By Andrea Cornell Sarvady
Auto service technician Mailyn Pickler is fired a week after she tells her dealership that she ‘s pregnant. The boss informs her that it wouldn’t be prudent to drive the shuttle bus in her condition. Kohl’s employee Teresa Lehman gained high marks for a decade, and was assured she was on track to become store manager. Then the mother of two saw five managerial positions go to less experienced employees who were childless or indicated they would have no more children.
“Maternal Profiling,” selected by the New York Times as one of their 2007 buzzwords, is definitely alive and well. Popularized by advocacy group momsrising.org, it’s “employment discrimination against a woman who has, or will have, children.”
“Family Responsibilities Discrimination” is the more inclusive term used at Work Life Law, a center at Hastings College of Law in California. It astutely acknowledges that not all employers who discriminate against mothers are men, and not all caregivers in need of family-friendly policies are women.
Yet mothers still get hit hardest with bias due to presumptions surrounding their caregiver status. The center’s deputy director, Cynthia Thomas Calvert, helped me sort through some common offenses: Pregnant women being fired for trumped-up reasons; interview questions designed to weed out mothers and other caregivers; performance reviews designed to eliminate those employees, whether or not work has actually been affected.
Laws are in place to address these grievances, yet laws are not always followed. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission reported a nearly 40 percent increase in pregnancy discrimination complaints since 1992, even though the birthrate has been dropping. No wonder momsrising.org and the Work Life Law Center are just two of many thriving organizations designed to advocate for families, as well as assist companies grappling with this issue.
We should sympathize with the unique challenges of creating a family-friendly work environment. Yet our nation requires it, now more than ever. The recent spike in unemployment and the threat of recession puts any employee with a perceived “domestic deficit” even further at risk. As employees increasingly take on the care of aging parents in addition to their own offspring, let’s continue to find solutions that work for both companies and caregivers.
By Shaunti Feldhahn
I get furious when I hear a Kohl’s manager asked Teresa Lehman, “Did you get your tubes tied?” after she had three kids in four years. So, apparently, was the jury in her case: they awarded her $2.1 million.
But offensive statements aside, there’s often an uncomfortable but legitimate business dynamic at work in situations that look like “maternal profiling.” It’s easy to see something as discrimination that is actually a legitimate result of how women with families often choose to work. That’s not maternal profiling; its maternal preference.
If a mom chooses a less-intense job that allows her pick up Johnny at 5:30 p.m., for example, and simply can’t tackle late-night meetings or last-minute travel, she’ll probably be paid and promoted less than her peers who pull the all-nighter to get the client deal finished. It is frustrating for the sidelined mom, but she is getting the benefit that she prioritizes most: Family time instead of money.
Childcare duties are more evenly distributed today, but the fact remains that most women want to be there for their kids. A study by the Center for Policy Alternatives found that 71 percent of women would rather have more flexibility and benefits than a higher wage, and almost 85 percent took flexible work arrangements when they were offered. Andy says we need a solution, but the increasing availability of part-time and flexible work arrangements is a solution. Unfortunately, those arrangements are often simply less productive and convenient for the company. We shouldn’t penalize a progressive company by insisting that they pay and promote those employees the same!
Teresa Lehman was apparently a respected Kohl’s employee, tracking toward management, but she had several small children, including one who tragically died. I couldn’t find specific information on her case, but isn’t it possible that she needed several years of special accommodation for time off work, medical visits, and wasn’t able to work the long hours her peers could?
As Carrie Lukas of the Independent Women’s Forum said in an interview, “I would hope employers would be able to work with [women with family realities], but they have hired employees to work, not just out of the goodness of their heart, and they have to think about their bottom line.”