Most employers are smart enough to know they can’t tell women, “We’re firing you because you’re pregnant.” Not unless they like getting sued.
Instead, they’ve come up with far more insidious ways to drive moms out of the workforce. In a painfully accurate post on the Humans of New York Facebook page, one mom described the discrimination she faced so flawlessly, it’s sure to resonate with working parents everywhere.
“A lot of it is nonverbal: having work taken away, or not being included on important projects,” she described. “But I also remember being told that I ‘wasn’t being present’ at work. And that ‘my husband needed to step up.’”
This scenario is achingly familiar to millions of working moms, who return after maternity leave ready to work just as hard as ever. Instead, they find that there’s no time or place to pump, their manager repeatedly schedules meetings for 5 p.m. when they need to pick up their kids and they are consistently excluded from work travel, client dinners and big projects.
Part of the problem is the way we work now: way too much. Managerial jobs in what social scientists call the greedy professions, such as finance, law and consulting, often require employees to work more than 50 hours a week, according to a recent piece in The New York Times. And because women tend to handle the bulk of caregiving, that means moms get shut out when they can’t commit to long hours.
The mom in the HONY post nails that phenomenon too—how working moms have to say no to superfluous assignments.
“For the first time I was able to set limits, and have people recognize them. My limits never seemed valid before. Exhaustion wasn’t valid. Mental health wasn’t valid. But having a child gave me a firm reason to say ‘no,’” she described.
“It’s not ‘no’ to working harder. It’s ‘no’ to excess,” she explained. “To not redoing something 20 times when you have it on the first try. Or creating thirty proposals because the boss would love to see ‘just one more,’ ‘just one more.’ It’s excess. And it’s almost as bad as doing nothing. Because what is good gets lost in the excess. I don’t have time for it anymore. I have to recognize what’s most important. I don’t have time for endless debate. I have to go straight to the source of the problem, or my kid is going to pee her pants.”
Thankfully, some employers are finally starting to realize productivity is more important than facetime. Last year, Microsoft Japan started giving its employees three-day weekends, and productivity soared. But those companies are still few and far between in a corporate culture that prizes 24/7 availability.
It’s why so many moms opt to “lean out” or “slow down” their careers—which is, in turn, a big reason for the wage gap and the gender gap in the executive ranks; women make up only 5 percent of CEOs at S&P 500 companies.
Clearly, this mom is fed up. She’s trying to start her own company with a fellow mom. “It’s a nice departure from the corporate world—where I think a lot of new mothers are made to feel like they’re laying their foot off the gas.”