Do Moms Face Work Discrimination?
First, what is workplace discrimination? Workplace discrimination, also known as employment discrimination, can occur based on an employee’s race, gender, sex, religion, age or disability. An employee can be treated differently or face prejudice by their employer, which prevents them from performing their job correctly or getting hired. According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), it’s illegal for an employer to treat an employee or applicant unfairly. This law protects an employee from unfair treatment, harassment, denial of reasonable workplace change, improper questions or retaliation. Unfortunately, parenthood isn’t a protected characteristic under federal law. However, workplace discrimination against moms is most often classified as sex or pregnancy discrimination.
Even though discrimination is illegal, women can still face pregnancy or mom discrimination in the workplace. It can occur when they are expecting or returning to the office after a maternity leave. An expectant mother may experience discrimination from her employer when she requests leave. For example, the employer may believe the employee will have a hard time adjusting back to work after maternity leave, and that she may need a lighter workload.
Discrimination can be nonverbal. For example, their work might be taken away, or they may not be included in projects or tasks. Moreover, verbal discrimination can be sexist comments. For example, women who need flexible hours or to breast pump at work may receive backlash from their employer.
What moms can do if they experience discrimination
Moms should check their employer handbook to determine how to report discrimination and keep documentation of discrimination. It’s important to keep a record of emails, conversations or even compensation as proof. Next, they should talk to a human resources professional outside of their company or an employment lawyer to gauge the situation. If they determine their feelings are valid, the mom should act and speak to their company’s HR department. A company’s work culture should support working mothers. Change can only happen in a work environment if someone speaks up about unfair treatment. The company may not recognize a need to change and can take action to help working mothers. However, if the company doesn’t take initiative, it’s good to keep in contact with an employment lawyer because moms have protection under the law.
The social norms of being a mom are changing. Half of the workforce in the United States is comprised of women. Women are proving to society that they can be both a successful career women and mothers. Fifty years ago, 34% of mothers with children under 18 years old worked full time. Today, it’s 55% of mothers, according to Pew Research Center. There are some organizations that are taking notice to the trend of working moms, and they are providing resources to help them. However, if you feel that your company is providing an unfair work environment and treatment for working moms, you should consider taking action to invoke change.
Learn more about diversity, equity and inclusion at Ochsner Health.
Learn more about Deborah Grimes and the diversity, equity and inclusion team.