You don’t really want me right now. I’m super pregnant.
Those were my thoughts when I received a phone call late one December day when the person on the other end was asking me to consider accepting a position at a different company.
At the time, I was expecting my first child. I had a great job in Connecticut, working as Cigna’s vice president of product strategy. I had a phenomenal boss who provided me many opportunities, as well as a highly flexible work arrangement when I returned from maternity leave. I wasn’t looking to change jobs. We had also just built our first home, and I didn’t think life could get any better.
I originally thought this phone call was to be about sharing best practices in talent strategy. To my surprise, the woman actually wanted to talk to me about my background and whether or not I would consider coming to work for Bank of America. I distinctly remember laughing and then saying aloud what I’d been thinking: “You don’t want me. I’m nine months pregnant! And even if I wanted to, I can’t fly to North Carolina to interview.”
I was playing into the fears and assumptions that many expectant working moms have. Will my pregnancy and baby limit my career? What if I want to stay home? How will I be able to work the crazy hours I do with a new baby? Why would I move? Where will my network as a new mom be? How can I possibly add one more stress to our plate?
I thought that was the end of the conversation.
Instead, the recruiter said, “We have an office in New York. Take the train down, meet the team, no pressure.”
She ended up talking me into going to the interview, where I met many amazing individuals–none of whom mentioned my pregnancy. We only discussed my skills and experience.
I headed back to Connecticut that night, and the very next day, my son, Cooper, arrived two-and-a-half weeks early. I called the recruiter to let her know that the time was not ideal for me to change jobs. She said not to worry and to let her know when I was ready. They sent me a beautiful gift.
Eight weeks later, still on maternity leave and still intrigued by the company, I told the woman I would come down to meet the rest of the team. Not only did they bring me to North Carolina, but they also let me bring my husband and newborn son.
Once more, the questions during their interviews centered on my expertise, not my status as a brand-new mother. Because I have a solid mix of business- and talent-related experience, they gave me the opportunity to select from five different roles. They also provided a highly supportive relocation team to help us navigate this major change and made me feel welcome.
Most importantly, they never once put constraints on my capabilities, neither as a business leader nor as a new mom. Frankly, they made me feel like I was invincible and provided me a boost of confidence that I had lost during my maternity leave. They also, unknowingly, provided me with the strength to believe that I–and other women–could have it all. Two-and-a-half years later, while still working at Bank of America, I had my daughter, Aspen. Once more, I felt supported, and when I returned from maternity leave, I was offered a promotion and a brand-new challenge.
The knowledge I gained during those years has been instrumental as a guiding force in my career. When I accepted a position last year as chief human resources officer at WEX, I doubled down on my mission to open doors and bust many of the tired old myths that women and managers still believe about themselves and their employees, both consciously and unconsciously. At WEX, I’m proud to be part of a leadership team that is nearly 50% women, including our CEO, all of whom have amazing families and demanding careers.
As a change advocate and catalyst for career moms everywhere, I often tell working parents these things:
Yes, it is okay to take that conference call in the school drop-off line.
Yes, it is okay to sit at karate practice or horseback riding competitions or lacrosse games while sending a text or email or hopping on a conference call.
In order to do it all, you have to first give yourself permission to live by your rules. You also need to decide what “all” means for you. I wanted a challenging career while also spending quality time with my husband and kids. As a result, my definition of “all” doesn’t leave me much time to form new, deep friendships, which is, at times, a challenge.
Clearly, the expectation of any company is to consistently deliver strong performance. At each company I’ve worked for, I’ve been clear on my expectations and have ensured that my “say/do” ratio is 100%, which means I do what I say I am going to do and more. In return, these companies have provided an environment in which I felt like I could work, live, and thrive.
If you truly love what you do for a living, you can make it work. Working parents who are unsure of what they want and feel resentment toward their work or family because they perceive they are missing out or haven’t made their expectations clear are setting themselves up to fail.
I knew when I had children that I would not have them at home forever, and my husband and I vowed to always put them first. Our grounding in our family has made my choices easier. Make no mistake: If you want to bifurcate work and family, it is nearly impossible in the 24/7 world that we live in today. I prefer to call it “work-life integration.” You work hard, you play hard, and you have no regrets.
But first, you find a job you can’t live without and a company that can’t live without you–you the whole person, not just you the employee.
Melanie Tinto is the chief human resources officer at WEX.