“We expect women to work like they don’t have children and raise children as if they don’t work”
I stumbled across this quote from Amy Westervelt while mindlessly scrolling through Instagram. I started thinking about the truth behind this — how from a young age, women are expected to plan around balancing a work-life and home-life. As I shadowed healthcare providers, I often found myself automatically considering whether I could fit in a family into the lifestyle that these doctors have adopted. I realized that I was already envisioning how my career would be impacted by having children, a reality that many women have to navigate through. Many women who envision a family in their future are subject to societal pressures regarding childbearing and rearing.
Double Standards in the Workplace
This expectation causes women to seem less desirable as candidates for certain positions due to the assumption that they may get pregnant or prioritize family over their career. On the other hand, men are often expected to prioritize work as the “provider of the family.” Thus, a man who is aggressive in business and puts work ahead of family is praised for qualities congruent with societal constructs of masculinity. As a result of this divisive mindset, women are considered less valuable in the workforce, evidenced by oppressive norms such as the wage gap or maternity leave policies.
Problems with Maternity Leave Policy
The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) requires companies to protect someone’s job for up to 12 weeks after childbirth or adoption. The law does NOT require that they are paid for that time off, which most companies use to their advantage. This act is applicable to men and women, but if both guardians work for the same company then they have 12 weeks total between the both of them. Even with this accumulated time, 12 weeks is not enough to adapt to the responsibilities of having a child. A longer leave can improve infant and maternal health, so how do women navigate the pressure of coming back so soon?
A trick that many women have reported using is saving up vacation and sick days to add on to the 12 weeks, so that they get extra time off when needed. Another tactic when considering a job includes waiting until they receive an offer to mention any intention on getting pregnant. After an offer is received, they explain how they do not immediately plan to get pregnant, but desire to stay with the company long term and would like to gain more information on parental leave policies. Now, the offer is extended based on skill, and information can still be obtained regarding parental leave policies so that the woman can make the best career decision for herself. This strategy mitigates corporate maternity discrimination and affords women the freedom to accept or deny a company’s offer based on their parental leave policy.
After new mothers return from maternity leave, they are faced with a plethora of new problems that cause nearly one-third of workers with these responsibilities to quit and stay home. Most mothers come to work and feel an expectation to work as though nothing had changed. Despite the fact that they spent weeks out of office and may be struggling to handle a major life transition, women go to work and strive to prove that they are capable of meeting discriminatory and unforgiving corporate expectations. They also have to consider if working is cost effective compared to childcare bills, if they would want a babysitter for such a young child, or if they would even be able to focus on work when their newborn child is at home. When a man takes care of his child and works, he is considered a hero by his coworkers. Meanwhile women carry the burden of expectation, that they were meant to be a homemaker and they should not be complaining or slacking if they are going to choose to work as well.
Well this sounds like a lose-lose situation…what should professional communities do about it?
According to the Goldman Sachs’ Global Markets Institute, women who leave the workforce for five years to raise children lose 20 percent of their earnings potential despite the fact that this short time period is just one-eighth of their working lifetime. This further exemplifies how big of a decision women make when they decide to leave their jobs for their children. How do we address the many factors that influence women to leave their jobs?
If you work with a new mother, check in on them periodically. The stress of jumping back into the pressure of work while completing the new responsibilities of a mother is a lot, so offering help and support once in a while can go a long way. If you are an employer of a new mother, work to make the environment and workload supportive of her transition into motherhood. Consider if the workplace has nearby childcare or a flexible schedule.
Whether or not you are planning to become a mother in the future, it is important to speak to local representatives about the concerns of maternal leave policy. This means working towards making Texas one of the states that supports paid-leave for these new parents. Advocating for such policy changes can create a shift in mindset to where women are not less valued in the workplace. Every individual is valuable in every aspect of their life. Working mothers are invaluable in both their workspaces and their homes. Professional spheres should act accordingly by creating flexible and supportive environments for them.
Featured Image by Julianna Brion