The Journey of a MomWarrior

Tet Salva, a senior program manager at Workday and a leader of our Families@Workday employee belonging council, shares her past experience as a caregiver and woman of color in corporate America, and why there needs to be systematic change.

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In this post, we share the voice of Tet Salva, a senior program manager, product operations, at Workday. Salva is also a leader of our Families@Workday employee belonging council.

“I was amazed that what I needed to survive could be carried on my back. And, most surprising of all, that I could carry it.” — Cheryl Strayed, Wild

The first time I set foot inside a library was when my mom started teaching at an international school in the Philippines, where I spent my childhood. I taught myself to read and became familiar with faraway places like New York, Japan, and London from my little nook in the library. When my classmates talked about their travels to the Roman Colosseum, the Eiffel Tower, and this place called “Disneyland,” it all seemed like a dream—too far from my grasp. 

But with determination and a little luck, I made it to the United States with no money to my name. I am the first woman in my family to finish university in the U.S., work in corporate America, and travel the globe expansively.

Being the first in my family to accomplish these things was a privilege. And because it was such a privilege, I took with it all the blows: the bullying, discrimination, microaggressions, and harassment. I was just grateful for the opportunity to be in the U.S. and have a corporate job. I smiled through it all and cried when no one was looking.

Understanding the Reality of Workplace Barriers 

Soon, I began to observe a cycle. I could never quite figure out why I was let go from a job soon after my boss found out I was pregnant, or why I was always the designated coffee runner, meeting room organizer, team event planner, and note taker. Regardless, the feeling of being “needed” and having a corporate career made me feel like I mattered. 

As my career progressed, I discovered that the U.S. is filled with complex layers and deep-rooted systemic bias. The glass ceiling, a classic symbol for the barrier women face in their careers, was more like a hard, concrete wall for the likes of me: a woman of color, an immigrant, and a mother. This struck me at a pivotal time in my life: My mom’s sudden death in April 2016. This traumatic experience emboldened me to finally find my voice as I thought about what really mattered and the legacy I want to leave behind.

I became obsessed with figuring out this “concrete wall” conundrum, researching women’s workplace experiences, which touched on caregiving, gender equity, diversity, and inclusion. I found that in most conversations around creating more diversity and gender balance, one group has been routinely ignored: caregivers and mothers, and even more specifically, caregivers and mothers of color.

“The glass ceiling was more like a hard, concrete wall for the likes of me: a woman of color, an immigrant, and a mother.”

Tet Salva Senior Program Manager, Product Operations Workday

The Motherhood Penalty

Motherhood bias is one of the most predominant biases in the workplace. It suggests that women with caregiving responsibilities lack competence, productivity, and commitment at work. Research shows that mothers are also held to higher performance and punctuality standards than their peers without kids, in addition to being less likely to get a promotion. 

Because of this, a lot of competent, driven, and highly educated women are leaving the workforce: A whopping 43% of women end up leaving their careers after having kids. To add to that, women of color continue to be the most underrepresented group in the corporate pipeline. 

Another telling scenario: In 2020, we’ve hit the highest number of Fortune 500 female CEOs in history: 37. Of these 37 women, three are women of color, none of whom are Black or Latinx. The Fortune Global 500 showed an even more concerning reality in 2020: there are zero women of color on this year’s list

Challenging the Status Quo

If my personal experiences and the unsettling data weren't enough, raising four biracial daughters gave me more reason to challenge the status quo and look for ways to make an impact. This is the mountain I have chosen to climb, or perhaps, this is the mountain that chose me. As memoirist Cheryl Strayed says so eloquently: “I knew that if I allowed fear to overtake me, my journey was doomed. Fear, to a great extent, is born of a story we tell ourselves, and so I chose to tell myself a different story from the one women are told.”

I started simple: learning about others’ experiences, sharing the research, and telling my story. Soon, my passion began to grow. I launched MomWarrior in 2016 as a way to connect, inform, and inspire others, and began sharing my journey more broadly at places like SXSW 2019. I’ve also spoken in various organizations to create awareness around caregiving as a woman of color and an immigrant, and I’m part of a national grassroots effort that is looking for innovative caregiving solutions to provide better infrastructure and systems for families and caregivers in the U.S.

As MomWarrior grew, I started looking to join a company that supported and nurtured my desire to create a positive impact. When I came to Workday, I knew I had found that place. Between the many family-oriented activities, resources, and programs, and the openness of Workday to incorporate employee feedback into caregiver offerings, it wasn’t hard to find passionate, like-minded people who wanted to do more, too. 

As part of my tenure here, I’ve helped form the Families@Workday Employee Belonging Council, focused on challenging the status quo around caregiving, and putting into place effective policies to support this underrepresented group. Families@Workday has been invited to meet and share our ideas with Workday’s Global Impact & Employee Life team. In response to COVID-19, Workday introduced new and updated employee benefits, including modified schedules, and additional caregiver and financial support. 

Until there is systemic change for caregivers, women of color, and immigrants in the corporate world, we have to continue to advocate for ourselves and each other, work even harder still, and show up whole—even when we are about to break into pieces. 

I may not be able to change the system in my lifetime, but I will keep fighting for the voices of mom warriors of color to be heard. If not for us, for our future generations.

Our VIBE Voices series provides a place for conversations around VIBE: valuing inclusion, belonging, and equity for all. Read more VIBE Voices here.

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