Women in Technology Summit June 9-11, 2019  •  DoubleTree by Hilton  •  San Jose, CA

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Motherhood, WITI, and Making It Work

Julia Opre

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In October, I fell into a position at WITI in a quintessential right-place-right-time way. It was my first job in 10 years since becoming a mother. The job description checked many of my boxes, especially the flexibility that allowed me to work from home. During my interview, my humanities degrees, which I considered useless in any practical sense for years, were evaluated and deemed useful after all. My fellow remote workers seemed intelligent, collaborative, and patient with my learning curve. I decided to snag the position offered and make the best of it. I didn't understood how much of a community WITI was at the time, or how I would fit in.

We were on a family trip in New York City when I heard the news: WITI was invited to ring the NASDAQ closing bell on December 14, 2018.

This honor came just a week after WITI celebrated its 30th anniversary. WITI was closing out the year with a smash.

The President of WITI, David Leighton, who remembered that I was accompanying my husband on a work trip into Brooklyn that week, emailed and offered me a personal invitation to this occasion.

I thought about my invitation to the NASDAQ ceremony; not about whether I wanted to go but about whether, as a mother with two children in tow, I would be able to.

As a new hire, I hesitated to ask for special accommodations. But in the end, all I could do was ask. Shortly after, David provided an answer: "As long as it is okay with NASDAQ, it is okay with us."

As much as this answer was what I was hoping to hear, I know that permission is not the same thing as acceptance—not by a long shot. There were many companies that paid lip-service to the idea of accommodating working mothers but lacked the acceptance or follow-through to be genuinely supportive.

I heard horror stories from other women about how they were treated at their jobs, just for being working moms. They were often accused, by CEO or peer alike, of getting special treatment they didn't deserve and were treated differently as a result. There was a distinct possibility of this same experience happening to me. As I prepared for the next day, I set my expectations accordingly.

The NASDAQ closing bell ceremony took place in the impenetrable thicket of tourists, buskers, taxis, and neon that is Times Square. Inside, it was no less busy. The lobby was full of buzzing groups of women talking, laughing, and nodding along with each other. They looked up when we walked in and immediately returned to networking.

The arrival of a non-adult garnered no disapproval at all. The remarks from everyone we spoke with were far from snide or off-hand—people were thrilled that I was able to share this experience with the next generation.

I had fully anticipated the loss of this opportunity (or the loss of the enjoyment of it) due to my restrictions as a parent. Instead, I was treated with immediate and refreshing acceptance. This level of support was entirely in keeping with what WITI prided itself on—benefacting and providing opportunities for professional women. WITI did not care that I had worked with them for the lifespan of a cockroach, or that I brought my progeny with me to arguably one of their most significant—and televised—moments. I was one of them, and that meant I was welcome, kids or no.

We spent the next 30 minutes being shepherded by efficient NASDAQ wranglers in headsets for photo-ops with talk show legend and WITI Hall-of-Famer Dr. Ruth. The WITI community continued to network in between photo-ops. Occasionally, men and women in expensive suits shook my hand and asked me who I worked for. "I work for WITI," I told them, and I found I was in the minority. These people were not here because they worked for WITI—they were here because WITI worked for them.

We flanked the podium, old acquaintances and new connections, preparing for the closing bell. My ten-year-old daughter, shorter than all the women except Dr. Ruth, stood right in front, dazzled by all the pomp and circumstance. The countdown was a chorus of eager, chanting voices. David Leighton rang the bell and everyone cheered, especially me. I had realized that the beauty of WITI is that we all fit in.

WITI is what one makes of it, and I am making it mine.

Julia Opre is a member of WITI's editorial team. She graduated from Youngstown State University with BAs in anthropology and in religious studies. She is a creative thinker and enjoys solving puzzles.

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