LOSING YOUR JOB AS A SINGLE MOM

(see Q&A with HR specialist, Amy Dalton below – yep I asked her about “metoo”)

I got laid off not too long ago. In the world of Advertising, that’s common. In the world of single motherhood, it’s scary.

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My company assured me it was strictly financial and they had been laying people off. I guess it’s always a shock when you are one of those people. My immediate reaction was fear because I knew I had to work and support my son.  But once the initial shock was over, I was actually relieved.

Everyone says these type of events always end up being a blessing in disguise, or when one door closes another one, often a better one, opens.  And it’s very true.  I love what I do but I was frustrated at work lately.  One of the main reasons for my frustration was they moved my department to Jersey City in an effort for the big parent company to save money on rent. This move added extra time to my commute so it directly effected my son’s schedule and spending less time with him.

The move to Jersey City was not a choice for any of us and so many people were upset, but companies need to do what they have to do to remain profitable.  The move wouldn’t have been that bad if the entire company moved, but it was only a few departments so the majority of people I worked with were all back in the NYC office.  Working remotely via phone and Skype became the constant.  Most of the managers or bosses knew this was a disruption in everyone’s life so they allowed employees to work from home from time to time since we were all working remotely anyway.  My boss had been working from home often, even before the move to Jersey City, so it surprised me that he did not grant any of us to work from home, except one producer who worked under me.  She was well-connected and had a relative high up in the company.  Needless to say, I was frustrated, but I did what I had to do, I made adjustments and saw my son less.

About a month of being laid off, I managed to get some freelance work with a few great dynamic companies.  Without me even asking, they all offered me the opportunity to work from home as needed.  It was a really nice opportunity especially from where I was.  I ended up coming into the office anyways.  Sometimes just knowing you have that latitude if needed is really comforting.

I learned so many valuable lessons in getting laid off.  One of the most valuable lessons I learned was to stay positive and be open to any work situations and opportunities.  Fear and worry get you no where.  Be empathetic and be ready to help people when they are looking for a job.  I had so many colleagues and friends help me, connect me with people, send my resume around, and it’s a strong reminder to return the favor as you never know when you will be in a situation where you need help.

I learned to trust in myself and my experience and reputation.  Having 20 years of experience and working at different companies is a plus.  And lastly cherish the time you can spend with your child.  Even though I was anxious to start working again, I got to spend quality time with my son and saw him take his very first steps, something I know I would have missed.

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In the process of looking for work, a few people suggested that I hide my single mom blog while looking as I might not get hired or considered if people knew I was a single mom. I couldn’t imagine a company, recruiter or HR person not hiring me if they knew I was a single mom.  But I guess there’s that stigma that a mom might not be as available as someone who isn’t.  It was quite the opposite for me when I had Luke.  As hectic as things were, I made sure to check emails when at home and on weekends.  I wanted people to see that my efficiency didn’t change just because I had a baby.

But it got me thinking. Do companies look badly upon single moms or mothers in general in the work place? Of course no company would say that outwardly as that’s discrimination, but I wondered, do they?

I did a bit of research on the Internet and came across so many studies that talked about how mothers in general are actually more productive than woman who are not mothers. It talked about how moms don’t waste time at work so they hustle and prioritize and organize, hence making their day extremely efficient.  This made sense to me.

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I was always an efficient person, even before I became a mother, but I would watch many co-workers spend a lot of time socializing, taking hour lunches, “dilly-dallying”, etc and whenever I inquired they were single with no children. This was logical as their work life was still part of their social life.

I always knew I wanted to be a working mom, even as challenging as it is as a single mom, I think it’s healthy to be working and it’s a great example for your child.  It’s difficult at times, yes, but I assume it’s difficult for all parents as you are constantly juggling a work-life balance.  It’s important to ask for help and surround yourself with good help, something I’m learning and adjusting to as I go.

I am happy to have my blog back on because blogging makes me happy. I don’t want to believe that anyone or any company would hesitate or not hire a person with great qualifications and a great reputation because they are a mother or a single mother at that.  But I thought I’d bring in HR specialist, Amy Dalton, to get her point of view, here’s what she had to say:

Q: How do you see the workplace changing for women who have children? Is it getting better, worse or about the same?  The answer is twofold – yes, and maybe the same. Yes, I want to believe we are always moving forward as a society (though there are some hiccups along the way). I saw change when I first started my career in a tech startup, and a management consulting company in Human Resources. There were accommodations for working moms and dads – like a reduced work schedule, or flexible time off, or work from home some hours during the week. That said, not all jobs and scenarios were alike. Some managers wanted and required the employee to be in the office and couldn’t offer a different work arrangement. My experience was such that the jobs which were more consultant, heavy travel and management type jobs were more flexible with work hours/work from home. The less senior jobs (typically more administrative) were not as flexible with schedules.

Q: As an HR specialist, I know its discrimination to not hire or fire someone solely based on their family structure eg. Mom or single parent, etc. Do you think this kind of discrimination happens?   The optimist in me would say, “No, not nowadays!” But the realist says, “yes, I am sure it is happening, but companies, specifically human resource departments, are more aware and educated.” Let’s face it, a company hires people to make their business churn, and ultimately, they want to be successful.   You can’t get that without employees. Companies need “all hands-on deck” and want employees to work hard, be available and loyal. That said, not all companies have same mindsets or philosophies. You would hope businesses, big and small, value their workforce enough to make accommodations and consider life situations.

Q: What can someone do if they think their company is discriminating them based on their social status?  If you believe you have been treated unfairly due to your family status, I would suggest meeting with your employer’s personnel or human resources representative. Women and men should know what their rights are. Keep detailed records of conversations and emails, and be prepared to submit a grievance, if needed.

Q: If a company isn’t necessarily engaging in any acts of discrimination but just doesn’t have a good work life balance, what can you do?  Not all individuals (parents or childless) have a choice to stay or go from a job. But you can be proactive. The advice I gave, and practiced myself, is to always have your resume updated and always practice networking. You never know when an opportunity will pop up or when your work experience will be valuable to others. You may not know it, but you network all the time – out with friends, conferences, meetings, neighbors. Someone always knows someone who knows someone. Get good at selling yourself. You are your best salesperson. Great job or not, always be “show ready.”

Q: For the record, if you are interviewing for a job, no company can ask you if you are married or have any children, is that correct?  Yes, correct. No one should ask you about marital status, age, if you have kids, etc. in an interview. An interviewer doesn’t need to know those answers if they aren’t relevant to the job you’re interviewing for.

Q: We are seeing lots of companies like Facebook, Google and Amazon that are granting women six months leave and even one year maternity leave. The current policy in the United States is three months paid leave. Do you think more companies will start granting longer maternity leave?   I have been out of the human resources business world for almost 10 years, but as I said earlier, I hope we are moving forward and evolving as a society to put needs of all families who must balance work and home on higher priority. Almost 14 years ago, when my son was born and we adopted him, I worked for a big, public company who encouraged time off. I took my family leave (FMLA) of 12 weeks and my company also offered another policy for families adopting children. I wound up taking four months off, more than the 12 weeks I was legally allowed to take. The leave consisted of the adoption policy, accrued vacation and personal time, and some of it unpaid. I was fortunate my husband and I could take some of it unpaid and the company was flexible with time off. A lot of families are not as fortunate and aren’t granted with good options. From a mother’s perspective, that, I know, doesn’t feel right.

Q: We always hear about how European companies grant six months or more of maternity leave. Why don’t a lot of U.S. companies grant more than three months leave?  I certainly don’t know much about Europe’s practice of maternity leave. I don’t think they love or value family more than the U.S. or work less than counterparts in the U.S. I know employment law and time off is very different in Europe. Resting and resetting seems to be more cultural. I read something recently that said, “Americans maximize their happiness by working, and Europeans maximize their happiness through leisure.”

Q: With technology allowing everyone to be so accessible these days, should companies allow more flexibility for anyone who may need it?  It would be fabulous if your contributions and work were judged by what you accomplished and your goals being met, not if you showed your face in the office or dropped everything to be available. Unfortunately, that doesn’t happen all the time or isn’t attainable. People’s family situations change and evolve. My recommendation would be to communicate your concerns with your supervisor. Hear his or her side. There are always nuances, and he or she may be in a situation you don’t know about. If you don’t feel like you are being heard, or exhausted your options, I would go to your human resource or personnel department.

Q:  Lastly, I know this story isn’t about sexual harassment but given the latest awareness about sexual harassment and the “metoo” movement that’s going on, as an HR person, do you want to shed some light on it?  Every company I worked for had a formal harassment/sexual harassment training program that all new employees took as part of the on-boarding process.  My experience was that companies I worked for were always in compliance.  That said, it was a presentation that you click through, take a short quiz and you are done.  Certainly, it didn’t guarantee the company did their job and no one would harass or assault someone at work, it mostly let the company off the hook in a way as to say “see, we did what we were supposed to.”  Companies need to set the tone from the beginning – we pay and treat men and women the same.  Starts from head of company and trickles down.

The #Metoo and “Times Up” movements have been powerful and long overdue.  I feel like there is this “reckoning”, if you will.  In my opinion, women have had an imbalance of power for a very, very long time.  Women are finding their voices and are shouting “enough, we are sick of feeling undervalued, underpaid, harassed and shamed”.  It’s inspiring. BUT, a big BUT, we must move forward and make real changes with these voices –  speak up, get involved, run for office, make a vow to say I am worth more and won’t take it.

My favorite line in Hamilton from Angelica Schuyler sums up how we need to keep moving forward:

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