• Tue, Feb 14 2012

There’s An Unconscious Bias Against Working Mothers. Let’s Talk About It

Working mothers are getting some serious press this February. As we’ve covered, the New York Times has been debating maternity leave rights for working women. NPR is looking in to the wage gap between working mothers and their childless peers. And now Forbes contributor Victoria Pynchon has jumped into the conversation with a series of pieces on the unconscious bias (and downright anger) that employers and bosses hold against moms. Obviously, American business media is ready to have a conversation about what it means to be a working mother and how corporations need to support those who choose to have a family and continue to be a productive member of the workforce.

Ya know what I say? Bring it on! Let’s discuss these important issues.

Let’s talk about the fact that women who utilize the benefits, such as a flexible schedule and telecommuting, that their companies offer to new moms are often penalized over time for making those choices. Ladies who tough out their “work life balance” without these niceties have a better chance of keeping up with their childless peers. Or ya know, men. Because while there’s definitely a gap between moms and childfree women, being a dad actually increases the likelihood that you’ll get that next raise.

Let’s analyze the fact that it’s not just moms who are looking for better work life balance within their careers. An entire generation is hoping to change the conversation from “Who put in the most hours” to “Who made the best use of the hours they worked.”

And let’s all sit down and decide, as business owners, co-workers, parents and non-parents, just how responsible companies should be to those who make the choice to have a family. Because right now, in this country, the court systems have made it clear that it’s not an employer’s job to take care of new parents. In Texas, you can be fired for pumping breastmilk at work. In the case against Bloomberg this summer, a judge ruled that companies do not need to accommodate for “work family trade-offs” that employees choose to make.  Right now, we’re saying that if women choose to have children, we’re okay with paying them less money and affording them less opportunity. [tagbox tag= "working moms"]

Maybe that’s the way the majority of us feel. After all, parenthood is a choice. It’s one that fewer and fewer of us are making every year. Do we need children to further the species? Sure. But I have a feeling that we aren’t going to run out of adorable little babies any time soon. Do people have a moral obligation to become parents? Of course not. I say this as a woman who enjoys being a mother and is kind of desperate to start the whole process again. That doesn’t mean that everyone else feels the same way. That doesn’t mean that everyone needs to be a parent.

We all have different priorities. I understand that those who choose to have kids might need to prioritize their little ones above their commitment to their company. We should probably accept that this happens sometimes.

The problem is that every working mother is judged to behave in the same manner the minute after she gives birth. Some ladies made have supportive husbands who will be staying home with the sick kids. Some women will be judged just in case they might want kids in the future, even if they aren’t mothers now. Instead of dealing with individual cases, companies and managers made general assumptions based on a very wide and diverse group of people. This behavior is going to happen, so we need to decide how we’re going to step in and protect all mothers from falling under the same stereotypes, or if working mothers deserve that protection.

I don’t have all the answers to the questions. I’m not sure exactly what a company owes its working mothers, whether it be paid maternity leave or a more flexible work schedule. I do know that these issues deserve serious conversation and analysis. That’s why I’m so excited to see working motherhood get some high-profile debate. Maybe now, we’ll be able to give women who are considering motherhood a more realistic picture of the challenges that they’re going to face. Then every woman can decide for herself where her priorities are and what she’s willing to sacrifice. Because as a million and one people have said now, “You can’t have it all at once.”

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