Standing at group function I began chatting with a lovely woman who was talking about her daughter. The two husbands stood and we talked about the weather and travels and their careers and tehn avoided the obvious looming question to the wives, “So what do you do?
Women don’t generally like answers, “I’m a mom.” As that can be perceived as negative and lacking ambition towards a career. Fortunately I told her I was a former magazine editor and now finishing graduate school and she revealed that she has a masters in public policy and worked for the government. Then the next question, which the four of us avoided as well was the topic of childcare. In a world where grown adults are tippee-toeing around conversation regarding babies in fear of offending someone, why is it that employers seem to have no problem discriminating against pregnant women.
The woman who I assumed had worked in public policy her whole life later told me about how she was made redundant after she returned from her pregnancy leave. I asked her about laws that protected women from awful scenarios, but she shrugged her shoulders saying that it didn’t really matter, many of her friends experienced the same backlash. OnePoll conducted a study in 2013 that revealed, One in Seven women was removed from their job while on maternity leave.
She said that legal fees were astronomically expensive and they figured she’d find a job sooner or later. There were in fact laws that protect women who are pregnant, but often defending them comes with a high price tag.
Upon further study, she isn’t the only one who has experienced this atrocitiy. In 2013 two women who worked for Virgin Australia two women who worked for Virgin Australia were made redundant after one returned from pregnancy leave and the other had just announced she was pregnant. The settlement landed them $70,000 each, but still without a job.
Lawyer and columnist, Aleecia Murray who is a principal Lawyer at AM Legal wrote an op-ed piece for the ABC. She wrote a compelling piece both explaining why laws enacted by the government are critical to protecting women from discrimination, as well as why companies are struggling economically, often making redundancy a very real and honest reason for letting a dedicated employee go. Often however that employee is deemed unsatisfactory and does not meet the productivity needs that a small company needs to stay competitive in the professional landscape.
She explains that there is one alternative that isn’t viable or acceptable in her mind, acknowledge that women can’t have it all, a mantra started by feminist and author Anne-Marie Slaughter, wrote an opinion piece in The Atlantic whose work I’ve admired since becoming interested in this topic in America. Her commentary ends noting that the answer is changing the attitudes toward pregnant women, it is unfair to compare the productivity of a pregnant woman to that of a man.
One woman Joanne commented on Murray’s piece on 23 Oct 2013 by saying, “I suffered from anxiety, depression pre eclampsia as a result of the pressures placed on me by the bank to resign or accept a reduced role….A number of friends later confessed they had had the same experience with their previous employers.
This is commonplace and employers rely on the fact that new mums have a lot of pressure on them in coping with life changes that they will just drop it as I did.”
This is a sad reality for many mothers who face the stress and terror when they should be experiencing the joy of bringing a new life into the world.
A popular blog and media phenom, Mia Freedman’s site, MamaMia.com.au has documented several mothers who experienced redundancy upon the birth or pending birth of their first child.
Journalist Emma Sorensen writes wrote about her painful experience hearing from her boss that her position was made redundant along with several others and she hoped she could “pop” by the going away party later that day.
Ultimately the most important question both employers and employees must ask is, “What is the goal?” Is the goal to create a fundamentally safe and productive workplace, or is the goal to let go of any future employees that show risk? What some companies need to realize is letting go of potentially risky employees means they’re at risk for breaking the law.