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A New ‘Way Forward’ For Israeli Mothers

Ever since I was a little kid, my mom used to tell me that I could be great. “Naava”, she would say to the frizzy haired, scabby kneed little girl, “Remember that nothing can stop you—the sky is the limit!” So, I decided to try and make my mark on the world. I would invent something, do something, a game changer that would make the world a better place. And try I did. Little did I know how many outward obstacles would be on my path to greatness.

At my first interview, fresh out of college, the interviewer asked me, “When are you planning to start a family? Because here, we’re looking for serious employees.” I refused to answer his offensive question, and needless to say, I didn’t get the job. I was sure that was a one off scenario, a provincial man living in the 1950s — but I was wrong. Every single interview I went through in my adult life had that question. Even those who asked in a more circumspect manner implied that having a family meant I couldn’t be a serious employee.

Over time, I started losing my passion, I forgot for a while that I was dedicated to something greater than myself. My “passion engines” ran out of gas.

Then something amazing happened. I got pregnant, and gave birth to my son. The first time he looked at me, it hit me like a ton of bricks. This little creature depended on me for everything. If I wanted to make his future look better it was up to me. That’s when my passion engines revved up again – with better fuel than ever before, with a dedication like no other, I was going to do it. I was going to make the world a better place for my son.

I started trying to become active in all sorts of causes close to my heart, while juggling a baby and a full time job that saw me as less of a dedicated employee than I was before. In fact, all my co-workers assumed that I wouldn’t be the same dedicated employee that I was before I became a mom. And in a weird way, they were right. When I came back from my “vacation,” I became a vastly different, and in many ways better, employee. Even though my family needs more flexibility, I can multitask, prioritize, and as my passion engines are revved – as a parent, I’m dedicated to providing a good life for my children, and making the world better for them.

Many of you will recognize my story—it is far from unique. Parenthood changes a person, gives many of us renewed motivation and new talents, but instead of writing it proudly under the “achievement” section of our resume, we are told to hide it, that parenthood is a distraction and detrimental to our careers.

Even though in the developed world. Our problem is complicated by the fact that women often lack assertiveness. We don’t believe that we deserve to have a successful career, and we’re told to feel guilty that we want one.

When speaking about combining career and family life, the terminology most often heard is “mommy friendly” workplaces. In today’s society, though, active parenthood goes both ways. In Israel, fathers are taking active roles as much as they can, which gives women opportunities to advance their careers. Our employers and the system needs to catch up with the current reality. To put sole responsibility for raising children and for having a successful and fulfilling career on just one person is simply too much to handle.

Nine months ago, I quit my job to help found ImaKadima, a non-profit which started as a community of women who are dedicated to both family and career. We know that there are so many models of career minded moms, and we support them all.

At ImaKadima, our programs focus on the positive. We bring change through “win-win” practices. Instead of being bogged down by the guilt or complaints we are told must be part of our experience as career minded moms, we focus on facilitating and empowering families on the fulfilling journey that being an “ImaKadima” can be.

We’re changing the conversation around family-friendly workplaces through our ImaKadima seal for employers, which assists and certifies companies enacting family friendly work-models that help both employees and business thrive; we’re building both professional and parenting skills with the moms themselves; we’re pioneering a new project based mentorship program for professional moms; and we have a virtual community of over 1,500 moms who support each other and network every day.

So here’s my game-changing idea – what if we could take away many of those outward obstacles that stop moms on their path to greatness?

What if we could live in a world where how a woman combines career and family, is a families choice? Where parents get jobs because they’re parents, not despite the fact?

That’s the world ImaKadima is working towards.

Now, what can you do to help us?

First, change your language. Stop talking about mom friendly hours, about mommy friendly workplaces. Start talking about parent friendly hours, about family friendly workplaces.

Let’s let everyone know, that parenting isn’t about gender, it’s about families.

Second, educate yourself about gender discrimination in the workplace. Call people out on it, and make sure that your work environment is comfortable for everyone working there.

And lastly, and this one is for the moms — remember that you deserve success, whatever that means to you. You can reach out and grab it, and we’re here to help make that happen. Join our community here.

Join us, and we’ll make it happen together.

Naava Shafner is a mother of two and and the Executive Director of ImaKadima, a non-profit organization dedicated to empowering career minded moms and promoting family friendly workplaces.

An abridged version of this piece was given as a TEDx talk on May 29th at TEDxJerusalemWomen.

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