Episode 30: Don't Confuse Movement With Progress: Why You Need to Be Vigilant about Your Career

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Hi. I'm Victoria Hefty, and welcome to Activate Purpose, where I talk about finding purpose through action while balancing motherhood and career. In today's episode, I'm going to share how reading a New York Times article on pregnancy and motherhood led me to, once again, be reminded to, as the quote says, "Not confuse movement with progress." Whether you're a mom or have no plans to be, I'll be candid and share why you need to be vigilant about your career well before you may think you need to.

Hi, everyone. It is Wednesday afternoon. I was actually originally going to record this tonight when I usually do, but I've had a crazy morning of back-to-back calls put in, some amazing work, and I have this 30 minutes of "free time," I use that in air quotes, before I pick up my older daughter from school. My younger almost six-month-old is fed and happily bouncing in her little bouncer, so I decided to just go ahead and seize the moment and record now.

The downside is I don't have my thoughts fully flushed out. I'll try not to ramble, but just do know that I usually tend to be more structured, but I wanted to, like I said, take advantage of the free time. Lastly, my little one, as I said, is in the back, so if you do hear some cooing or some occasional laughter, as she's now doing, which I absolutely, you know what the deal is.

Today, I wanted to talk about this article that I actually I found. I don't know how I stumbled upon it. I think it's been trending or something like that, but it was basically, I'll put a link in the show notes, but it was an article by a track and field athlete who is sponsored by Nike and how Nike, basically saying how Nike purports to be all about pro-women and supporting mothers, supporting women, but in reality, the tagline says, "Nike told me to dream crazy until I wanted a baby. Being a mother and a champion was a crazy dream. It didn't have to be."

What it talks about is, as soon as, and this should be no surprise to pretty much anyone who's a mom or soon-to-be mom, as soon as you become pregnant or let's say even have your baby, you no longer can perform, and so actually Nike actually doesn't pay out. They basically stop paying and until these women start, I guess, going back to work, which means for some of them, that's not a very big turnaround. They may be pregnant, and then one of them I think three months later was already running a marathon and has now chronic hip issue because she just wasn't ready to be back.

People make the argument, "Well, can't you do something else?" But the problem is Nike makes them sign... There we go again. I know. It's a problem, right? Nike makes them sign an exclusivity contract, so they actually can't get other sponsors. It's pretty much like they have to stay on as a Nike sponsor, and if they get pregnant or once they have the baby, they have very quick maternity leave, which they're not paid for in any way, shape, or form. It's kind of this open secret because Nike has no problem flaunting a pregnant woman in one of their marketing ads, but then when it comes to standing up and doing the right thing and actually supporting the mom after she has her baby, they're nowhere to be found.

That's sort of... If you want the more backstory, again, read the link. What, I guess, I want to talk about is a couple of things. What I've realized because, again, this is now new, I feel like I've been reading articles like this all the time, usually in the corporate world. It was not nice to see a change, but it was interesting to see it applied in the professional world, but nonetheless, I think where I get frustrated is there's this notion that, I don't know, I feel like men tend to get praised for being dads. I've even read some research that says men that are fathers are more likely to be promoted. They're seen as leaders, caregivers, all of these big, powerful things, and yet, it's the exact opposite for women. My question is who's supposed to give birth to these kids? Who... I don't understand why women get penalized for having birth. If you want children, someone's gotta give birth to them.

I'm coming full-circle, I promise. Why this is frustrating to me, but also a good reminder, is I was thinking about topics to talk about on this podcast, and I had circled this quote that I had heard that says, "Don't confuse movement with progress." I actually think it indirectly applies to this situation very well, meaning a lot of companies, whether you can be skeptical or not, they're "well-intentioned," I'll use my air quotes again. They have these programs. They may offer, I don't know, some version of a decent maternity leave, so whoopee, they give you like six weeks or eight weeks, partially paid if you're lucky, and that's being generous for most people. They may offer a slight discount on childcare even though that is rare. They may offer a one sick day or two.

The whole point is, there's all of these little things that companies are doing, which can be, in this sense, confused with movement, but we are missing the boat on actually progressing around women and what it means, whether you're in the athletic world or what it means for your career. I think that this is a couple of implications that may be relevant for you.

One, if you're a mom or plan to be a mom, more importantly, because I feel like it's that period before you're a mom, I feel like me and a lot of my NBA friends who are all, for the most part, very driven, ambitious, as I talk about in my last podcast episode, women who I... I'll speak for myself. I had the mindset when I was pregnant that this is totally fine. What I will do is I'm in a position I'm fortunate enough where I can hire a nanny. I'll continue going up the corporate ladder. Yes, I may be deducted a motherhood penalty one or two years, but I'll be right back on track. I consider myself a smart, well-researched person, and yet, I had this mentality of "it will be fine; it's merely a small little bump in the road."

In reality, having a child completely changed me in ways I did not know or was prepared for. I came to the decision that I actually wanted to be a bigger part of her life. I actually did not want a nanny. There's nothing wrong with a nanny. They're fantastic, but it wasn't what I wanted. I wanted to be more present in her, the early years, and I wanted to be there for, I don't know, not for the moments. I just wanted to be there. I don't think I have to like... I don't know, I feel like I'm, what's the word, justify my decision. You don't have to justify why. I wanted to be present more and be at home with her.

What I didn't realize was that I had to go two directions. I had to either make the choice to be at home full time or work full time. At the time, I just wasn't aware that there were other options available that now, three years later, I've carved out this unique space where I am able to work and still be a stay-at-home/work-at-home mom. I just work flexible hours.

The whole point is, I feel like we are not setting women up for success because the media and the news are either... I'm not sure that for every story that they highlight, like, "Great, a company's offering 14 weeks of paid leave or 16 weeks of paid leave," it's a start, but when you start to peel back the layers, you'll realize that there's a lot built into those that are just not setting us up for success. Either the paid leave is very minimal or you have to have been at the company for like 10 years to leverage it or as soon as you come back from maternity leave, if you even have the four-month maternity leave, you're expected to ramp up immediately and, you know what, it's like you've had your kid, now come back to real life. No more of this mommy thing.

It can be frustrating. What this means is my biggest advice that I'm applying to myself but I think is what I'm trying to say is that you have to be vigilant about your career. What that means is being intentional about your career. Whether or not you plan to be a mom or you plan to do something else, you have to start thinking about that well before it's time. I'll address the moms, and then the non-moms.

If you are a mom, either you're pregnant or you're thinking about becoming a mom, I need you, before you go on maternity leave, to really think about if that baby comes and for whatever reason, again, you don't have to justify it to anyone, you decide that you can't be in an office 9:00 to 5:00, what are you going to do? Think about that now. Is the only alternative to not work at all? Do you want to transition careers? If you do want to transition careers, do you have the skills to do that? Is there something that you can start building up your skillset for now? I think thinking about that well in advance... Hold on. I have to pause. This is real life. Hold on one second.

Okay, and we're back. Yes, I had to pick up the little nugget. She was getting a little fussy. You have to start thinking about that well in advance. I would argue start thinking about it now. I think if you wait until, wait, one, thinking... If you, one, wait until you have the baby to come from maternity and leave and figure it out, you will likely be exhausted and not have the mental capacity in those early months to really be in a place where I think you can make an informed, rational decision. Most people at that point will panic, and they'll just say, "You know what? I'm done. I have to leave, or I'm just going to quit cold turkey," and when in reality, there's probably some groundwork that you could've started laying down before you left while you still had the sanity of not having another baby around or your first baby around.

I would say for the people who are listening, thank you, and you don't have children or don't want children, 100% support that decision, I would say the same rule or mentality still applies. If I were to ask you if your job wasn't there in four months and your company just said, "Your role is no longer going to exist in three to four months," what would you do? What would you start doing now? Whether or not your job is actually going to be there, I think you need to start thinking and being present actively in your career, even if you are at the height of your career because what I'm realizing is the vast majority of corporations are ultimately there to make money, not to really worry about you and maintain stability for you.

That means that you need to do what it takes to be, again, intentional and very proactive about your own career. I think what this also allows you to do is hopefully continue building your skills or building your interest or having a range of interests that perhaps you don't have to start a new full-time job. That's not what I'm advocating. But what I am advocating is are there some things that you are ignoring that you could probably start doing now?

Let's say you wanted to get into marketing. Have you, I don't know, taken a quick course on marketing? Even if it's online. There are courses right now that are just like an hour and give you a little teaser, or have you started thinking about if you want to go back to school for a short program, a continuing education program. Whatever it is, a career, you have to design your own career. I'm always surprised at how many people are so just devastatingly unhappy in their career. I think that they're doing a lot of the movement that I'm talking about, but they're not really progress.

If I were to bring this full-circle, again, I did tell you I might ramble for a little bit, as I normally like more structure, but here we are, my big takeaway here is, may not be a, I don't know, fully thought-out conclusion, but I do feel like it is important to start asking yourself what is it that you want from your career, and if you don't know the answer, what can you do to start figuring that out? What are the things that you need to, either gaps that you need to close or things that you need to pursue, even if it's in small tidbits or, I don't know, volunteering if you have to.

There are a lot of great organizations that let you try out some new... oh, try out some new skills a couple of hours a month, for example, that will let you get your feet wet without having to make a big career move. A great example is catchafire.org for people who don't know about that. They sort of match... They call themselves, I don't know if they call themselves or someone else, but it's like the eharmony of nonprofits.

Basically, they match professionals who are looking to either build up their skillset or just give back in a non-paid position that is super flexible. Some of them are full-time projects that are, I don't know, anywhere from a couple of weeks to a couple of months, but a lot of them are, if you just want to volunteer... Sorry. If you just want to... Oh, my goodness. Okay. It looks like I'm going to wrap this up. If you just want to volunteer a couple of hours of your time a month and try out. Let's say you want to move into communications or you want to try out bookkeeping or something to start being proactive and thinking about next steps in your career, that could be an option.

I will wrap this up. I tried, right? I did try. I made it 15 minutes. That is the message that I wanted to relay to you today. Thanks for being patient with me. It's something that I will want to do more episodes on. It's something I feel very strongly about because I think that after having another conversation with a good NBA friend of mine who was like, "I just wasn't prepared. I just didn't realize how difficult it was going to be at work once the baby came, and now I feel stuck because I didn't really take the time to think about how this was actually going to work out."

I hear that so many times. The biggest shock is most of them work at these companies that, in the media, have amazing, amazing on-paper maternity leave policies, but in reality, it's not working for the very people that they say it's supposed to be, just like this Nike situation. Your job is to be aware of that and to start planning ahead and to not let your company dictate what your next career is but to really start thinking about that now. I will say, because my daughter was so loud, it's an area that at least I know I don't have all the answers, but I have a lot of resources that I just have known about.

If you have any questions or you even want to be in a place where you can start thinking about it... My goodness. Just send me an email at victoria@activatepurpose.com with your question, or I'm happy to just pop on the phone, I've done that a few times, and just have a candid discussion about how to begin or how to think about that. I would love to know what you're struggling with. Thank you. Thank you so much for your time. Apologies, again, if you're still listening with this one in the background. I appreciate it.

Oh, I forgot my challenge. My challenge for you today is to think about, like I said, if your job was to no longer exist in two months, two to three months, I'm being aggressive here, so I'm going to say two months, what would you do? Some of you might say, "I'll just apply to a new job," but I would counter and say, "Well, what types of jobs? Is your resume updated now? If your resume isn't amazing, why is that? Do you need to just simply update it, or do you need to fill in some skills gaps? Do you need to start thinking about extra projects at work to do that to be able to show on your resume?" Start thinking about that now whether or not you have kids because I think it will force you to really start asking about what it is that you want from your own career.

Until next time. Bye.

I'm Victoria, your host.jpg
Activate Purpose