Sitting at a lunch table, my co-worker mentioned she had been up all night with her daughter who was teething. A few minutes later, the conversation around the lunch table turned to a team project. I noticed the group was excluding my co-worker from the discussion, assuming she was too tired to contribute.
That was the first time I realized it was a bad idea for women to talk about their children and home life at the office.
Career blogger Penelope Trunk believes being your true self at work means taking risks and letting people in the workplace see you for who you are outside the office, too.
On her blog she writes: “I have written many posts about how important it is for gay people to come out of the closet at work. They earn more money, for one thing, because if you are your true self at work people like you more, and likable people earn more money.
“But of course this does not apply to women with kids. There is no grand study that says if you are your true self you make more money. There are only studies that say women’s true selves are working part time while they have kids.”
Ms. Trunk says she gets nervous doing anything kid-related in a business setting. “Even if someone else is talking about kids, I stay quiet.” However, that’s something she wants to overcome. “If we can start celebrating parents when we see them at work, we’ll all feel more able to make choices that are true to us at our core, and not just true to our desire to conform to historic icons of power at work.”
Over the years, I’ve noticed that in business settings, people are much more tolerant of men when they talk about their kids at work. It makes men more human, but it still makes women less professional. It’s tougher for women than men to be authentic about family at work.
Married men actually get a wage premium when they become dads since they’re seen as more reliable and more responsible, and they need to support their families.
In contrast, women face discrimination. As a working mom, the only time I think it benefits me to talk about my kids at work is when I’m around other working mothers.
So while I want to agree with Ms. Trunk in theory, I can’t. I don’t think women who aspire to advance should bring up their kids at work — or at least not often.
What are your thoughts on talking about kids at work? Do you think there’s a penalty for doing it? If there is, should we still take that risk?
Cindy Krischer Goodman, CEO of BalanceGal LLC, can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org