Three Insights on Labor, Equity, and Professional Development for “Working Moms” in Utah
The 2020 pandemic disrupted nearly every aspect of social and professional life, but studies show its most pernicious and long-haul effects have been felt by women. Women of color, moms with children under 18, single parents, business owners, and those who serve as primary breadwinners for their household are particularly vulnerable. Since the start of the pandemic, 4.5 million women have exited the workforce. Statistically, more women were laid off, more took on primary childcare and household responsibilities, and more have faced significant financial and professional setbacks as they return to employment.
Creeping toward a post-pandemic horizon, policymakers continue working to unravel the disproportionate impacts public health interventions, economic instability, and racial and gender inequities have on women in the workplace. Even as progressive employers attempt to future-proof the work/life balance for marginalized families, statistics reveal it’s still significantly more likely for women to bear the brunt of labor, conflict resolution, homeschooling, and childcare in the home—especially during times of upset.
Last May, TechBuzz attended the Working Moms Meetup hosted at Kiln in Lehi, Utah, to investigate the gendered intersections of health, social identity, familial responsibility, and socioeconomic growth for women. Here, speakers Sarah Wilson (co-founder of Chip Cookies; Salt Lake City) and Susan Petersen (founder of Freshly Picked; Lindon, Utah)—both entrepreneurs, both married with children—offered a window on topics like work and life balance, navigating workplace bias, and finding support and mentorship in the professional realm.
Further, we interviewed Emily Applegarth (co-founder of Gamify Software, Lehi, Utah), and Becca DeVito, Senior Product Manager at Integrate (headquartered in Phoenix) and formerly of Weave HQ (Lehi, Utah). Echoing Wilson and Petersen, Applegarth and DeVito emphasize the need for employer flexibility and male allyship, as well as highlight the essential drive and creativity women bring to the workplace. These are three takeaways pooled from the panel and discussions.
Note: These women offer diverse insights, but TechBuzz acknowledges they represent only a small cross-section of race, class, gender identity, disability, sexual orientation, and labor conditions for Utah women. We are committed to investigating these critical issues further. Please contact our team (email@example.com) if you have a story lead or would like to discuss an interview.
Working Moms Experience Unique Pressure to Multitask and Optimize their Time
“I always had this creative side to me: I want to be a mom, but I want to work,” says Wilson. “I’ve been on a constant journey to balance these two things: to be a mom, but also to build a professional life and create.”
Wilson and Petersen summarize the unique struggle for women to justify the overlaps and divisions of their labor, pointing out how it would be rare to hear such an intro from a male founder or CEO. The term “working dad” feels redundant; a man’s parental status isn’t traditionally treated as a conflict in work, professional growth, and creative fulfillment, explains Petersen. Women, on the other hand, are persistently asked to explain their relationship to motherhood and labor.
The two founders work to reframe this double-standard as another piece, perhaps beneficial, to the mother-entrepreneur puzzle.
“When you start a business, it’s like another child,” says Wilson. “You don’t want anyone to touch it; you don’t think anyone else will be able to handle it; but I promise you’ll have to let it go. I need to have time for work and time with my kids, and both suffer if I try to combine them. Women are taught to multitask, but you really need to prioritize.”
“Worrying too much about balance isn’t reflective of the actual narrative and mindset of your life,” echoes Petersen. “The reality is you’re a professional and a mom, and you just have to make it work. Be flexible with yourself. Kids change, work changes, needs change; being open to that flux has made a world of difference for me.”
The founders emphasize the importance of outsourcing tasks and compartmentalizing time. Certain jobs need their touch; others don’t. And if she has the means, a working mom should be able to hire or ask for help without feeling guilty or incapable. As Petersen puts it, “The narrative around collective parenting responsibilities needs to change.”
Working Moms Can Offer Diverse Insights and an Exceptional Work Ethic
The four women explain the importance of correcting double standards, but point out another means to empower working moms: Recruit and emulate their ability to balance work and personal life. As Wilson paraphrases from Sara Blakely, founder of Spanx underwear, “Everyone should hire working moms. They’re put in crazy situations all the time and are forced to problem-solve.”
This type of “mom struggle” is what inspired Chip. During her pregnancy, Wilson would constantly have intense cravings for chocolate chip cookies. The obsession led her and her husband to recognize a market opportunity: What’s a way to get warm baked goods delivered right to your front door?
Petersen echoes the sentiment: “Your most powerful employee will always be the pregnant mom about to go on maternity leave. They’re driven, they’re attentive, and they’re future-oriented. These days, projects are done two years out because of them.”
The interviews draw further attention to how women, those with children or otherwise, improve corporate culture. Giving them a seat at the table generates meaningful discussion around policy, personnel, and strategy, from diversity and inclusion efforts to creative decision-making.
“Something I offer as someone who has experienced both overt and unintentional discrimination: I’m attuned to inclusion,” says DeVito. “I’ll notice the lack of diversity on a team. I’ll scan a company’s website and see that every stock or team photo is a white male under 30, and I’m ready to have that conversation. Men tend to hire other men, people who think like them or they already know. My professional experience teaches me firsthand it’s important to hire diversity, to seek out people who think differently than you, and to pool excellence and insight from various backgrounds.”
A similar insight from Applegarth: “It took me a while to believe being a working mom is my superpower. At my first sales job, I felt like I had everything to prove, which gets rough. I was a woman in a male-saturated industry, with no female managers to look up to in the entire company. I wanted to show them, ‘Hey, I can double what you're doing. I'm qualified. I can be a great sales rep.’ It’s a lot of pressure: I felt I had to overperform to gain trust and respect as a woman. My ongoing mantra was Look at my stats. Look at my stats. Don’t focus on me attending to my children or working from home.
“Now I realize being a working mom has evolved into my superpower. I realized I don't have anything to prove: I'm doing everything on my own, I'm able to multitask, and I'm able to do a lot with a short amount of time, even when I'm distracted from multiple angles. That’s the real value I bring to a team.”
Working Moms Need Support, Resources, and Allyship to Prevent Setbacks and Discrimination
Throughout the panel and interviews, Wilson, Petersen, DeVito, and Applegarth describe how partners, bosses, coworkers, and HR teams can create more inclusive and constructive environments for working moms.
“For partners of working moms, I say be in her corner and take proactive measures to keep her going,” explains Wilson. “Little things will show you support her.” She recalls her husband’s response to having their first baby: He bought her dozens of baking cookbooks and helped work out new recipes for their “cookie delivery” idea.
Petersen emphasizes the need for meaningful provisions at home and work. “As a partner, ask your wife what is important to her for scheduling, cleaning, and communication. Women need these little things to feel at peace.” In the workplace, “How an employer facilitates a mother’s maternity leave and return is key. Help them prep, respect their time away, designate a mother’s room for their return, and above all, stay flexible. Invest in a few essentials, and they’ll be the most powerful employees you’ll ever have.”
DeVito’s experience working at Goldman Sachs speaks positively of this type of inclusion. “I worked there in 2012, and the company really took care of women,” she explains. “There were women in management positions, and they had real integrity with their maternity policy. They didn’t bother you at home or expect you not to take your leave. I can’t verify from current experience, but from what I know they invest in their employees. And if you look at the numbers, you see a solid maternity or paternity policy is best for the company overall.”
The women call for strong male allyship to foster a welcoming, dynamic, and productive workplace for all parents, not just moms.
“Research shows that gender income disparity isn’t all that significant until women start having children,” DeVito explains. “That’s when women take off more time than men and inevitably fall behind on raises and promotions. Instead of outsourcing all parental responsibilities to women, we should encourage men to value and honor their parenting roles as well. Men need to know it’s OK to demand to go part-time, ask for flexibility, or take a year off from work. No one thinks twice when a woman does, but men are looked down upon if they need a break or want to spend time with family. They also want a life outside of 9-5, but they don’t feel like they can ask for it.”
For DeVito, the cultural discourse needs to shift. “In Utah, most of what you experience in Utah is a kind of ‘well-meaning sexism.’ People aren’t trying to be rude, but they do say off-putting comments about motherhood, things like ‘I wish I could have a four-month vacation.’ Some people patronize you, or minimize either your professional work or your ‘motherly’ persona. Most men who haven’t experienced it just have no clue: They don’t know what it’s like picking up kids, dealing with childcare, taking time off work. Very few men in Utah understand the challenges and impact.”
These patterns and practices help alleviate the burdens on working moms while honoring their professional motivations. As Applegarth explains, “We want to be recognized for the superpowers that come from being a mom, not simply the ‘mom’ title. It’s cool that I’m a mom, but it doesn’t fully define me.”
“Networking has been a huge asset for me. It's empowering to realize there are so many women out there doing the same thing that I am, who have felt the same need to prove or overcompensate for their unique circumstances. I even have male mentors that have helped me see myself as valuable as a woman, so it's not even just females that have helped me get to that point. Building those connections has been priceless.”
Wilson also speaks to the power of mentorship, communication, and above all, tenacity. “Whatever you do, don’t stop. You’re going to hit roadblocks, but the key to successful career development or entrepreneurship is perseverance,” says Wilson. “Sometimes you need to take a break or a step back, but you keep going. Surround yourself with people who aren’t going to slow you down or hold you back.”