- Megan Feldman Bettencourt is a digital strategy and content director at a PR and marketing firm.
- She says joining a women-founded and operated business has been a big relief as a working mom.
- The lived experience of female leaders makes them more understanding of family needs, she says.
In early January, I hunched over my laptop in the kitchen as my 2-year-old daughter Savana watched “Moana” nearby. She was home sick with COVID-19, and I was revising a long document for work that I’d promised to a client by the end of the day. I’d already taken time off the week prior for a post-exposure quarantine and was racing to catch up on work.
Suddenly, my screen went blank, the words I’d spent hours writing disappeared, and my work window was closing. I frantically pressed “undo,” but nothing reappeared. My head pounded. The tech glitch toppled the final log that had been holding back a flood of anxiety and exhaustion for weeks.
I’d worked evenings when my daughter was quarantined, reviewed the ever-changing return-to-school guidelines when her latest test came back positive, and hovered over her as she sang to her dolls, praying that no severe symptoms would surface.
Staring at the blank laptop screen while my daughter sang along to Moana, I cried. I paced. Then I texted my boss, Laura, the founder of the marketing firm I work for and a mother of three: Savana will need to isolate for the full 10 days. I may need to take more time off than I expected. She replied immediately: Let us know how we can support you. She suggested reaching out to the vice president in charge of resourcing to see about redistributing some of my work.
This sign of support from my boss gave me the relief I needed
I wiped my face, made my daughter a sandwich, and resolved to write the article again. The supportive text made me feel connected and not so alone. It also came in stark contrast to the hostility I’d experienced after giving birth to my daughter when I worked at a male-owned, male-run company.
At that company, I took a combination of short-term disability and unpaid leave (they didn’t offer maternity leave) until my daughter was three months old.
I’d also been allowed to work from home at least one day a week for the four years prior, ever since having my son. But when my manager called to reconfirm my start date after my leave, he told me “the whole work-from-home thing is going away.” Employees had complained that only moms got to work from home, so instead of opening the benefit to anyone, they closed it to everyone.
That one day without an hour-long commute each way was everything to me. Nonetheless, the following week, I left my daughter at daycare and went back to the office.
I walked into a meeting that day where there was a male colleague I barely knew. He was shrugging off a coworker’s jab about his frequent time away from the office. “Well,” he said, shooting me a casual glance, “Megan just took a three-month vacation!” That’s when I decided to find a job at a company led by women, and in June 2020 I did.
When my daughter had COVID-19, my current employer’s support came through thoughtful gestures as well as structural benefits
The communications and marketing firm I work for, Center Table at Ground Floor Media, offers remote work and flexible schedules that include various levels of part-time employment as well as contractor positions for consultants.
This flexibility is one reason that many employees have stayed with the company for well over a decade and some for more than 15 and 20 years. Many of the mothers I work with have been with the firm full-time, part-time, and as consultants during different phases of life. For me, the ability to work remotely saves hours of commuting and allows me to cook and pick up the kids in time for dinner.
Being able to work a reduced schedule — without losing opportunities to advance like most part-time workers do — has been key to getting through the past two years relatively unscathed. When my daughter was quarantined and then isolated, it was tough yet doable to meet my billable hours requirement. Doing so with a full-time workload wouldn’t have been sustainable.
It also means a lot to me that my employer prioritizes physical and mental health and work-life balance
They offer unlimited time off, quarterly mental health days, and leadership coaching with a heavy emphasis on emotional IQ.
The pandemic and the Great Resignation have made clear what my managers have long understood: Supporting working parents and employees’ general wellness is not only the right thing to do, but it’s also good for business.
The lived experience of female business leaders like my boss Laura makes them reassess the status quo — for example, Laura was pregnant when she started the company, so she couldn’t minimize the need for parental leave.
For me, the freedom to work in the ways that fit my life and with a team that supports me as a working parent make a world of difference in how I feel about work. Because the experience is positive, I’m more focused, productive, and feel empowered to be myself while I’m working.
I hope that as more employers rethink rigid workplace norms, more people will enjoy the flexibility and support that will help them to thrive as I’ve been helped over the past two years.
Megan Feldman Bettencourt is the author of “Triumph of the Heart: Forgiveness in an Unforgiving World.” Her writing has appeared in publications including Psychology Today, Salon, Harper’s Bazaar, Glamour, The San Francisco Chronicle, and many others. She serves as senior director of digital strategy and content at Denver-based PR and marketing firm Center Table at Ground Floor Media.