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We need to stop asking working moms what happened to the babysitter

When Treehouse CEO Ryan Carson took his son to work, people assumed he’d done this by choice, not because he had a babysitter fail to show up.

We need to stop asking working moms what happened to the babysitter
[Photo: Liderina/iStock]

I’m a dad. I have two boys, 11 and 8. I work full-time, and I occasionally bring my boys to the office—not because I need to, but because I want to.

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A few months ago, I asked my 11-year-old to attend our board meeting. It was an all-day affair with catering and around seven attendees. I asked him to practice taking notes (my EA was also taking notes). All of the people at the board meeting thought it was “cool” that I had brought my son, that it was “smart” of me to introduce him to the world of entrepreneurship early on and that he was “getting a window into the world of business,” which was universally thought of as good.

In June, I was invited to speak at a conference in New York City, and I decided to take my oldest son with me again. I thought it would be good to expose him to how a conference works where he could practice his handshake and see me speak on stage—okay, and if I’m being honest, also to eat hot dogs in Central Park and go see The Gazillion Bubble Show.

At the conference, he was universally accepted with enthusiasm. The fact that he was wearing a suit and tie was all the better. Attendees told me what a great dad I was. They wished their dad had taken them to work when they were a kid.

I agree with all of that. But it did make me wonder if the same kudos would have been extended to a woman who was doing the same thing. I found it fascinating that people assumed I had done this by choice, not because I had a babysitter fail to show up. If a woman brought her son to a conference, would people assume it was because she had to? Rather than “that’s cool,” would she get a “what happened?”

What I do know is that I’ve never been referred to as a “working dad” but my wife has been referred to as a “working mom” countless times.

Research shows that men are more likely to get hired once they have children because they’re perceived as having more commitment or being more stable than before children. As we know they are also likely to get paid more. Women are sometimes less likely to get hired once they become a mother as managers worry that they may start having childcare issues and need time off. It’s like we’re stuck in a Mad Men-era nightmare where we just can’t shake our obsession with traditional roles. But we have to, not only because it’s the right and equitable thing to do but because we desperately need to encourage women into the tech industry.

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Here’s a little story of one company who changed their hiring process because they came up against a problem that was fueled by this exact double standard.

HubSpot develops sales and marketing software in Cambridge, MA. They are currently using our TalentPath program to train five apprentices from diverse backgrounds as software engineers. The apprentices spend six months learning, but since they are not paid, they also have to hold down jobs at the same time. Two of the apprentices had small children and found it really difficult to work and complete their coursework while looking after their children. The whole program became weighted toward the apprentices without dependents. It didn’t work.

HubSpot came to us and said they’d like to level the playing field by paying all of their apprentices to earn while they learn. They agreed. Now all the apprentices are doing well and are on target to start their three-month trial as software engineers in January 2020.

We’re not yet at the point where the majority of childcare does not fall to the woman in any family. But we should be at the point where we recognize that that is a choice. Being a mother shouldn’t limit anyone’s career, especially those who are trying to work their way into a new industry.

So next time you see a female colleague with her child into the office, tell her it’s cool and a great thing to do. But please, don’t ask her what happened to the babysitter.

Ryan Carson is the cofounder and CEO of Treehouse

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