Kate Bierman is a City Councilmember for Norman Ward 1. The Senior Director of an OKC public affairs firm, Kate Bierman moved to Norman in 2009 after completing a Political Science degree from American University in Washington, D.C. She currently serves on the Animal Shelter Oversight Committee and is a board member of several state non-profits and private philanthropic foundations. She is the first person in recorded history to have a child while holding office in the Norman city council. We spoke with her on work-life balance and workplace accommodations for new mothers.
Congratulations on the birth of your daughter! What are your thoughts on the work-life balance in relation to holding public office as a woman?
The majority of public offices are not full-time positions, making a work-life balance more difficult on women who do not choose to hold off on having children. Several times already since the birth of my daughter I have been asked (sometimes jokingly, sometimes not) If I would “rather be home with my daughter” than sitting in whatever meeting I’ve been in. I’m grateful to have a husband and an employer who are flexible and understanding of my desire to not shortchange the position I have been elected to, but not every mother has that kind of a support system.
Can you speak on the importance of accommodation for mothers in the workplace?
Accommodations for mothers in the workplace is not something I gave serious consideration to until it was time for me to plan for my return to work. I am beyond lucky to have an understanding boss and the kind of job with enough flexibility that allows me to bring my daughter to work with me. I have my own office, which allows me to nurse her privately and give her a quiet space to nap during the day. The vast majority of women do not have that ability and are forced to choose between paying for expensive daycare or changing the circumstances of their employment. If we had more women setting public policy, I suspect we would quickly see changes in this area.
What do you have to say to anyone who believes that mothers cannot also have successful professional careers?
Mothers are not the ones holding themselves back from successful professional careers – the lack of accommodation for their more complex lives are. Mothers in many ways have a vastly different outlook than non-mothers (I would never have believed that if I hadn’t just gone through that transition myself) and that perspective would be greatly beneficial to any career.
You’ve mentioned bringing her along to city council meetings, what do you hope she learns from early exposure to politics and community?
I hope she gains a better appreciation for local politics and the impact it has on everyone’s daily life than I had growing up, despite getting a degree in political science. When many think of “politics”, they think of the state or national level, when the most important policy changes are happening right in their backyards. I was late to engaging in local politics, and I hope she continues to engage with her community when she lives on her own.
Looking to the future, what are your political aspirations moving forward?
I don’t have aspirations to any particular office, but I do have policy goals that I’d like to see achieved. Making Norman more family-friendly by requiring child changing tables in both men’s and women’s rooms, protecting our environment by reducing our plastic bag usage, and ensuring our city continues to be welcoming to all people, even those who are differently-abled, by pursuing a fully-accessible playground for our community.