At Proud Working Mom, I am in charge of content. I keep an active list of things I want to write about. One of the things that has been on my mind for a long time is employment discrimination and how it affects working moms. It is easy to think that no one is writing or talking about it because it doesn’t exist. This is not the case. It isn’t discussed because it only makes a bad situation worse.
I know four women who have all been victims of some form of employment discrimination during their careers. Yes, four professional women who have been fired or ‘let go’ (that is the nicer way to say it, so everyone feels comfortable) specifically because they were pregnant.
You can’t fire a pregnant woman because she is pregnant. When it is happening, no one ever says “you are being let go because you are pregnant and we don’t like it” or “we are firing you because you are pregnant and it is inconvenient” but it is exactly what’s happening.
Today, I want to get this topic out in the open.
When I was a young attorney, I had a friend who was a pediatric doctor. She had been ‘let go’ from her job while she was pregnant. I saw her at a party and she told me in a defeated tone “What am I going to do, I have to work in this town. I’ll just look for another job once the baby comes.” After the initial outrage wore off, her words kept repeating in my head. I guess I thought that professionals were immune from this type of treatment. I could not have been further from the truth.
A few years later, a fellow attorney friend of mine had almost the exact same experience. She became pregnant and shortly after announcing it, her colleagues, all male attorneys, started treating her differently. She was assigned a very heavy work load and given more to do than the majority of her peers. Her male counterparts were blatant in how rude they were to her and made it clear that she was not welcome. It was as if they were making it so bad that she would have no choice but to quit. At seven months pregnant, when she was shown the door for ‘poor performance’, she attempted to sue the firm. She hired an employment lawyer and sued but had to relive the trauma every day, all while trying to take care of her new baby. She was strong, but it was painful. She ultimately gave up. The cruel irony of the situation is that when you are discriminated against while pregnant, you are in the worst possible position to fight back.
I learned this up close and personal when I was pregnant with my second child. I was four months into the pregnancy and had it all – morning sickness, trials, appellate arguments, all at the same time. My supervisor had been paying close attention to me and I was under the mistaken impression that he cared about the health of me and my unborn child. Nope. He had been observing my performance because there were ‘concerns’. Interestingly, these concerns coincided with a hiring freeze and the fact that I would be out on maternity leave for a few months prohibited them from filling my position (especially if I decided not to come back to work). Ultimately, I resigned and they chalked it up to ‘performance issues’ despite a perfectly clean employment record. I was furious. I was sad. I was exhausted. My husband encouraged me to see a lawyer about this blatant form of discrimination but I couldn’t bring myself to talk about it. My friend’s words rang in my ears “I have to work in this town”. If I was ever going to go back to work, this kind of bad press in a small town could be the death of my career. So I did what I believe lots of women do, I said nothing and left a job that I loved with my tail between my legs. It took me a long time to get over this. I relived it every day, I had bad dreams about it, I was angry, and I had a family to take care of (an infant and a 3-year-old). It made me doubt myself and my abilities as a lawyer.
After about two years, I finally picked myself up, dusted myself off, and went back to work. That is when I met another woman, an executive, who had just been fired from her job. She was also fired right after she had her baby. Her experience was now a familiar tale. After finding out she was pregnant, her boss, the president of the company, became almost impossible to please. Ultimately, he told her that if she wanted to continue working at the company, she would have to move her entire family to another city. Afterwards, my friend found out that they had already hired another person to replace her, so the unreasonable request wasn’t even an option. Outrageous, right? You are thinking that you would’ve sued that company, right? She didn’t do anything. Her reasons for dropping it were the same as everyone else’s.
These are just the stories of people I know. Imagine how many other working moms are out there, being discriminated against, who are afraid to share their story. It has taken me some time to be able to share this and my hope is that it will help another working mother in a similar situation. If this is happening to you, I want you to know that you are not alone and my advice is to FIGHT BACK.