Back at the end of February, I was asked to be on Ellevate’s panel; Elle Inspires: Gender Equality & Equal Pay. It was supposed to be an in-person event at the end of March hosted by NextRoll in our beautiful office in the Mission District in San Francisco.  How quickly things changed.  As the environment evolved around us, the event transitioned into an online setting.  

Instead of being surrounded by my peers and colleagues up on a platform, I was now sitting at my kitchen counter with my husband, daughters, and dog milling around me.  I was nervous about it. I was having such a hard time focusing on work and my deliverables when there was so much unknown going on in the world around me. Would we be safe, how long will this Shelter in Place last, is my team safe?  I knew I was asked to be on this panel because I had a story to share, my story.  My story that could help other women rise without some of the obstacles that I had in my way.  I just had to figure out how to get my mental state in the right place to be that role model and not the scattered young girl I felt I was in my head.

So, I took a deep breath, put my story together and sat my daughters down because they were lucky enough to be my audience while I practiced.  Well, easier said than done.  My daughters, a frosh and a senior in high school, had other priorities; like laying on their beds and binge-watching shows on their computers.  After a few requests for them to support their mom, they got on board.

My story is not all that dissimilar to many other women in my position, and I have had some really rude and inappropriate things said and done to me because I was a woman in the workplace.   I had taken a set back in my career because I chose to be a mom.  My compensation was less than my male peers. At the end of the day, I overcame my adversities and now I am in a place where I hope my daughters look at me and smile because I make them proud.  

Once I had started sharing my story with them, I suddenly had a very captivated audience. My oldest daughter suddenly had follow up questions like “did the president of a company really say that to you?” They couldn’t believe that a fellow colleague tried to kiss me in the middle of a conference because “he always wanted to do that.” They wanted to understand how it was possible that I was paid less than my male counterparts because I chose to be a mom and a professional.

My audience of daughters actually turned into being a part of the conversation.  They were so curious about how they would navigate these types of situations, how I had steered my way through and made my way to the place where I was now.  Would they have to fight the same fights, or was the world in a better place now?  

I would like to think that the world is changing and these types of situations are not as prevalent as they were in the past.  As my daughters make their way through life they will have my experience to lean on and know that they can make a difference for their generation.  Fortunately, they have gained the knowledge and tools to handle a situation when someone makes an inappropriate comment to them, or makes them feel inferior for being a woman.  Instead of just letting it go, they know they have an obligation to address it and not just make excuses such as “he didn’t really mean to offend me.” That it is not “okay.” Not only for them but for everyone.

It is funny, they both say that they couldn’t imagine being anything other than a working mom.  They see how much I have prospered in work as they have grown up and the satisfaction it has given me.  They also know that their worth, nor mine, should not be compromised because of the life decisions they make.  Value in the workplace comes not from what you identify as, but the value you provide.

As I sit rereading my story, my girls splayed on the floor each in their own world, plugged into their device, I take a deep breath and think, “I am proud of who I am and what I represent!”  These future working women know that they should only be treated with the utmost respect and integrity.  They will have allies in their workplaces that will have their backs should they need it.  And their worth is based on the value they provide and the impact they have, not on what role they play outside of the workplace.  I stand up and get my girls’ attention to tell them I have finished my story.  They look up at me and roll their eyes in synchrony. I get a “thumbs up” from both of them.  I take that as a sign of support, they are teenagers after all.

Jody Atkins is the Head of Talent Acquisition at NextRoll.