1. What key benefit or program (paid leave, subsidized child care or flexible work, for example), do you credit for helping you get ahead at your company? How has this program been especially helpful for you as a working mom?
When I first started as a traveling consultant, I hadn’t considered how motherhood would affect my role—which takes a ton of travel. Then, when I got pregnant the first time about six years ago, they added six weeks of paid parental leave, which was great. IBM has really great benefits that I never even thought about when I first left business school, but are so great not only for working moms, but for everyone at the company.
And through the pandemic, the overall flexibility we’ve been afforded has become so, so important. Our colleagues can now literally see us working our two-plus full-time jobs, as parents and at work. People see it now so much more and I hope they don’t forget when things “go back to normal,” and that this flexibility we’ve been given is something that remains. If and when we inevitably go back to the office, it’s going to be easier for the men to go back to the office because they are going to be the ones who are less likely to ask for that flexibility because they don’t “need” it. And so the challenge is how do you go back? How do you keep the flexibility? How can we go back to work in an office, but still level the playing field? Because what COVID did is to some extent, yes, it penalized women across the board in a lot of ways. But on the flip side of that, it also leveled the playing field because there is no more of this “boy’s club.” There’s no more meeting after work for drinks, which 99 percent of the time, moms cannot do, so the networking for us has always been different. To make it work is going to be the true test for working moms.
2. In what ways has support from your colleagues/company helped you to grow in your career?
I work in a team currently that has got a lot of different personalities, different stages in life, but what remains true is that we have an incredible leadership team including my boss who has been key to my success as a working mom. The leadership team includes myself and another working mom, we both have young kids and two full-time working households. And so meetings will be flexible based on our family responsibilities, because we have to drop-off or pick-up kids from school, whatever it may be. There are certain times of day and certain circumstances that we’ve made very clear to draw boundaries around. And when I say we have different stages of life, it’s because the rest of the leadership are grandparents. And so the grandparents are like, “Oh, my daughter’s going through the same thing,” or, “I wish my son had that.” So then you have that bit of empathy that’s very, very much needed right now. And so it’s very people-specific and I think that’s true for many teams. I mean, it benefits working moms for sure, but it’s true for everybody. Ultimately, you want to be able to have everybody feel that way.
3. What are some of the greatest obstacles you’ve faced to progressing in your career?
As a woman, genuinely, it’s the bias that kills me. The bias around being a working mom is so difficult to overcome. I’ve dealt with, “Oh, but are you sure you want to go after that position? But you have to take care of your children?” There’s definitely a bias, and I have been overlooked for positions just because I’m a mom and I feel like, “But wait, I didn’t even get a chance to raise my hand. Why is that?” And then on the other side, there are instances where I’m leaving the office at 4 p.m., and you get the “working banker hours” comments and you’re like, “Actually, my son has an ear infection and needs surgery. So I’m heading there now.” But I’ve gotten it all. And even before that, when I was in business school at Columbia Business School, one of my classmates, who was a typical finance student, looked at me and said, “Did you cure cancer? Is that why you got into Columbia?” Yeah, so you face that sort of bias, and it’s a bias that we all carry with us. But I think that’s the biggest hurdle to get ahead because you’re constantly having to battle and for me, it’s this double-edged sword, because as a Hispanic immigrant mother, I check a lot of boxes. People think, “Oh, you must get ahead because of that.” And then on the flip side, people assume so many things that are so wrong—I get the, “Are you here to clean?” or, “Can you help me with that?” So being Hispanic, being a woman and being “good at English,” are probably the most difficult things.
4. Was there a single defining moment in your career, and what did you learn from it?
I don’t know if there’s a single defining moment, but I will tell you this: I realized early on in my career, I realized how easy it is to not speak up, how easy it is to just sit and nod your head and take it—and how judgmental people are. So I cared very little from the beginning, and I just hate injustice. I hate when people feel like they can make you feel bad or they judge you or they’re unprofessional or disrespectful and they think it’s OK. I’ve always felt like I need to speak up for those who can’t. I’ve done that in my career and I’ve been told, “You don’t want to be that girl. You don’t want to be the one that rattles.” Honestly, I want to be the one that rattles because things need to change. That’s how I’ve approached that if I think something is wrong and goes against my values and at my core I feel it’s wrong, then I will stand up for it and speak up for it. I just won’t let whatever impact it has on my career potentially deter me from doing that. It’s a defining moment every time I encounter a situation where I do feel like I have to do that. It feels like a defining moment.
5. What advice would you give other working moms to make it work?
Know that it’s never going to be perfect. Most of us working moms are very much Type-A personalities. We want things to be done a certain way and it’s exhausting. Sometimes you just have to breathe in and say, “it’s OK.” Things will happen, you might be late to pick up your kid at school, you might forget to pack lunch, you might forget the assignment. And now I just have conversations with the teachers, telling them I’m not always going to remember everything. “You’re going to need to hold my hand, send me an extra email or do something, but there will be those things that fall through the cracks.” Similarly, I told my team that my head is full of a million things, so don’t be shy about reminding me or acknowledging that I forgot X-Y-Z. It’s part of the team that you have around you, how honest and open you are. And this is just the way I am. This is the clutter that happens around me and sometimes I need help. Nothing’s perfect and don’t expect it to be. I think surrounding yourself with really good people at work, and being honest and frank about your situation. Practice transparency and asking for help, and understand it’s not going to be perfect. Also, organizational skills! However, it works for you, figure it out.
I think IBM is one of the few companies where you can be a super successful working mom. I think that they’re doing so much from a culture perspective and training perspective. It’s not like the benefits are specifically tailored to working parents, but I think what they’re doing really good at right now is surrounding working parents with support. Training on inclusivity, on equality, on bias—all of that just helps people be much more aware of their interactions with others and how to be better managers, how to be better co-workers, better peers, so that makes it better for working parents. It can affect everybody else, but for working parents, it’s definitely a huge help.