Over-sharing or double-bind for working mums?

by Sep 4, 2012Dear Dorothy4 comments

Double binds for working mums!

Hi Dorothy – I was recently taken to task by my manager for telling a new business contact (not commercial) via email that I had been busy because it was “back to school” time. I then overheard a male colleague say exactly the same thing with no comment at all made. What do you think? Is that fair?  Sonya, Washington  

Hi Sonya  There are a couple of issues here. If you are working in education, or an education-related sector (school supplies or services, for example) or if you are a student yourself, then clearly the upturn in workload experienced by the start of the academic year could meaningfully be shared. However, I have the impression you are not.

From my point of view, your personal/family routines and schedules (this is not an emergency) should not really be relevant professionally, unless you know the contact socially and have the sort of established relationship where the sharing of personal news is part of your business interaction. If it’s a new contact as you say, it may not have been appropriate. It’s certainly not relevant if used to explain, or cover, a business delay or other professional issue. My observation is that women can get into “mummy mode” very early in a business relationship and for some people this can mean over-sharing.

Subconscious bias

If the feedback is not related to the fact that the contact is new, but more connected to the double-bind of the “daddy syndrome” where your male colleague is concerned, then no, I don’t think it’s fair. Men who show they are actively engaged in childcare activities tend to be viewed more sympathetically than women with the same or even greater childcare roles. This happens ironically even when men deal with women. I experienced this myself recently when male and female service providers could not make appointments because of issues with their children. I was aware of registering almost automatic sympathy with the man (ahh… so cute) and I try to be mindful of these biases.

Do I think this is right? No – it’s just another sub-conscious bias that is part of our everyday lives. I would suggest raising the issue with your boss, to establish what was behind his comment. In a relatively lighthearted way, I would also remind him of what happened with your colleague so at least there is an awareness that it’s going on!

Good luck!



Dorothy Dalton Administrator
Dorothy Dalton is CEO of 3Plus International. A specialist in diversity and bias conscious executive search, she supports organizations to achieve business success via gender balance, diversity and inclusion. She is CIPD qualified, and a certified coach and trainer including digital learning.
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