Workplace Discrimination – we have heard about it, we have read about it, and a few of us have also faced and dealt with it. Although our legal system clearly protects people against workplace discrimination, well, there hardly is any workforce-related law without people working their way around it and playing the loopholes in their benefits.
I have personally experienced discrimination during the selection process, as well as during work tenure in my career. In fact, once my kids were a year and a half, and I decided to get back to my professional life, it was challenging for me to score a job. And this is something a lot of mothers who have had a break or sabbatical have experienced. I had to settle for an alternative career and a third of what I used to earn before the maternal bliss.
And then not long back, when I was looking for a change, I had started to apply for open positions, an incident happened with me. I was on a call with the H.R. representative of a renowned company for my screening round. I very honestly put my situation on table mentioning that I am a single parent, and I would expect a little flexibility from the organization in terms of the work timings to be able to accommodate the school & daycare timings of my daughters. I was shocked at what came from the other end. In those exact words, I was told, “I have noted your point, but I am not putting it in the notes that I will be passing to the HOD who will be taking your technical interview. Why put anything negative upfront and lower the chances of your selection?”
I couldn’t believe my ears. And I being I, couldn’t stop myself from pointing out that being a single mother is not a negative thing! In fact, if at all, it speaks a lot about my multi-tasking skills and how I am successfully able to wear multiple hats with ease in my life. Now shouldn’t that be a positive trait and asset for any organization? Needless to say, I did not go for that job. And thankfully, I ended up at a place where my individuality is respected, and my work is given preference over my marital status!
After this incident, I started to speak to a lot of moms. After talking to over 160 pregnant women and moms, here’s what I realized.
- Managers and co-workers are mindful of workplace discrimination when it comes to pregnant women and moms getting back to work after their maternity break. One of my respondents, Renuka, was given all the support that she needed during her pregnancy at the workplace, and within six months of being back at work, she was considered for a promotion that she very well deserved.
- In general, the mindset that married women are more focused on their families than their careers is still very much prevailing. Sometimes in forms of jokes, the other times in the form of nasty comments, sometimes in the way of slow growth, while some awful times in terms of no growth at all, it is evident in the status gap and wage gap too. Only 11% of women hold leadership roles in India, according to a survey.
- This discrimination keeps getting worse with the changing relationship & maternal status of women. A mother faces it more than a newly married or a single mother for example. A friend of mine, Tripti, a mother of three, recently joined back her job after a break of three years at a government bank. Her manager requested the regional manager not to place her in his branch as he doubted if she – a mother of three can devote her time dedicatedly to her work. And all this even without giving her a chance to prove herself.
- And what do I even say about the discrimination towards a single mother! That’s on the next level altogether. On the one hand, the assumption that if a lady is single-handedly managing her home and her kid, she might not be able to focus on the job, and on the other hand the societal taboo around separation and divorces, the sympathetic comments, the sexual advances, and the inappropriate behavior. Rajwant, a single mother who works in the media and journalism industry, recently had to quit her job because of inappropriate behavior and the lingering glares of someone a very senior journalist at her office. Comments such as – “you have the potential, you have the hunger to grow, I am sure you will be ready to ANYTHING to grow faster.” Behavior such as calling her up in a drunken state, asking her to meet her outside the office hours, etc. became unbearable, and she had to quit.
My question is, even in this time and era, how long will we all keep rejecting offers, quitting jobs, or compromising on our careers and salaries just because we are women, we are mothers, or we decided to leave a toxic relationship? When will this change? And the bigger question is, HOW will this change? Let me know your thoughts on the same in the comments. Or write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I would love to discuss this and, if possible, be able to do something about it.
P.S. – Names and identities used in the article are not real to avoid incrimination of anyone.
Moms are not the only ones who face this discrimination in life. Sometimes it’s your body type, sometimes sexual preferences, and sometimes having a disease. Read an article I wrote regarding HIV / AIDS HERE.