One of my female colleagues, let’s call her Fran, has two sons. We’ve wanted to grab a coffee since I returned from maternity leave months ago. I bumped into Fran at the printer recently and mentioned our yet to eventuate coffee date. Fran replied basically that she didn’t feel she could pop out for a coffee because she already does the working mother’s walk of shame. I laughed, awkwardly. Yikes, that’s a guilt laden statement.
What Fran means, about doing the working mother’s walk of shame, is she leaves the office at 5pm. Me too! That’s actually our scheduled knock off time, after that you’re working for
free the love of the job. But Fran and I, and every other working mother have a marathon involving pick-ups, dinner, homework and baths, when we leave the office. We shouldn’t feel guilty about leaving at 5pm, at that point you can rightly go home. This feeling of guilt, about leaving the office while our younger colleagues plod on, isn’t new.
While we should ditch the idea of the working mother’s walk of shame, I get it. As you make a quick exit from the office, as subtly as possible to avoid unwanted attention, you feel the disapproving glares. Some mother’s even resort to stashing their coat by the elevator so no one can watch them get ready to leave.
The culture of hours
There seems to be a strange culture that you have to be seen to be in the office to be a valued and hardworking employee. Almost as if being the last to leave the office makes you the hardest worker. Yet this assumption, that being in the office equals lots of quality work and high productivity, isn’t necessarily well founded. Surely after a certain point people cease to focus properly? My younger colleagues work longer hours but does that mean they are more productive? I’ve noticed Facebook on computer screens, arriving late and eating breakfast at desks, long lunch breaks, chit chat about which type of tea to brew. I have absolutely no issue with that but us working mum’s shouldn’t feel guilty about leaving work at 5 when we’ve been head down and bum up with our work all day.
You make a valuable contribution
Here’s the thing, I work part time. Do I feel guilty about that? Not really. To work more than I do, with three kids and an ambitious husband would simply place too much pressure on the family. Plus, I actually like hanging out with my kids. As a part timer, you do your absolute best to cram an awful lot of work in on the days you are in the office. You become expert at setting priorities, delegating, basically getting shit done in the time you have. I’d hazard a guess that the non-parents in the office aren’t as skilled at that. Yet I suspect few people consider that part-timers are highly effective employees.
You’ve been the person working late
Once upon a time, before kids, you were the person still sitting in the office when the lights went out. There was a time when if your boss declared someone would need to stay back late, you were the one who put their hand up. Even now, I’ll bet there are times you fire up the laptop and keep on working at home. Or take calls on your days off. Ironically, overtime is deadly, so doing less of it is a great thing!
Why is it the working mother’s walk of shame
When a Dad leaves work early or on time, he may feel a little guilt about the email he didn’t reply to or the phone call he didn’t make. But I’m pretty certain his colleagues aren’t looking down their noses at him. They are more likely to be thinking, what a great Dad, helping out with the kids. His kids, the ones he has parental responsibility for. The other thing is, if we want to reduce the concept of the working mother’s walk of shame, more men need to actually start logging off and heading out the door to either collect the kids or get their butts home to help out.
When you head out the door do you feel like you’re doing the working mother’s walk of shame?