Women are diverse. There is no one size fits all category. Anyone that thinks so should simply look at our shoe closet or visit the local hair salon. Tall, short, round, slim, quiet, loud, introvert, extrovert… you name the personality or physical trait and there is a woman to match it. Similarly our career and family decisions are as unique as we are. First of all not all women want to have children. People that think all women either want to have a career or stay home with the kids are making a ridiculous assumption. I have heard many people, like the Christian radio host/speaker/writer Dr. Dobson; say that if women want to work they should work. If they want to stay home, they should stay home. They should not do both. Thankfully as women we are able to make that decision for ourselves and are not required to fit into a specific category.
Many women are passionate about their career and contribution in the work force. If and when they decide to have children it is typically not because they are no longer interested in their career but they want to enjoy an additional area of their life: having a baby and motherhood. Embarking on the journey of motherhood is an exciting and often scary endeavor. There are so many things that happen when you have a child. Your body completely changes, emotions get away with themselves, you are fatigued, hungry all the time and worried about what will happen after the birth. Women do not stop their lives or their careers to become pregnant. Instead they have more to juggle, more on their plate and with courage rise to the occasion. What women do not need is to face opposition in their work environment because of it.
According to a report on NPR pregnancy discrimination claims have increased 35% over the past decade. I have seen this in my own experiences. Women within my circle that performed fabulously at work were replaced immediately upon returning from maternity leave or not hired when they were the most qualified simply because they were pregnant. Yes, pregnant women do have many doctors’ appointments but as an employer I have never found this to create an un-surmountable challenge. By simply being flexible an employer can work with an employee to ensure that she has the appropriate care and it does not interfere with her performing necessary job duties. All it takes is the willingness to work with the employee to find a solution.
Upon returning to work women face the additional challenge of finding a safe and private environment to pump if they decide to breastfeed. There have been many recent cases in the news where women were not given a place to breastfeed at work, forcing them to do so in a public restroom or in their car. Many companies do not have large enough buildings to have an exclusive breastfeeding area. I get it. However there are simple solutions that can be provided. For example a private office could be used. As someone who has breastfed, and pumped at work, it can normally be done in fifteen minutes under the right conditions.
In order to combat some of these challenges a law was recently passed to protect pregnant and nursing mothers. This issue has been a hot topic among women for years and this recent legislation is supposed to help protect women’s rights. While I am encouraged to see this law passed I have something to tell mothers: stand up for what you want and take responsibility to communicate. Most employers law or not, want to work with you because if you still have a job it means they value the work you do and your contribution. Simultaneously the work environment is fast paced with the external demands of the marketplace and customers driving the daily buzz around the office. Internal human resource issues are often neglected not to purposefully spite someone in the organization but often as a simple oversight. While it may feel personal at the time try discussing the problem with your employer or human resource department and work together to find a solution. If they are unwilling to work with you and continue to discriminate then take action. There are many attorneys that are willing to take on these cases. Some, like Terry, Terry & Stapleton, even specialize in these types of workplace discrimination issues.
Women add great value to the workplace and data shows that company profitability rises when women are in leadership roles. Companies that embrace the value women bring to an organization look for ways to be accommodating and work with female employees having children. At Google, as an example, most of their female employees return to work after having children. Their human resource department has made a concerted effort to help the process be easier. Now for women with an entrepreneurial leaning all of this may sound too annoying to deal with. If that is you consider starting your own company. There is nothing more flexible than working for yourself. You can breastfeed when and where you want. You can visit the doctor until your heart is content. No one is around to dictate your schedule. You may work until One AM but that is a different story entirely…