Interviews with purpose-driven leaders who are dedicated to helping others and making a positive impact in the world.
April 26, 2022
Mary Beth Ferrante | WRK/360
TELL US, WHO ARE YOU AND WHAT DO YOU DO?
I’m Marybeth Ferrante. I am a mom of two, part of a dual-career couple and the founder and managing director of WRK/360. WRK/360 is a consulting and coaching organization that focuses on creating company cultures that care for women, working parents, and caregivers. We work with organizations to really understand the challenges that caregivers are facing in their workplace cultures. We help to find solutions, enhance policies, and improve benefits to support these working parents.
Additionally, we run a working parent program called WRK/360 Parents centered on community education and support. It includes opportunities to work directly with professional coaches through peer leaders, education, and workshops. The program really focuses on giving parents the tools they need to thrive in their careers. They’re often given a lot of tools and information about how to raise their baby, but it’s often really hard to figure out how you’re actually going to integrate that into your working career.
HOW DID YOU GET HERE?
With my first daughter, I was very lucky and privileged to have the opportunity to take 12 weeks of maternity leave. Eighty percent of U.S. employees don’t have access to that. Even though I had great paid leave, I found my transition back into work really challenging. I worked for an organization that had all the right policies and tools, but my own team and leadership really didn’t understand the transition that I had gone through. They didn’t know how to support me as a working parent. From that experience, I realized that even though everything looks good on paper the culture of our team prioritized work rather than space to care for ourselves or our families.
When I couldn’t find support on my own team, I looked for it elsewhere in the organization and discovered that a lot of the women had older children or had taken a break when their children were younger. They didn’t have any advice or support on how to both work and be a parent to young children. For many decades we’ve been taught to leave our personal lives at home. No one talks about the fact that they’re struggling, or that they’re a working parent. The isolation and the feeling that I was supposed to be able to do it so easily was really challenging because I wasn’t expecting it. I wrote an article about the “maternal wall,” and that’s what I felt happened to me. I was expecting something to be easy and seamless and instead felt like I was struggling. As a working mother, I wasn’t being given the same opportunities as my male peers. I was on a team of all men and discovered that despite being the most senior person on my team, I was the lowest paid. All of that launched me into the work that I’m doing today.
WHAT DO YOU STAND FOR? WHY IS THIS WORK IMPORTANT TO YOU?
I stand for centering care and for parenting out loud. I really want to change the narrative that an ideal worker is a person who is creative and resourceful. That includes someone who takes time to care for themselves, to care for their families, and to care for their community. I think to be able to do that we need to start by caring out loud and talking about the time that we are spending in those spaces. Being allowed to take a break during the day to go for a walk, go to the store, or take a child to the doctor acknowledges that these are all important responsibilities and are part of who we are. When our leaders can model that behavior and demonstrate it as normal and typical, it gives all employees the space to care for themselves to change the narrative around burnout, culture, and extremism.
WHAT IMPACT ARE YOU MAKING?
It’s the stories. It’s hearing about the change that can occur just even in one family. I recently wrote something that went viral on LinkedIn. It gave people permission to acknowledge the need for grace and empathy and to not be hyper-responsive because of having other responsibilities. Then to extend that same empathy and grace to others. I was told that it found its way to a rabbi who talked about it in a sermon. That reach, extending that message, is what can be so incredible. My hope is that we just continue to grow that impact and really create those ripple effects for families to change the way that we focus on care in this country. I’d also like to get national paid leave passed, but that’s a whole other story.
WHAT (OR WHO) INSPIRES YOU TO DO THIS WORK?
I’m inspired by my daughters, by having young girls and wanting to ensure that they are not faced with the same challenges I’ve faced. Hopefully, we’ve lightened the burden for the next generation to choose a path that works for them and not be faced with that same “maternal wall” and bias in their pursuits. The women in my life all worked. I have been part of generations of women who have always valued both care and paid work, and recognize that women have a place in the paid work economy. It was so normal and expected that I would be a working mom. I never actually questioned whether or not that was something I wanted for myself. I did start to question how that was going to operate and the systems in which work and family can change. Collectively, we just had a two-year experiment on remote work. For knowledge workers, it’s not that hard to do. It obviously doesn’t work for every profession but I think there are ways that we can adapt how we work to be more flexible and supportive of our need as humans to care for ourselves and each other.
WHAT’S YOUR VISION, YOUR BIG DREAM FOR THE IMPACT YOU WANT TO MAKE?
We’re in the midst of creating a new program that really focuses on providing support for parents in small and mid-sized organizations. These can be the most isolated workplaces for working parents because they often don’t have supportive policies or benefits and they may not have a mentor or colleague in the working parent space. We want to break down the isolation and give them support and resources to find other working parents so that they can do what they love. Ultimately the goal is to give people a space where they can do great work, and be a great parent. By creating that community, it gives voice to working parents and to the changes that need to happen. It gives the women or men behind them the ability to raise the issue and fight for a policy that worked in another organization. I want to create those connections and break down the isolation.
WHAT CHALLENGES ARE YOU FACING?
When you are first becoming a parent, you go through this major transition from focusing on your career to suddenly being a parent. If you’re lucky enough to have paid leave you’re focused, as you should be, on the baby. There’s nobody really focused on you.
I think the other challenge is that we don’t measure caregiving in work settings. Peter Drucker said, “What gets measured gets managed.” We cannot really manage the impact of caregiving. We cannot truly understand if we are losing people in our workplaces and losing potential great leaders because of caregiving responsibilities. We know that there are 606 million women globally who are not in the paid workforce because they have cited caregiving responsibilities. Yet organizations are not tracking when and why that’s happening. I really think until we can educate leaders on the importance of tracking it, it continues to be a family issue versus a company or a societal issue. Are female leaders leaving when their children are younger? Or is it because child care isn’t affordable? There are big assumptions about women leaving the workforce, but we don’t have the data.
WHAT’S ONE THING YOU WANT PEOPLE TO KNOW ABOUT YOUR CAUSE AND/OR THE WORK YOU’RE DOING?
My request would be to be more open and transparent about care. Take time to care for yourself and care for your family. Parent out loud, caregive out loud, elderly care out loud. All of this is important and if we continue to pretend that it doesn’t exist I think we continue to perpetuate a system that doesn’t value it.
DO YOU HAVE A FAVORITE QUOTE OR WORDS OF INSPIRATION TO SHARE?
I have a coffee mug that has the quote, “Nevertheless, she persisted.” The world seems crazy right now, things are never normal, especially in parenting. I think the most important thing is that if you understand where you want to go, just keep persisting. That doesn’t mean don’t take breaks and rest, but find that next step and continue to pursue the thing that you’re excited about.
HOW CAN OTHERS SUPPORT YOU OR YOUR CAUSE?
Come to WRK360.com. You can join our new working parent community. Like, follow, or share on social media. Most importantly, parent and caregive out loud!
At Orapin, we believe those who are working for the greater good should be known, supported, and celebrated. We give do-good organizations the resources and support they need to increase awareness and grow their audience so they can maximize their impact. If would like to be featured in INSPIRED IMPACT™, reach out to email@example.com.