PowerToFly President Katharine Zaleski admits: “I didn’t realize how horrible I’d been – until I had a child of my own.” She apologizes to all the moms for her behavior toward working mothers before becoming a mom herself.
Well, apology not accepted.
Ms. Zaleski told her little story to Fortune Magazine. She’d been a twenty-something go-getter and she scoffed at the contributions being made by women she worked with who were also responsible for raising children. She admits to rolling her eyes at some and scheduling late afternoon meetings for working mothers — never considering how her actions might impact these women and their families. And now she asks for their forgiveness and ultimately their understanding after having a baby herself?
What Zaleski fails to appreciate is that her actions have done irreparable harm. It might not seem so bad to have one slim blonde roll her eyes at your photos of the kids on your desk, but here’s the thing: when that one mother she worked with needed an advocate, a supporter, a colleague, what she got in Zaleski was just one more guy. Zaleski had zero capacity to view a female worker’s worth outside of her status as a mother, and the outside responsibilities that come with it. That’s one of the worst assumptions anyone can make: that simply because you’ve had children, your value to the business world has dropped right out of sight.
My children are all grown, but I remember really well what it was like when I had to leave work at five minutes to five every day. I would run down the stairs of the building, down the block to the first subway train. I’d take that train a couple of stops and then sprint to the next train. Once I got out of the train station, I would run up the street and then two blocks down a side street, praying all the while I could get into my children’s after school program before the clock struck six. If I were as much as one minute late, I would be charged an extra $5 per child for additional care. I had four children then and I could barely make the cost of the program let alone a $20 penalty each day.
But it was the looks I got as I left just before 5:00 p.m. that really did me in and not the daily sprint against the clock. Those judging glances sent a clear message — that they believed I wasn’t at all interested in the business or the work, that I was just killing time until I could go home, where they all probably thought I had, oh, I don’t know, a maid and a cook? If I were serious about my job, I wouldn’t want to be the first guy out the door, right? And to make matters worse, my kids were at a school that didn’t open until 8:20 a.m. so I was never at my office “on time” either. I couldn’t leave them on the street so I would wait until the very stroke of 8:20 to run to my two trains downtown, and I couldn’t get to work right at 9:00 a.m. Ever.
The best moments were when I would come into the office in the morning and come up to a conversation about something hilarious that happened after I left the night before. Then, there’d be the awkward moment when my fellow office workers – all women – would be able to underscore that they’d worked late and gone out for pizza or they’d worked late and this hilarious thing happened and oh, that’s right, you had to go home to look after your kids.
If I had just one person at the time who could have backed me up, who could have spoken up to say that my contract was from 9:15 a.m. to 4:55 p.m. – not 9 to 5 – I would have thought I’d died and gone to heaven. But I worked for a woman just like Zaleski who had no children and had no patience for those of us who did. I worked really hard too and I didn’t want to be called “special” just “colleague.”
I routinely looked over my shoulder. I always feared someone would shout at me while I was leaving at my regular 4:55 p.m., “Hey – half day?” If I even stopped for a couple of minutes to say that I was a single mom with children to collect from after school, I’d miss my train connections and be out $20. And if something came up late in the day, someone else would have to cover for me to get the work done. Since I didn’t feel comfortable or confident enough, I never asked for help because I was the one who had it all, didn’t I? Wasn’t I Super Mom with the full time job and the easy breezy photogenic kids? Just a snap of the gold bracelets and a whip of the ol’ lasso and I’d be good to go.
So, Ms. Zaleski, I can’t accept your apology and I apologize to you for that because at some level, I think you are probably sincere. But, do you realize I am describing a job I had in 1997? Every single day in the environment you helped to create for the mothers who worked with you, every single day reinforces that mothers shouldn’t work and when they do, they should live up to the hype and man up. But after I paid the rent and the after-school care my children – on my secretary’s salary – I barely had money for that train fare to pick them up.
I worked with too many women like you, Ms. Zaleski, who reinforced that I was just a lesser version of the other women I worked with who did not have such tedious family obligations. Working women are worth less enough already without your help – or your apologies.