Before the word “pandemic” was even spoken this year, before face masks became a major style essential, and before my commute started consisting of only 10 steps to a tiny desk in my daughter’s playroom, I already knew that this would be a challenging year for me professionally. I rolled into 2020 six months pregnant, and like most expecting moms who know they are returning to work, I felt a bit of gloom at the prospect of preparing to leave for 12 weeks of maternity leave, and then even more gloom at the prospect of returning to work and finding my footing all over again.
So, fast-forward to early March when my boss was replaced just as the pandemic hit and I was only several weeks out from maternity leave. The world was uncertain at best and the last thing I could’ve anticipated was that I would be here at the end of the year declaring it one of the best of my professional career.
Alas, here I am, and the reason is simple: my new boss has led with empathy and empowerment and made my life better because of it. I am hoping that my story can be an anthem to managers everywhere and a reminder that a little humanity goes a long way, and a lot of humanity might change someone’s life.
While I don’t think anyone should ever feel indebted to their employers, I am overwhelmed with gratitude to work for a leader who puts people and mental health over anything else. I’m even more thankful for this to be the case during an unprecedented pandemic and during a time of huge change in my personal life.
So, to my boss, thank you.
Thank you for seeing my pregnancy as a blessing and not an obstacle. As a society, we tend to look at pregnancy as something we get through, and how we work during this time is no different. We have to just get through the appointments, the exhaustion, the stress and the discomfort with the facade that we’ve got it all under control because if we don’t, we fear our jobs will be impacted.
To be greeted wholeheartedly by a new boss who truly cared about the wellbeing of my pregnancy gave me an opportunity to reexamine how to walk through the last few months of pregnancy. Appointments were met with sincere hopes that everything went well. Exhaustion was met with invitations to take time off. Stress was met with empathy. And my joy was met with the joy of another mom who’d been there before.
Thank you for putting mental health first. As I neared the mid-way point of my maternity leave, I reached out to my boss and asked for more time off. I didn’t have a good reason other than I wasn’t mentally ready to go back at 12 weeks. She knew as well as I knew that I’d come back and be at my best when my mind was ready to be at its best, so she encouraged me to take as much time as I needed.
Since returning, I’ve realized that taking time to be as mentally sound as possible is an open invitation for her team, and she encourages us all to know our limits and boundaries so that we can take a break before we get there.
Thank you for embracing flexibility. Within 24 hours of being back at work, I quickly realized that I would need flexibility in order to show up for my family the way they needed it during this season. These aren’t easy conversations to have at work—bringing them up requires full vulnerability and a lot of women fear that they will be penalized for doing so.
Upon sharing a proposal, my boss’s first words to me were, “Thank you for your bravery,” followed by, “Let’s see how we can make this work not only for you but for everyone on the team who needs flexibility.” The result has been a schedule that for the first time in my career doesn’t make me feel like the role of mom is one that I have to sneak in outside the hours of 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. I undoubtedly work harder than I ever have in my life, but my professional life and personal life now exist with both fluidity and boundaries that didn’t exist before.
Thank you for pushing me and seeing my potential. Even though my hours are now more flexible, my boss doesn’t treat me with kid gloves. She still sees me as a professional and expert in my field and treats me as such. She also sees my potential and hasn’t neglected an opportunity to help me grow and develop professionally. Her ability to lead with empathy has given her a lens through which to know when to push and when to hold back.
Thank you for normalizing babies on Zoom calls. I’m on a team with two other colleagues who’ve recently had babies, along with a whole host of other team members who are quarantined at home with their children of all ages. While there was once a time that any one of us may have felt the need to hide when a sick kid was home from school, my boss has normalized a world where a parent can pick up a crying baby during a phone call or go on mute to help a second-grader solve a math problem. Our kids are now part of the workday and no one has to apologize for putting their family first.
Thank you for being human. Even for those who didn’t have a baby this year or who don’t have kids at home, we all need to be met with more humanity at work, especially right now. I’ve seen her show as much genuine excitement for a team member’s new cat as she has for learning that someone’s baby has taken his first steps. She’s been open about her own exhaustion and struggles, creating a space where we can all be vulnerable and supported. We get to work in a world where balance, not perfection, is the goal.
One of my favorite parent sayings is that more is caught than taught, and as a manager myself, working for this type of people-first leader has evolved and improved my own leadership style, while also motivating me to work harder and better to be there for my boss in return. How much would be caught if more managers put people first? And I also can’t help but think, how many mothers would feel empowered to keep working? How many lives would this change?
It’s changed my life.