/Stop assuming and start asking

Stop assuming and start asking

Do “not” tell me how I am doing…

These are the words we mutter silently to ourselves when a well-meaning person, be it friend, boss or partner, assumes they know what we are going through as working mothers.

People assume that working mothers are tired, have got it together, can’t cope, want balance, are feeling frustrated, want to go home, feel guilty, questioning their capability, are loving their life…

They may be right. They may be wrong. They are ALL just assumptions.

As topics get trendy, more assumptions tend to be made and working mothers is a trendy topic. Just ask @emrusciano, who, in a recent article rebuttal, shined the light on the false assumptions made from every angle regarding her recent change in career … without asking her.

Making assumptions is a version of our survival instinct.  When our brain makes a snap decision about a situation and acts accordingly for our survival (note this is our survival, not the working mother). It is our unconscious bias at work. Granted in high-risk situations, this can be the difference between life and death.  But we are not facing that when we face the working mother (unless you get between her and her child!).

Assumptions about working mothers in the workplace disempower the working mother by taking away the opportunity and affects her engagement at work and/or at home.

When decisions are made in the background such as promotion, project assignment and fast-tracking regarding working mothers based on assumptions, the end result will always be negative. Why? Because engagement suffers due to the disempowerment of the working mothers. This unintended collateral damage from making assumptions negatively impacts organisations in the long run.

The lesson for all of us in the workplace is this:

Don’t assume. Be curious, Ask the question. Empathise. Have the conversation.

For the working mothers, here is some advice to empower yourselves in the face of assumptions:

  • Remember that these are assumptions made by others. They are not yours. However, if we hear them enough, they can become part of our habitual thinking. So be aware and be mindful. I love this quote from Brene Brown

“If you aren’t in the area also getting your arse kicked, I’m not interested in your feedback.”

In a nut shell, don’t let those assumptions or what you hear, infiltrate your habitual thinking unless warranted.

  • It’s easy to get angry or roll our eyes in these situations. However, assume that people have the best of intentions until proven otherwise and think of engaging with them instead.
  • When someone asks about your wellbeing, be honest and answer. “I’m fine” is an F-word in my vocabulary. They have taken the time to ask the question, honour it with a proper answer.
  • Be kind. Because when you hear one’s assumptions of you, what you are actually hearing is what they are really insecure/ worried about themselves. (Remember that it is a version of our survival instinct) Give them a hug instead.

Assumptions reflect the organisational culture in which we operate.  The types of conversations we have reflect our culture, our norms and the way we do things.

Prevent the collateral damage from assumptions and instead have the right conversations FIRST.


Shannon Young - FlexCoach - FlexCareersShannon coaches working mothers to bring more of their authentic self and align with their purpose to uplevel their performance so they can smash their results and then switch off at home to be present for their loved ones – happy in the knowledge that they are fulfilling their potential at work and at home.”

What this means for organisations is that they don’t lose those driven, intelligent and ambitious women previously identified as “talent” to the mommy track or other businesses including self-employed after investing so much time, effort and money into their succession planning. Women do want to work and have a career with purpose yet more than 70% go back to work only for the paycheck (according to EY research) so organisations must reconnect and re-engage these women to thrive in their organisations to gain a positive ROI.

What this means for the individual is that they re-engage with their passion that drives them at home and at work. They learn to balance the two and intertwine them with a particular set of skills to be successful in both arenas. They rediscover themselves, their goals and their passion to have it all with a clear conscience ‘with working mothers achieving more and being more balanced, we can improve the lives of children – future generations, everywhere’.

FlexCareers offers a FREE 30-minute introductory meeting with our FlexCoaches, to help you establish if coaching is right for you.