When having kids means losing your job.
Becoming a mother is meant to be a time of joy, but workplace discrimination can leave pregnant women and new mothers struggling with anxiety and depression on top of the more obvious financial implications.
A recent study from Flex Careers revealed a whopping 52 per cent of women believe they have been discriminated against as a result of being a working mother. And while I’m horrified by these figures, I’m definitely not surprised.
I was eight months pregnant and still actively achieving all my KPIs and meeting all my deadlines when my manager asked me if we could “catch up” at a local cafe to discuss a few things. In fact, I’d been promoted just weeks before announcing my pregnancy, so naturally, when we sat down over lattes, I thought we’d be chatting about work.
Instead, the conversation was brief and extremely one-sided. I was no longer required. Effective immediately.
I was handed a piece of paper stating that my role had been made redundant. My manager adding as he did so, “That’s for the record, but off the record we both know that it’s just the price of motherhood”, delivered with a jovial chuckle that I took to imply I should laugh along at his little joke. I didn’t.
It was well played. I was a contractor. And I had no witnesses. It was basically my word against his. But I was fired for being pregnant. Without apology.
Then there was the company I contracted for where the director demanded I work over Christmas because he had an urgent deadline and someone else had let him down. He told me I was selfish to want to spend Christmas day with my children instead of dropping everything to assist him due to his poor time management. He never forgave me and took my refusal to choose him over my pre-school aged children personally.
Oh, but he was all about flexibility. His. The same person had me editing copy in hospital, six-hours after an emergency caesarean section because, “it had to be done”. The implication being I wouldn’t have a job to come back to if I didn’t. He didn’t seem to understand that having a baby should be a beautiful, intimate, bonding experience and that shitty hospital Wi-Fi and a laptop aren’t standard prenatal accessories.
Yes, I’ve experienced workplace discrimination. But I’m hardly alone.
More than six decades since the Universal Declaration of Human Rights affirmed that all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights; discrimination against women is still rife, especially toward those of us who are adding to the population.
A 2014 Human Rights Commission report found that an incredible one in five women had reported being made redundant, restructured or not having their contracts renewed while pregnant, during parental leave, or upon their return to work.
I’ve had pregnant friends told they couldn’t take toilet breaks, others told they couldn’t take time for doctors appointments, and one who, after receiving a glowing performance review, was let go weeks later for supposed “poor performance” – a day after her employer discovered she was undergoing fertility treatments.
But it doesn’t end with pregnancy. Extensive research by Stanford sociologist Shelley Correll showed that, once back in the workplace, mothers are more heavily scrutinized than either men or women without children. Indeed, it’s not unusual for management to make biased evaluations of competence for a working mother doing the same job at the same level of competency as others.
Most disturbingly is that the Human Rights Commission report also found an enormous 91 per cent of women who experience workplace discrimination never formally register a complaint with or against their company. In most cases, this is not due to the challenges of proving discrimination, but for fear of reprisals – with many women fearful making a complaint will stigmatize them as being “difficult” within their industry.
It is this that those employers who do the discriminating count on.
Discrimination on any grounds should never be tolerated, but before we can stop the systemic culture of abuse of the rights of working mothers, we need to overcome the hurdle of fear that stops them from speaking out.*
*This article was originally published in 2016 and has been republished due to popularity.
Comment: Have you suffered discrimination in the workplace when pregnant, or after returning to work after having a child? Did you report it?