According to the New York Times, Vice President Kamala Harris said that the 2.5 million women who have left the workforce since the beginning of the pandemic constituted a “national emergency.” According to Labor Department data, that number compares with 1.8 million men who have left the workforce. For many women, child care demands, coupled with layoffs and furloughs in an economy struck by the pandemic, have forced them out of the labor market.
For Women’s History Month, we want to honor the women juggling many domestic duties while maintaining a fruitful career. Our goal for the Women@Work Dairies campaign is to capture internal and external employees’ raw and honest experiences with juggling working from home, taking care of their families, all while surviving a pandemic. We want to capture these transparent and genuine conversations and share them externally to act as an example of how other employers should shed some light on this issue by offering support to this subgroup of employees.
We created an audio series that showcases the faces of career women handling domestic duties and work-life stressors to gain their authentic perspective of how it’s like to juggle both lives. Learn more about Katie Poehling-Seymour, a mother of three and President at First Supply, and her experiences as a working mother.
Glassdoor: Thank you so much for joining us for the first-ever Women@Work campaign, Glassdoor. Could you please introduce yourself?
Katie Poehling: Hi, my name is Katie Poehling Seymour. I’m the President at First Supply. And I have three children. Francis is about to be two in May, and I have seven-week-old twins, Georgia and Johanna.
Glassdoor: Thank you so much for joining us today, Katie. We’re going to hop right into these interview questions. Could you share your experience working during a global pandemic while also having to take care of your children? How has it been for you?
Katie Poehling: Sure I’d love to. Two cliches have really stuck with me over this past year as I think about my experience. First one, about mothering. The days are long, but the years are short. And the second one about work is that the pace of change will never again be this slow. And the two of them go hand in hand and go together somewhat ironically. Some days of juggling work and kids in life feel like forever. But then I look back at pictures at the beginning of the pandemic, and I think, “Oh my God, where’s my baby?” as every mother does everywhere. Because she was a baby then, and now she’s almost two. I also realized sometime in the first few months of this pandemic that this could be the ultimate education of my entire career, so I needed to figure out how to soak it all up.
I think about friends who have older children and how they’re missing out on these opportunities that can be definitive to your life. Things like prom and campus visits and graduations. I feel lucky that I don’t have that. At this point, home is a two-year-old’s whole life. I also used to travel a lot for work, and now I’ve stayed put a lot more, which has been really amazing. I have the opportunity to tuck her in every night, which I missed in pre-pandemic life. My experience is really positive in some ways, as hard as things have been.
I have seven-week-old twins. Part of my experience has been being pregnant and figuring out how to leave the workforce and return to it. So it was really a deeply personal decision for me, but I only took three weeks off for maternity leave. Which wouldn’t have been possible in a non-pandemic world. I usually would’ve been in a conference room. I would have had to be in our facilities. But today, I’m able to manage my employees over phone and video conference, so I can juggle all these things while still taking care of twins.
So for me, I had taken on a new role during the pandemic and it made a lot of sense to continue to build the relationships that I’d started and the trust with my team rather than take a three-month break. It was great to feel like I didn’t miss the beauty of that. And I have the true luxury of a support system that let me even consider that as an option.
I’m an eternal optimist, but things certainly haven’t been perfect. There have been some tough days, hard times, hard decisions, hard moments. And I feel like I’d never had the ability to shut off. Even when I’m sleeping, I do it with one eye and ear open, listening for a newborn who’s ready to eat. So it’s tough to take a break. But I think that’s going to be the trick coming out of the pandemic, figuring out how to be present both at work and at home and in a world where there are no boundaries and no division between work and home quite literally these days.
Glassdoor: Recently Vice President Kamala Harris said that 2.5 million women who have left the workforce since the beginning of the pandemic constituted a national emergency. Have you felt like you had to sacrifice your career growth at all during this pandemic to further support your family at home?
Katie Poehling: I’ve been in an interesting position as it relates to this really troubling statistic. I found myself on the task force at the forefront of my company’s response, which was difficult in its own way. I felt truly responsible for 650 families, not to mention our customers. What if we made the wrong decision? Would one of these families face food insecurity? Would their health be in danger? What could happen to them? As I think about sacrificing my own career growth, it almost was that I had accelerated in some areas because I had all these other families that I suddenly felt some responsibility for. Our business tried to be as creative as possible so that we didn’t put our teams into this position to the best of our ability. We opened up conference rooms as set study spaces so kids could come to work with their parents. If they weren’t able to work from home, we offered extra PTO if people needed it, we found work for people to do if their role didn’t allow them to work remotely.
So we saw this national emergency certainly happening, and I’m pretty proud of our ability to feel like we could do something to try to make our employees feel like they didn’t have to be part of it. And so, as an extension of that, I was fortunate that while my career didn’t necessarily have to be stunted, it certainly took a bit of a different direction. And these past couple of months.
Glassdoor: How has your company been supportive of your career journey during COVID-19?
Katie Poehling: We tried to do some things really creatively, and I was certainly the beneficiary of that. My two-year-old didn’t have to come to work with me. Luckily I was able to work from home. But the biggest thing that my company did was to take a stance of transparency and open communication. That really helped us understand how our company would approach some of these challenging circumstances that any company was facing. How were we doing, our customers doing, how was business, what kinds of things were we going to do so that we felt safe in our offices? Our work is in utility distribution. So we were essential. Our employees needed to be in our facilities. And so that required a lot of communication about making sure that we were all going to be safe.
My company supported my career journey and everyone else is by making sure that we didn’t stop. We didn’t miss taking care of our customers and continuing to do the necessary work that we needed to do. And make sure that we had the resources to do it, which was extremely important. My company helped my own career journey because we made sure that as many people as possible had a voice as we continued through the pandemic. So I was able to tell my story to the rest of the company. And we were able to hear our fellow employees’ stories so that we truly felt like we were in this together. And it wasn’t something that we had to go through alone. We talked about things that our company never talked about before, like mental health and other topics that were just so important to be clear about during the pandemic.
Glassdoor: Have you enjoyed being able to work from home. Has it helped the balance between work and professional life?
Katie Poehling: I would say yes and no. So, of course, the past seven weeks have been phenomenal because I’ve been able to spend all this time with my newborns, but I feel like I could take care of my team and take care of the business. That’s so important to me. So that’s been really wonderful, but as I mentioned before, I have in the back of my mind this nagging feeling that we never have the time or space to turn off truly, and there really is no balance anymore. It’s work and life, and it’s all blended sometimes in this beautiful harmony and sometimes in this mass chaos.
And so well, most of it has been incredibly enjoyable just spending silly little moments with my almost-two-year-old. Being able to go for a walk with her or kick a soccer ball with her in the middle of the day. If I have 15 minutes. Those types of things are memories that I will carry with me forever. The trick is going to be this balance that there is no balance. And maybe that’s just what we all learned from this. Maybe that’ll be the takeaway of our generation of working mothers that there’s no balance. We have to give and take, and we’ll make it work.
Glassdoor: If you could share some advice for other working mothers, what would you like them to know?
Katie Poehling: That’s a tough question. The biggest thing that gets me through the days is remembering that we can’t do everything. We just can’t. We can only do the best at what’s in front of us. And some days, that’s just keeping our babies fed and not a danger. And some days, it’s only responding to emergency emails, but other days, it’s super mom, right. It’s art projects in the park and special snacks or kneeling a big meeting some days it’s all of that. But it’s tough to keep that perspective that whatever’s in front of us needs to be the most important at that moment. And as I think about, I think about trying really, really hard not to be disappointed in myself. Kind of a leave it all on the field mentality, I guess you could say.
I really think the only real reason to be disappointed in ourselves is that we didn’t try as hard as we could have. Sometimes our best is all that we’ve got. With three kids under two and 650 employees. I don’t have time not to give my all most of the time. But it certainly happens. I had a big meeting earlier this week, and I didn’t prepare for it. I wasn’t ready. I didn’t do the work that I needed to do to really have a successful meeting. And I flubbed through it. And I knew that I was screwing it up as I was going along, but I found a way to give myself the space to have a follow-up. I had another chance. And I just had that meeting this morning, and I did the prep I needed, and the follow-up meeting went really smoothly. It shouldn’t have been that hard, but it was, but it all came together at the end.
Glassdoor: That’s what usually happens, right. It all comes together at the end.
Katie Poehling: Exactly. It all comes together at the end of the day.
Glassdoor: Thank you so much, Katie, for sharing your story and your journey with us.
Katie Poehling: Thank you very much.