  Again relevant for India too

She sums it up beautifully when she says “It is important to get employers to understand the lives / needs of working mothers. Employers need to understand that as working mothers your kids well-being is so important. If children are not healthy, whole or happy , you are going to carry that worry to work and there will be an impact on work”

Again, I couldn’t agree more. I surely do think that employers / organizations need to do more to extend the required help / flexibility to ensure working mothers have career continuity and success.

These were the messages which stayed with me. What about you? Leave a comment to let me know…

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