#MomToo: No More Disadvantages for Mothers in Business

December 01, 2021

How Caitlyn Chang's post with #MomToo went viral

Kaitlyn Chang’s LinkedIn posting showing her giving a lecture with her baby strapped to her chest has reached close to six million people. In an interview, the WU Executive Academy MBA graduate talks about what #MomToo is about, why superwoman is no longer a role model for women, and why it’s high time to reckon with mothers’ leadership skills.

#MomToo Kaitlyn Chang at her speach
With this image from her talk, Kaitlyn Chang has reached millions with an important message. Photo © Niklas Schnaubelt

A woman is giving a lecture – while holding her baby. Kaitlyn Chang’s hashtag #MomToo was viewed 5.7 million times on LinkedIn. “I never expected my posting to go viral,” she shares.

In her talk with the title “The Swan Lake Syndrome” she delivered at the Forward Festival with her young daughter in tow, Chang recounted that she was a real snob before she had children: she simply had no clue how many tasks working moms had to juggle every day.

#MomToo and a “Motherhood Penalty”

The #MomToo hashtag, which helped the posting on the talk go viral, was Chang’s way of addressing the “motherhood penalty”: “The business world puts women who are mothers at a disadvantage. I wanted to show that I am a professional and a #MomToo,” Kaitlyn Chang explains. She believes that many successful working moms will be able to relate to that as, in her opinion, they are forced to hide that they are mothers in order not to be considered unprofessional. “That does not happen to men who are fathers,” she says.

Adela Mehic-Dzanic, Vice President of the Female Leaders Network at the WU Executive Academy and the founder of the Making It in Austria network, for one, can relate all too well: the mother of Esma, who will turn one soon, completed an MBA at the WU Executive Academy and is now a successful working mom.

Adela Mehic Dzanic ist also a #MomToo
Adela Mehic-Dzanic is also a successful working mother. Here on the picture with her daughter Esma. Photo © Romana Maalouf Photography

In an interview, she talked with Chang about career visions and the lack of appreciation of motherhood in the business world.

Kaitlyn, when you were talking at the Forward Festival, how did that feel? Did you already have an inkling something special was about to happen?

Kaitlyn Chang: While I was talking, I got a lot of positive vibes from the audience; more and more people were flocking into the room. But I would have never dreamed that my posting would resonate with so many people. The talk itself almost did not happen. Last year, I was also a speaker at the Forward Festival – on an entirely different topic, however. This year, I was already on maternity leave and originally turned down the request: for one thing because of the baby, for another, because I did not have any new project to present. But then Othmar Handl, the Festival’s CEO, convinced me that I could talk about my baby, the biggest kind of project there is. I had been working in the field of women’s and human rights for a long time; and also my MBA master’s thesis was on gender equality and diversity in tech start-ups. These topics are important to me, both personally and in my job, where I frequently advise companies and brands on how to optimize their external and internal communication based on future-oriented topics such as new work, sustainability, and diversity. So I quickly decided on the topic of working moms, because even as a woman I had no clue what I was getting into before I actually had a baby.

Kaitly Chang at her #MomToo speach
The topic of working moms got great responses from the audience. Photo © Niklas Schnaubelt

Some would interpret the photo of you at the talk as the ideal image of the super-successful mother who is doing a stellar job reconciling childcare and professional duties.

Kaitlyn Chang: That’s probably the single most common misunderstanding that was reported back to me particularly from other women. It’s not at all what I wanted to say – quite the opposite actually. Female employees, and particularly working moms, have to be superwomen in business, and on top of that, they have to pretend there are no kids to take care of or other family responsibilities. That’s because it is very likely they would be perceived as unprofessional and be met with criticism if they did not hide that they were mothers. Many women responding to my posting confirmed this and shared their personal experiences with me.

It is more likely for a woman to be criticized for her gender and being a mother because society still thinks that it is a woman’s job to fully devote herself to her offspring. So it’s a social, structural issue, not an individual problem women should take care of themselves. That’s why I published my posting with the hashtag #MomToo, hoping to kick of a broader discussion in society – as a conscious nod to the #MeToo movement.

Do we need the hashtag #DadToo as well to also give the stage to fathers in this conversation?

Kaitlyn Chang: That’s certainly also important. But for me, #MomToo is about finally drawing attention to the existence of a “motherhood penalty.” Somebody wrote to me on LinkedIn and told me how he once had to take his baby to a meeting with a customer, a law firm, and he fed and changed her during the meeting. He basically received standing ovations. He realized that the reactions would very likely have been totally different if he were a woman. If a woman takes her child to work, she is reprimanded for it and often even considered “unprofessional.”

So is it also the responsibility of managers to provide space for topics such as children and motherhood at the workplace?

Kaitlyn Chang: Absolutely. Gender equality will only have been established if women can talk about their children before a meeting, just as male managers talk about last night’s soccer game. Why is talking about sports not considered unprofessional anyways? There’s something wrong about that and it’s certainly unfair – and that’s were managers come in: they have to realize that this is a real problem.

In an interview with the New York Times, Liz Morris, the Deputy Director of the Center for WorkLife Law in the USA, said that discrimination against mothers was possibly the strongest bias against women at the workplace. The “motherhood penalty” is one of the reasons why so few women hold senior and management positions in companies. If we do not tackle this problem, we will never succeed in breaking the infamous glass ceiling.

Kaitly Chang talks about #MomToo
Why is it considered unprofessional when women talk about their role as mothers, but fathers are often celebrated for it? Photo © Niklas Schnaubelt

It also requires some skills to manage a family. Unfortunately, those skills are not recognized in business.

Kaitlyn Chang: That’s so true. Many mothers have told me that they have become real bad asses in time management. And there are also improvements beyond time management, more specifically in the field of leadership skills: mothers can be strict and understanding at the same time. Motherhood is not only about dispensing heaps of love and tender-loving care all the time. It’s also about leadership. It makes you acquire critical, modern leadership skills such as empathy. This is in stark contrast to the leadership style of command and control traditionally exercised by many men.

We also know from research how important it is to have a variety of leadership styles and leaders in an organization. That’s why it’s all the more important to also promote mothers to benefit from their leadership skills in executive positions. This way, they can contribute to a healthier, more diverse, and more sustainable organization.

What are your thoughts on new working time models that aim to help both women and men reconcile family and professional duties?

Kaitlyn Chang: In today’s post-corona “hybrid” world of work, many companies already offer schemes in which staff can work from home or part-time. What’s important, however, is that you are not punished for taking up the offer – for instance through less responsibility or less exciting tasks. In reality, staff making use of such schemes are often pushed aside or regarded as not sufficiently committed to their jobs. That’s why many hesitate to change to a flexible model. When I joined Accenture, I was surprised about the flexibility there. Staff can change their working time model, for instance from full-time to part-time, with the click of a mouse; you don’t even have to discuss it with your supervisor. It’s interesting to note that roughly the same number of men and women make use of this opportunity. As a result, employees feel that it’s not a problem to make use of flexible working time models and that the company fully trusts and appreciates every single one of them.

What’s maternity leave like for you; are you working?

Kaitlyn Chang: I currently work a small number of hours; this helps me keep in touch with the company. It also makes me a more balanced and happy human being. Curiously, many people do not even know that such a possibility exists. Accenture proactively told me about it and told me I could start and stop working such a scheme whenever I wanted. That’s such a great opportunity for women on maternity leave, because this way they do not completely disappear. The latter is, in fact, the reason why it is so difficult for many women to go back to work after the break ...

You have inspired and opened the eyes of so many people. What will come after #MomToo?

Kaitlyn Chang: I set up an Instagram account to share the wealth of experiences, stories, and research results on the topic. Women from India and Vietnam wrote to me to tell me about their experiences. I have thousands of ideas. But with the baby, I have to focus on one thing – and it’s also important to be able to accept that.

For more inspiring stories of the graduates of the WU Executive Academy, please click here.

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