What IMGE is Doing to Support Working Moms

A conversation about why women are struggling to get back to work and what companies can - and should - do about it.

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Motherhood. It’s the most challenging job on earth…especially right now.

Many mothers had to leave the workforce during the pandemic when schools and daycares closed their doors. Now two years later, many moms still aren’t able to go back to work. Just look at the numbers – men’s labor force participation was up to 70% in January while women’s participation lagged at 58%.

Those stats are pretty bleak at a time when companies are desperate for help. Hiring and retaining good talent feels impossible these days. Keeping qualified women on the sidelines makes it even harder.

In honor of International Women’s Day, I sat down with IMGE Executive Vice President and Partner, Megan Foote, and our Creative Director, Emily Karrs, to chat about why flexible policies are crucial in the current job market and how IMGE supports working moms on our team.

Q: You are both working mothers. What is it like being a full-time employee and a full-time mom around the clock?

Emily: As that phrase implies, that sort of does not work no matter what you do. It’s impossibly hard to balance work and life. But being a mom also made me better at work. It’s like doing strenuous weight lifting for the planning, strategy, and decisiveness centers of your brain. Your life becomes a lot harder and it forces you to adapt.

Megan: It’s really hard. I sometimes take offense to the line “you can have it all” because I think it trivializes how much work and stress it takes to do everything. There’s this constant feeling of not giving enough. Enough to your job. Enough to your kids. Enough to your spouse. Enough to your family. Enough to your friends. And on and on.

There are two things that tend to help me:

One – Be present in what I’m doing so I can devote myself in the moment. When I’m at work, I try to crush work as best I can – and when my kids come home from school, I make an effort to put my phone away and be a present mom.

Two – Don’t be too hard on myself. I know I’m doing the best I can, and there’s no point in second-guessing that.

Q: Megan, as a Partner at IMGE, you have led the charge for more flexible PTO, adoption, and parental leave policies. Why was that a priority for you?

Megan: The last thing new moms (and dads!) need is uncertainty over returning to work, not being paid their full compensation, dealing with Short-Term Disability, and any stress related to their job.

To try and support parents at IMGE, I wanted to remove any stress that I could. When I became a partner in 2017 – right after having my first child – I wanted to solidify our policies to ensure that everyone would be able to take the same type of time off I did, and be paid for it.

Q: IMGE offers 12 weeks paid maternity leave and “take what you need” unlimited PTO. How do you think these policies benefit new moms?

Emily: Giving your mind and body time to fully heal after labor isn’t a luxury, it’s a necessity. That time isn’t what the movies make it out to be – some women have a very difficult recovery process and need time, not just to bond with their child, but to allow their body to recuperate.

I was cleared to go back to the office three days before my paid leave ended, but it removed a lot of pressure knowing that it would be perfectly fine for me to open my laptop and work from my bed if my doctor said it was not okay for me to go back.

Megan: The U.S.’s paid leave is garbage. It hurts women, men, kids, the workforce, and on and on. We have to do better.

As a business owner, parental leave can be challenging to make work. But it’s worth it. It’s important to prioritize and empower parents – if we don’t do it, we miss out on a critical segment of the workforce. I’d rather lose a rockstar employee for 12 weeks (or more) than forever.

As someone in a leadership position, I have the opportunity to craft policies that best fit IMGE and our priorities. Culture, staff, and retention are so important – so I try to do what I can to implement policies that allow staff flexibility.

Q: The pandemic was difficult for everyone, but especially for working mothers. What was the biggest challenge for you during this time?

Emily: Parenting can be kind of isolating because you are doing it alone inside your home. The pandemic only amplified that. But it also gave people a peek into the lifestyles of their colleagues and the chaos in those moments of crisis. It’s my hope that we all walk away from this experience more understanding and empathetic.

Megan: In the moment, it was pure survival. We did it, but wow was it difficult. Looking back, I don’t even really know how we made it work. We just did because there was no other option – which sounds dramatic, but I can say it was truly one of the hardest things I’ve gone through.

I wasn’t the best mom. I certainly wasn’t the best boss or employee. But we were all trying our best in truly unprecedented times. I joke with my husband that if we were able to get through 2020 quarantine – 7 months of no childcare + both parents working full time – we can tackle anything that may come our way.

Q: Many professional mothers aren’t going back to work because schools are grappling with staffing shortages and parents can’t find – or afford – childcare. How has the transition back to the office been for you?

Emily: IMGE actually rocks. Being able to come in sometimes when you need to leave the house and focus is huge. But there are also times when it’s amazing that I can be a shout away from my kids with something rolling in the slow cooker. I get to live that mommy fantasy where I get to be home with my kids without needing to somehow duplicate myself.

Megan: Overall, it’s been great. I’ve adopted a hybrid schedule where I’m in the office 2-3 days a week, and remote the other days. When daycare is closed, my husband and I figure out what will work best for our family. It usually involves a lot of calendar comparison – who can cancel or move what.

We’ve found that if we break-up the day, that also works pretty well. So one of us will watch the kids in the morning, while the other works – and then we swap the afternoon so we can both have dedicated work time.

Q: What are some of the ways companies can better support working mothers?

Emily: Current leave policy forces mothers out of the workplace. If you are looking to hire women, a leave policy is essential. It is a non-negotiable for many women who don’t want to have to decide between a career and a family.

Megan: For larger companies – childcare. Childcare is expensive and can be inconsistent. The stress of wondering “Will I have childcare today?” is very real and weighs heavily on parents.

For all companies – flexibility. I am fully aware that I was very lucky in that I had a job that was flexible, partners and colleagues who were understanding, staff who stepped up. Not everyone has that environment and I can’t imagine going through the pandemic and NOT having a support system like I did. I feel very thankful for IMGE and proud of the culture that we built because we were able to stay flexible and support staff in lots of different ways.

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As we’ve grown as a firm, IMGE has become a better place to be a parent because our parental policies have grown with us. Megan and Emily have both played an integral role in making that happen.

If you want to work at a place that will support your life goals in addition to your career goals – whether that means having children, adopting a dozen rescue puppies, or seeing the world – consider joining our team. We would love to have you.

Thanks for reading!

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