Motherhood and the Workplace

By Andrea Alarcón

A coworker of mine, let’s call her Monica, just had a baby boy. While off on her one-month maternity leave, our boss found another web producer to temporarily take her place. Now she’s back, but not to her old job, but to a less prominent one (equal pay), since no one wanted to fire the temp who turned out to be great. She got pushed a step back in her career.

Monica must work from home, since no day care takes a baby less than three months old.  So she is lucky because at least she gets to keep a job. What about mothers whose work does not allow that flexibility? Could they even count with a job after pregnancy?

There are many issues surrounding procreation and its effect on parents’ careers. Maternity leave is a big one, but a New York Times opinion piece today talks about something different: women in the US who lose their jobs for being pregnant in the first place. Pushing the gender-equality agenda on developing nations would assume that we already have the answers, yet we still seem unable to cater to half of the population with appropriate work regulation.

Federal and state laws ban discrimination against pregnant women in the workplace. And amendments to the Americans With Disabilities Act require employers to provide reasonable accommodations to disabled employees (including most employees with medical complications arising from pregnancies) who need them to do their jobs. But because pregnancy itself is not considered a disability, employers are not obligated to accommodate most pregnant workers in any way.

The article discusses the protection of pregnant women in the work force, but I think legislation amendment also needs to pave the way for a mother’s smooth transition back into their jobs.

First, there should not be a gap between maternity leave and available child care. To achieve this we could propose strong legislation and government responsibility for child-care. If day care providers do not take such young babies, then paid maternity leave by the state or by the employer should be required to last at least three months.

If we want to enforce parents taking care of their children, then the other option is making paternity leave required by law. Not only to even-out the disadvantages that women suffer in the workplace, but to allow mothers to return faster to their jobs. Sweden has had it for almost 30 years; a couple can take up to 16 months off work between them, with the state paying 80% of lost wages. Yet women and men still don’t divide it up evenly, since only 2 of those months are required to be taken by the father. The long-term effects and opportunities lost by women that stay so long out of the work force is immeasurable. By forcing men to adopt the same practice and experience the disruption that procreating has on women, they can realize that the current system does not fully support two working parents.

And talking about role distribution, the double standard we all know about when it comes to parenting and responsibilities has a direct effect on careers and how men and women prioritize work and their children.

Santorum speaking at CPAC
Santorum speaking at CPAC in Washington D.C. on February 10, 2011. Credit: Wikipedia.

A Washington Post piece talks about Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum, and his recent one-and-a-half day absence to take care of Bella, his three-year-old who got sick. Now he is called a “family man”, and messages of support and admiration came pouring his way.

As Santorum stepped away briefly from the campaign, messages of support and prayers flooded in for him and his family. In a message on her Facebook page, Sarah Palin (herself the mother of a son with Down syndrome) thanked Santorum and his wife, Karen, for “living the Christ-like example of sacrifice and right priorities” and called Bella “a perfect child in an imperfect world.”

The article takes us back to the criticism received by Sarah Palin for running for office instead of taking care of her autistic child. When Santorum takes a day and a half off, he deserves praise: a man taking a little time off work to help with a child is something to commemorate. When a woman does it, she is filled with guilt for not dropping everything to take care of her child. Isn’t the way to even the parenting-role out by forcing fathers to be equal parents?

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