“There were many warning signs that they were not being as inclusive as they could be. Such as hosting company meetings at a 5:30 PM start time. There wasn’t flexibility to work from home when you weren’t feeling well or needed childcare support. And you’d get the stink eye if you brought your kid in. But not your dog,” said Sarah Johal, Marketer, Serial Employee Resource Group Leader and Parental Advocate.
Most workplaces aren’t family friendly. Or inclusive. And traditionally, you either had to accept it or leave. But what if there’s another option? Where you build a posse and change your organization from the inside. That’s what Sarah did. And she’s now leading a movement to center the needs of families in the workplace.
Workplace Bias is Real
No, you’re not imagining it. Built In reports that, “half of women working in Science, Technology and Engineering (STEM) said they’ve experienced gender bias at work. And more than a third view it as the primary reason for not being promoted.” Women still haven’t penetrated the C-Suite in tech. And it’s a fraction of that for women of color. Workplace bias is common, draining and expensive.
Sarah said, “When I became a new Mom, I unfortunately went through what many Mothers continue to go through in tech and beyond. Experiencing discrimination because I became a parent.” All women pay the Motherhood penalty to some degree. Even if they don’t become parents. But Mothers earn less than our childless peers. And although men face challenges integrating parenthood and work, there’s no lack of Dads in the C-Suite. Because parenthood typically helps their earnings.
So, Find your People
Sarah said, “I heard similar stories, time and time again. And it was heartbreaking,” Motherhood bias at work is real. The challenging expeirence led her to find community. “After hearing my story, the women in our company were coming to me and saying, ‘you know what happened to you is making me think maybe I should pause my family plans.’ And that’s just not the world we should be creating! So, I left intentionally and joined a different startup because of that toxic experience,” she said.
And Enlist Sponsors
Sarah said, “I first joined and co-founded an ERG back in the day, around 2007. That was Before Lean In was coming onto the scene to help women look at career development differently.” She said the small number of women working at that startup recogniazed the need for increasing inclusion and gender parity. She explained, “We formed an unofficial ‘women in business’ ERG within our company. And our executive sponsor was the only woman executive at the company. So, it was just as important to her, to rethink the type of workplace that we were creating. And this was an anchor point to make sure that we were going to grow in the ways that we wanted to.”
Embrace Your Community for Support
Access to flexibility and psychological safety at work, often comes down to what Sarah describes as the “boss lotto.” It’s your manager who sets your daily experience. And few are trained on inclusivity or even leadership. So, if advocating for yourself feels career-limiting, consider a supportive ERG. It may mitigate the impact of an unsupportive manager.
Sarah suggests you connect with an ERG to learn how others deal with similar challenges. “Solutions do exist. And it’s a matter of how to crowd source and find those shortcuts. Start talking to other ERG leaders and members. Because you can do a bit of an audit of the practices in your company, before having a one-on-one conversation with your manager.”
And Advocate for Real Systems Change
Sarah pushed to expand the paid parental leave at her prior employer, Lyft to 18 weeks. Then Uber, their competitor, matched it. Which had a positive impact on thousands of workers! “We needed to solve this for our greater community and create a legacy for future workers.” Beautiful! Sarah has a big vision for where ERG’s can go to bring inclusion to a homogenous industry. She added, “We’ve got to add caregiving workers into the DEI and talent strategy road map to solve these challenges at scale.”
Emerge as a Leader
Not every organization embraces change. Or the people who advocate for it. But, you can combine impact with professional growth through ERG involvement. Sarah said, “As a young professional I was using my marketing skills, to be the Co-Lead of our ERG’s events taskforce. And I found an incredible amount of camaraderie and support talking to women in other departments.”
She also began to organize events with luminaries, in and outside of her industry. “What I really appreciate about ERG communities is that we’re building a new type of template. And tearing down the old ways of work, including the old ways of assuming who gets to be a leader.” Amen. She added, “There’s no excuse anymore not to build an inclusive workplace. Or embrace a more empathetic way of leading.”
Set Boundaries to Manage Your Energy
Sarah relaunched the Parents in Tech Alliance, to bolster industry wide caregiver support. It’s an undertaking that she’s passionate about. But mission-oriented work can become all consuming. Especially when you’re trying to balance career, family and maintain some sort of self-care.
She admits, “Everything from the past two years was draining my battery. And I want my battery to be charged to do this kind of work for as long as possible. If you are an ERG leader, it’s so important to create terms around those roles.” After more than 15 years of starting ERG’s, having a finite amount of time as the leader, has helped her focus her energy.
Find the Humor
Sarah said, “Being an ERG leader is hard because you are often the sponge for a lot of complex emotions. You may have somebody tell you a horrific workplace trauma story. And then ten minutes later, you have to hop on a Zoom call and pretend like you are collected. And that is absolutely draining to the soul at times.” Yes. When asked how she resets and cares for herself, Sarah said, “I am now prescribing myself comedy. Because I want to remember that there is laughter and joy between these moments.” Sarah has found podcasts offer a practical alternative to live shows. “So, doing laundry at home, taking a walk or after school drop off, I have laughter in my ear.” Brilliant!
And Keep Self-Care Rituals to Refuel
Sarah also protects family time. She said, “I’m trying to be mindful of finding pockets of the busy work and school week, where we can still have a good routine. It helps me to feel grounded when everything else is chaotic. We always have family dinner at the table, even if it’s short. And I try to pick one or two moments of the week, where we can just have quality playtime.”
Many women find that the glass ceiling becomes cement post-kids. And in the industries without female leaders, seeking visibility and support at work, can feel like an exhausting, daily grind. But communities are powerful. So, consider tapping into or starting an ERG. Not only can it lead to a better workplace with more support, it might transform your professional trajectory.
Many thanks to the talented Sarah Johal!
Follow her great adventure on her website, Instagram and Twitter. And ERG parents, sign up for the Parents in Tech Alliance newsletter for amazing resources. And an invitation to their upcoming screening of the film Time to Care on November 17th!
Super grateful to the many amazing parents who have participated in the research study. Have you chimed in yet? Share your pandemic experiences! How are the latest changes affecting your life? It’s quick and the results from this study are used to advocate better support for parents.
Employers, let us help you transform your workplace into an environment where caregivers thrive. Learn about Allies @ Work.
About Sarah Johal:
Sarah Johal (she/her) is a tech marketer who believes building brand means building belonging. And Executive Director of national nonprofit Parents in Tech Alliance. She’s directed award-winning global campaigns, live experiences, and platform integrations with the world’s top brands including Disney, Delta Airlines, Nike, and Spotify.
Along the way, Sarah is redefining inclusive workplaces. Her impact is covered in Fast Company, Forbes, Entrepreneur, Ladies Get Paid, Refinery29, and Slate for providing thousands of Americans with paid family leave. She founded Lyft & Workday’s family ERGs (employee resource groups), and serves as board advisory for several startups & nonprofits. Sarah lives in the East Bay with her husband and daughter.
Tags: Career Development for Moms
, diversity equity inclusion
, Inclusive leadership
, maternal bias
, parental bias