An Interview with Allyson Downey

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Planning for a baby involves many logistics, re-organizing, sorting, and prioritizing on so many levels. It’s a really exciting, profound time- but can be quite stress and anxiety inducing when it comes to juggling a career and parenthood. As moms, we can find ourselves with questions like, “when should I tell my boss I’m pregnant?” Or “what if my kid is sick, and can’t go to daycare- I’ll need to stay home with him, then what”.  There’s so many what if’s… what if there was a guide book to help you along the way???

Today we are thrilled to introduce you to Allyson Downy; she is the author of the book Here's the Plan, the pregnancy and parenting guide to your professional life. This is your guide for working motherhood, and navigating your career. Allyson is a writer and tech entrepreneur, in 2013, she launched weeSpring, a Techstars-backed startup that helps helps parents and their friends compare and review baby gear and essentials. We had the opportunity this week to ask her some potent questions on mothering, gendered parenting penalties, and a little advice for moms planning their maternity leave. 

5 questions for Allyson Downy

1.  What challenges are working mothers faced with today, that working dads aren’t?

Where to begin?! It feels so discouraging to write that there are almost innumerable differences between the experiences of working moms and working dads.  I think the biggest in the “motherhood penalty,” the sociologically studied impact on women of having a baby.  Their pay raises get stunted, and fewer professional opportunities comes their way. Dads, meanwhile, often get a “fatherhood bonus,” in which they start getting paid more because they’re perceived as having more financial responsibility.  


2.  What is the “parenting penalty”?

It’s probably a misnomer to say parenting penalty, since it comes down so squarely on the shoulders of women.  But throughout my book, I tried to avoid assumptions about who in a family is the primary breadwinner, or what the composition of a family is.  I also talk about parental leave, instead of maternity leave, because I think it’s crucially important to reframe how we talk about new babies. They’re not just a mother’s responsibility.


3.  In what ways can Here's the Plan: Your Practical, Tactical Guide to Advancing Your Career During Pregnancy and Parenthood help working moms?

The book is a compilation of advice from more than 75 women who kept their careers on track while having babies.  It covers everything from when to disclose a pregnancy while interviewing for a job, to how forthright to be if you need to miss a meeting because of a sick kid.  My goal in writing the book was to give women a Choose Your Own Adventure guide for working motherhood.

4.  Do you have any advice for a mom-to-be planning her maternity leave?

Communication is key… when it comes to your colleagues, overcommunicate with them.  People can be nervous about asking a pregnant woman too many questions about her maternity leave because they’re fearful that they’ll cross a line into saying something that could be construed as discriminatory.  The power is in your hands to make crystal clear what you want, and you can do that by saying things like, “My doctor tells me I can travel until I’m 7 months, and I’d like to continue traveling” or “I’ll be fully offline during my maternity leave, but I’ve left detailed instructions on the projects I’m leading on the shared drive, including who to contact in case of a problem.” 


5.  What's the biggest influence on your own career?

I don’t know that there’s been any major outside influence on my career.  If you’d asked me five years ago, the idea of an “inner compass” would have sounded ridiculous to me, but I’ve taken a pretty unconventional path since my first pregnancy, and I’m really, really happy with where I’ve wound up. I’d credit that to my inner compass.

Allyson Downey is the founder of weeSpring, which has been called “Yelp for baby products” by InStyle. She is also the author of Here’s the Plan: Your Practical, Tactical Guide to Advancing Your Career During Pregnancy and Parenthood (Seal Press, April 2016).

Jen Mayer