When Naava Shafner from Jerusalem went job hunting, her interviewers were skeptical. “Every single time I was asked some variation of the questions ‘When are you getting pregnant, are you pregnant, when are you having a family?’ My husband has never been asked this question and he is a very involved parent.” Like Naava, many career-minded mothers discover that employers and investors see them as a liability. Why should we hire you or invest in your company, they implicitly ask, and risk a surfeit of sick days and maternity leaves?
Working mothers face criticism on another front as well. “I was walking home from the bus stop at a relatively early hour and ran into a well-meaning neighbor,” says Cori Widen, co-founder and CEO of the promising startup RoadShows, “and she said ‘Wow, you’re just getting home from work? That’s awful!’”
Whether they question our dedication to our careers or to our children, the skeptical employers and critical neighbors share the same basic assumption: They frame these aspects of our lives as a perpetual conflict of interests, and expect us to fail. “There is a pervasive perception that being a career-minded working mother is this super overwhelming, tragic situation,” says Cori, and Naava adds: “Everyone tells career-minded moms that they have to feel guilty.”
Cori and Naava feel that this popular perception doesn’t capture their actual experience as working moms. “No one is talking about the personal fulfillment from professional success, the ability to be a dynamic human being who is both a mother and something else,” says Cori. “No one is talking about the beauty of an equal partnership with a spouse and how that benefits both parents and children, and the positive female role model that I’m providing for my son, who will someday treat his wife according to those expectations.” Naava agrees: “Being a mom helps my career and having a career helps my motherhood.”
A year ago, Cori created the Facebook group Working/Career Minded Mamas in Israel to change the discourse and empower other working mothers. Five months ago, she and Naava founded ImaKadima, a non-profit organization that promotes their positive vision of career-minded parenthood, and addresses some of the challenges involved. They hope to supply women with more skills and a supportive community, and change the way they’re treated by employers.
Naava became ImaKadima’s executive director. “Me and Cori sat and we were talking about the fact that we wanted to find someone who shares our vision to make ImaKadima into a real organization,” she recalls. “We were discussing who do we know like that. And I was like, wait, I want to do that! It sounds awesome!”
Today, five months later, Naava has already led ImaKadima through a variety of events and collaborations with other organizations, and launched a unique mentorship program. Penina Eichler, ImaKadima’s professional development coordinator, brought together five pairs of mentors and mentees. “I’m a big believer in collaboration and I think that when people work together, it contributes to both ends,” Penina explains. “It helps the mentee—obviously—because she is getting guidance, but it also helps the mentor, because as she is going through the process, she is learning new things as well. A good match will provide benefits for both sides.” To make the mentorship more effective, Penina requires each pair to meet regularly and report progress. She hopes to dynamically adjust the program as it unfolds, and eventually bring it to a wider community.
Naava has big plans for the future. She works on an “ImaKadima Seal” for family-friendly businesses. She dreams of sponsoring mothers who want to go back to school or learn a new skill, but are held back by financial and technical difficulties. “That’s going be my big pet project when we get funding,” she says with enthusiasm. “It’s going be an investment the mother pays back in services to ImaKadima people when she finishes.”
Naava and Cori emphasize that the key to all these changes is a shift in perspective. “One of the things we talk about a lot in ImaKadima is that the change is all in your head,” Naava explains. She hopes to empower working mothers by inspiring them to view themselves with pride, and convince employers to view parents as an asset. “Its a huge plus, rather than a disadvantage. Mothers are more productive, more adaptable, and better at time management.”
Cori dreams of fostering progress by changing the way we speak about mothers in the workplace. “We can teach women, politicians, employers, and men to talk about ‘working parents’ instead of working moms, when we talk about the need for flexibility. We can use language to help people understand that the falsehood that women are solely responsible for child-rearing is part of what holds us back professionally.”
To make these dreams come true, Naava had to quit her job and move in with her parents, betting her own career on ImaKadima’s success. I ask her how she feels about her new life. “I am a little more scared but I am infinitely, extraordinarily happier.” Naava’s face is bright with passion as she answers. “I’m feeling like I’m really doing good in the world which is what I always wanted to do. I see the changes I’m making, and that’s something that really excites me.” After being upset by the way mothers are treated in the professional world, she is excited “to be doing something proactive and not just be really critical of the things I’m upset about.”
Naava feels that her joy in this new career made her a better mother: “When I’m with my family and kids, I’m able to be very much present.” As she and Cori lead ImaKadima towards new goals and projects, they hope to help other women experience the same feeling of fulfillment and growth, both at home and in their work.
ImaKadima will launch imakadima.org this coming Thursday, during its event “’NO’ is not a 4 letter word: Personal & Professional Assertiveness Training & Boundary Setting”. If you wish to sponsor ImaKadima’s team in the upcoming Jerusalem Marathon, see: Team ImaKadima in the Jerusalem Marathon.