Kristyn Allred family work

After 15 years Out of the Workforce, Could this Mother of Five Get Back In?

After Fifteen Years Out of the Workforce, Could this Mother of Five Get Back In?

Kristyn Allred is the mother of five children and the Director of She’s Daring Mighty Things and the Freshmen Academy at the Jon M. Huntsman School of Business at Utah State University. After getting her bachelor’s degree in political science and master’s degree in international relations, Kristyn worked full time and then part time for a few years before choosing to step into full-time motherhood after the birth of her third child. Kristyn proceeded to be out of the workforce for the next fifteen years—a period she says she “doesn’t regret at all” and that she credits with the chance to build “intimate, deep relationships” with her children. During this time she also dug deeply into volunteer work, building stronger schools for her children to attend and strengthening her community. When her third child left for college, Kristyn felt it was time to lean into paid work again. She leveraged her community connections to find a contract job at The College of William and Mary. With help from her connections there, she conducted a self-initiated research project abroad and bridged into a successful consulting career before stepping into her role at Utah State. Kristyn is a great example of embracing the challenges and lessons of each season of life, and we are grateful for the chance to interview her.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length. 

Please introduce yourself and your approach to motherhood and work.

My mother and father truly believed that their kids could do anything they wanted to do. They happened to have five girls in a row and then a boy, and my mom was a super strong woman. So we grew up in a kind of female chauvinist group. We thought women were the best, and women could do anything. And my dad and my brother, who are very strong people, very much supported us and were incredible allies. I was raised with the idea that of course I could do anything that a man could do, and there’s a chance I could do it better. In fact, in middle school I was sure I would be the first woman president. That was just so completely realistic, in my view. 

I also had a religious background. A lot of the women’s spaces I was in [encouraged the idea of being a] wife and mother. David O. Mckay said, “No success can compensate for failure in the home.” I heard a lot of that, and in many ways, I thought, “Sure, I think family is important. I was raised by an amazing set of parents. I want to do that for my kids, and I certainly plan on having children.” I didn’t see them in conflict until a little bit later, when I started getting into the practical nature of it. 

Kristyn Allred Family
Kristyn with her family.

The happiest women I know found good partners who were supportive, who were inspired, who were going to be partners in full—not just one below the other but really both pulling that load together. So I had good conversations with this man that I had dated, and he was amazing. We’ve been married over 35 years, and he is incredibly supportive. That was the first good thing that I did. 

Another thing that my dad and mom had really pushed was to get all the education you can. I finished my bachelor’s and my master’s while at BYU. [My husband] also got his bachelor’s and master’s, and we said, “Okay, let’s work for a little while, because that thing called money is a good thing.” So we moved immediately and both started working at Intel in Arizona. 

How did things change as you pursued your work and family ambitions?  

At Intel, my husband was very valued because he had an MBA, and I was less valued because I had a master’s in international relations, and they just didn’t know what that was or what I could do. At the time I thought this had nothing to do with me being a woman. But I look back now, and I realize there was discrimination, because they were assuming, “Well, not only are you not an engineer, but you’re a woman, so you’ll probably do administrative stuff and get the coffee for the meetings,” even though I had a master’s degree and I had real skills and was really bright. In that space I started to see what discrimination might look like in the workplace. 

Then my committee chair for my master’s degree reached out to her friends at Arizona State and asked them to offer me a full-ride fellowship to get my PhD, and they did. I had a long conversation with God about it, and, of course, I had a long conversation with my husband about it. And God said no. I thought about it, and I said, “Well, I believe in God, and I believe that my heavenly parents have my best interests in mind. So I’m going to do what they said.” So I didn’t pursue the PhD. 

We ended up actually getting pregnant after some challenge. There was a time where I thought I might have to adopt. But then I had a beautiful daughter, and we moved and were transitioning to another job. I had a very intentional choice. I have this new baby. I want to figure out this mothering thing. I’m going to step away from work but with every intention of getting back and eventually pursuing a PhD. And I learned so much from that experience of being with that beautiful child. And whatever was not working reproductively started working, and I had a kid every other year for the next eight years.

Kristyn and her family climb the Great Wall of China.

Now, with one and two kids at home, I was working part time. But then, when I hit three, I went, “Oh, this is actually too much. I cannot be really good at my motherhood job and really good at my work job in the way that I want to.” Tons of women do both. That third child was just the tipping point for me. So I gave up the part-time stuff and went full-time mom. And to this day I don’t regret that choice at all. I loved it. I learned a lot. And one of the best things I learned was that there is no substitute for time. The time that I had for my kids to be focused on them, not distracted, was beautiful. 

I don’t think I short-changed the first two just because I was doing something on the side, but at the same time I loved fully engaging with them and doing everything that I thought would help them, not just in the home, but also in the schools. I did all kinds of volunteer work [in the community], and that was really a serious amount of work. So when people would ask me, “Oh, do you work?” I would say, “Yeah. Do you want to hear about my day?” 

Why, specifically, don’t you regret that time as a primary caregiver?

I think one of the reasons we’re on the earth is to become. We’re becoming like God, actually. We’re becoming something bigger and better than ourselves as mere mortals. And I think that process—the way we learn and grow and struggle—has to be done in an intimate, deep relationship. It is possible in a work setting to have superficial relationships. It is very difficult to do that in a family setting. You’ve got to go deep. You’ve got to struggle together and really get to know one another well. 

My decision to stay home with my kids was that I want to know them. I don’t want them to leave my house at 18 and I had some kind of tangential relationship with them. I want it to be that it was primary, and it was visceral, and I was in the trenches with them on their worst days and on their best days. 

Years later, I realized one of the reasons why I might have been told no by my heavenly parents [about pursuing a PhD] was because I already had what I needed in terms of my brain, and I needed to build my heart. And that was going to happen with these kids. I was going to build this greater appreciation for the messiness of mortality and the difficulty of really getting close to people and learning and growing together. 

Kristyn Allred Christmas Family
Kristyn with her family over the holidays.

So that’s why I don’t regret it. I learned so much about life from being in that home wrangling those five beautiful kids. And, boy, do they continue to teach me. They’re all in their twenties now, and they just never cease to amaze me. They continue as adults to challenge me and make me think and make me struggle. And that’s great. I love it. I’m a significantly better person today than when I started with those kids. 

There are other ways to gain that experience. Had I not married or had children, I would have found another path to that learning and growth. But this is the way that presented itself to me, and I went in full-on to get as much as I could out of it. 

What was your transition like going back to work after being at home full time?

The tipping point for me in looking again at going back into the workforce more seriously was when my third child left for college. Should I get a PhD? Should I start working full time? And the good news is because I had so many good connections in the community through all my volunteer work, I just interviewed people and asked, “What do you do? Tell me if you like your job.” And with all of those connections, I very soon had a job opportunity. 

In the moment of re-entry, I had a few months of real discouragement where I talked to people and realized I’m not going to make the money I want to make. They’re not going to give me the flexibility that I want because I had been out of the game for 15 years. I’m going to have to earn my way through this and rise the way most people do. 

I entered the workforce on a contract at The College of William and Mary, and I had an amazing boss and an amazing job. I got to learn about higher ed. I got to learn about the business school, and I got to run a women’s leadership program. After two years, I went into full-time work. I worked there for the next five years full time doing women’s leadership in a business school. 

Then I had a sabbatical with my spouse. I was going to step away from my full-time job, and I was going to have a whole year living in different countries around the world. I went to my dad, and I said, “What would you do if you had a year that you could do anything you wanted?” And he gave me great advice because he’s brilliant. He said, “What are you really passionate about that you have put off researching, doing, studying, or learning about for the last 45 years? What have you always said, ‘Oh, I’d love to learn more about that but don’t have time?’” And I said I want to learn more about diversity, equity, and inclusion. 

I had the confidence and the ambition to become a researcher without a PhD. I talked to the faculty at William & Mary and said, “I have a research project.” They were incredibly helpful. They helped me decide my research design, and for a year I did global research on diversity, equity, and inclusion. I did qualitative interviews, I ran my data, I came home, I ran the research, I wrote the report, I published it on LinkedIn, and within a month, over 2,000 people had read it. So it exploded, and it led to a consulting career. 

But then I got this opportunity at Utah State University. They wanted to start a new program at Utah State to encourage women in business to not only major in business and come to the Huntsman School but then empower them to be better in the workplace and learn how to navigate work-life balance. I got hired to do that, and I still consult but not nearly as much because I’m working full time at Utah State. 

Kristyn Allred Mentoring
Kristyn mentors young adults as part of her work at Utah State.

Are there aspects of the working world that you see as unfriendly to families? How do you think the working world could change to better accommodate women, particularly?

In the 90s and the first decade of the 2,000s, when I was really looking at work, there weren’t many options for work-life balance. They were the traditional “HEAL fields”—health, education, administration, and literacy. Those were the kinds of fields where you could work part time. So those were careers that women would go into because there was greater flexibility. They wouldn’t pay very well, but you could do something to contribute to the finances of your family. That’s where we were told to go as women. You were not told to go into investment banking, and you weren’t told to go into careers that demanded more time and travel.

And we got this very false notion that women can’t do that work or they’re not smart enough to do that work. And that’s completely false. Of course women can do any work, and we’re just as smart in all the ways. But we want flexibility. I don’t think corporate America was doing very well at all for anybody who wanted flexibility or wanted to have work-life balance. The men just sucked it up. They said, “Well, I guess I gotta do this because I’m providing for the family.” They should have been taken care of as well. But the women certainly weren’t. 

So what has changed? And it has changed in the last three years. The pandemic was a horrible thing, but it did change the way we see things. Maybe we can do hybrid work. Maybe people can work remotely. Maybe we can allow more flexibility. Millions of women left the workforce during COVID because their kids weren’t going to school, and there was no daycare. So what that taught us was that, actually, we need to take care of women. And we need to take care of men. And we need to recognize we can be more flexible in work than we ever thought we could. 

This [flexibility we’ve found] will actually help women in the long run. They will be able to negotiate better. Companies that value them can say, “I realize you need to be home with your little one. Could we do it this way? Can we do it that way?” I think we’re less likely to hear, “Oh, there’s no way you can do this and have a kid.” 

What’s the one thing that companies could do or organizations could do to retain women?

Provide on-site daycare. You can go to work, your child can be cared for, you can do your job, and then you can go have lunch with your kid, or you can check on them every couple of hours. That would be amazing. And you even get the commute time together. Some companies do it. I think they get rewarded by getting great women to work for them because of that wonderful perk. 

I think another thing companies could do that would be really helpful is to look at the men and say, “Can we give paternity leave? Can we give them greater flexibility?” Because guess what? Dads also want to spend time with their kids and also should be in the home doing some of the work. We need corporate America and organizations to figure out that the home should be for both parents and the workplace could also be for both parents. I think when companies realize that, not only do they get the very best talent, but those employees are happy, and they’re going to work so much better in that situation. 

It is much better when women and men are making decisions side by side. The reason why it’s tragic that the dad’s not in the home and that he’s at work all the time is the kids miss out on that father and that new perspective and that difference. But also the workplace misses out when there’s no women there because women add a diverse perspective and great insight. We’ve got to have all genders in all the spaces learning and growing together. And, of course, we want people of all different races and religions. We want all the differences that we can get, because those are going to be the most exciting, invigorating workplaces that make the best decisions. 

Do you think there are state- or federal-based solutions that might either prod businesses in the right direction or provide a safety net for employees?

I think one of the best things government can do is listen to the people who are working in industry and in business so that they make sure that they’re making policy which is business friendly. And vice versa. We need the business people or organizations—nonprofit or for-profit—looking at what the government is doing and making sure they’re also sensitive to the fact that we need to govern. We need to provide good services. There have to be houses for people to live in. There have to be good schools for people to send their children. You need to be collaborative to have that work. So I think we need the government to listen well to the businesses in the community and vice versa. 

Federal [change] is much harder because it’s just more complicated. Now, instead of one state, you’re taking care of 50 plus a few territories, and it’s super messy. This is such a large thing. It’s not that I’m totally pessimistic that the federal government can do anything good. But it is so challenging. For me, I’m going to try to make a difference on the state level and then hope that everybody does that so that all 50 states are happy. And then maybe we can take on the federal. 

What advice would you give women who are grappling with these decisions about work and family?

Have a healthy sense of self. Spend enough time with yourself that you feel valued, that you feel like you have purpose, and that you feel that you have something to contribute. That, to me, has come through my faith as well as being surrounded by really good people. I’ve always looked to surround myself with really positive, hopeful, delightful people, and that has built my own feelings of worth. 

Kristyn Allred Utah State
Kristyn leads a discussion on allyship and advocacy.

But also having a very direct connection to God has helped. And I think that’s fundamental regardless of your faith—whether you believe in Jesus or Mohammad or Buddha, whether you have an intimate relationship with God and you talk to them every day, or whether you are completely atheist and you don’t believe in God at all. Having a sense of something beyond yourself and really working on creating a healthy sense of who you are and what you can contribute is vital. 

It is so much more fun to be hopeful and filled with gratitude. I get a lot of this from my faith. As a Christian, I believe that Christ can do anything, and if I’m on his team I can do anything. It’s a very hopeful place to be. But, again, I don’t think it’s just tied to being a Christian. I think it is about having a growth mindset. We can make a difference. Don’t give up. 

Maybe you’re not naturally inclined [toward gratitude and hope]. I say keep all that beautiful ability to analyze. But just add that light of hope in there, too. The world isn’t the worst. Your situation is not the worst. You have options. And, honestly, we are standing on the shoulders of great women who have come before us who have led us to where we are, and we can lead the next generation forward, too. You have a place on this beautiful timeline of doing good. Like the people that came before you and did good so that you’d have a good place to be, you can do it for the generations to come.

Editing credential to Bethany Bartholomew.

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