Why do women want to talk about their kids at work?
Many women mention frustration that they are unable to present their authentic selves in the workplace because they believe they can’t talk about their kids freely in the office. They feel limited because they are unable to express themselves as mothers and therefore women, which is vital to their core identity.
Many business consultants advise against being too open about family issues in a professional context, especially if there are problems. It implies an area of vulnerability and in male coded workplaces showing weakness can hold you back.
Factor into that the positive differences in the way men and women are perceived once they have families. This kicks in as soon as they have a child, let alone whether they talk about it, according research from the Fawcett Society.
The Fawcett Society, an organisation campaigning for gender equality, conducted a poll this year found that 46% of respondents indicated a belief that women become less committed to their jobs after having a baby. The corresponding figure for men was 11%. Conversely 30% of the people polled thought that fatherhood actually made men appear more highly committed.
Understanding people and their backgrounds is a key soft skill and all about empathy and building trust. There is no doubt that learning about a colleague’s or contact’s personal circumstances can cement relationships. One male executive told me recently that in 6 years, his CEO never once asked him about his family. For him it was a major factor in being considered a whole person and part of his professional view of his boss.
We know about the “mummy penalty” and the “daddy bonus”. That is clearly not OK. Suggesting that women should cut back on the kid talk might seem as though it’s playing into stereotypes. But there are still strong caveats which the women who want to talk about their kids in work frequently ignore.
Here’s 4 good reasons why women shouldn’t talk about their kids at work:
It really is. You may love your kids. We all love our kids. But the minutiae of their lives is of limited interest to those around you. Today with the stress placed on women to be super Moms, there is an almost pressure cooker atmosphere for release. And they do. No one is interested. The same applies to the golf or soaps bore. It can all be a big yawn.
There’s no time
Social chit-chat and small talk is important, but very often too much time is taken up hearing about individual childcare issues, achievements of offspring or the angst of family situations of varying degrees of gravity. I recently listened for far too long to a discourse from a colleague agonising over her child’s artistic skills. He was 2 years old. No one has time. We all have friends in the office, so share with them. But pick carefully. You never know when the loyalty of your friends will shift. Being able to talk about their kids has been cited as one reason a woman set up her own business. But most clients want their vendor to provide a service or product and not a running commentary on family life. It takes time to build up that kind of rapport.
Your children don’t define you in the workplace
You may be a mother of 3 adorable children and running a home is indeed a key skill. But whether you are a project manager in an engineering company, or a front end developer, that experience should be your main priority. We all tap into general life lessons and experience to support our professional decisions and choices. But it is only part of our professional selves. Definitely don’t use it in job interviews. If you need to leave early or take time off to deal with a domestic issue – just take it. There is no need to give an in-depth account of the back story. See points 1 and 2.
You have no idea what’s going on for other people
With declining populations you have no idea what’s going on for other people. Couples are increasingly struggling to conceive, making decisions not to have children or may have lost a child. Your very own bundle of joy may be a source of acute misery for other people. It’s important to be careful with whom you share your personal stories and the level of detail. A young woman was surprised when she joyfully announced her pregnancy to a meeting, only to see another woman who had just miscarried tear up. This was not her fault, but just an indication that many people have issues we know nothing about.
Overall message – women do need to be careful when they talk about their kids in work. It’s not about gender blow back. It’s more about empathy.
Read: Boundaries in business
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