While great strides have been made to improve workplace conditions and increase economic opportunities for women, there continues to be discrimination. Pregnancy discrimination is one of the most common.
For decades, women have felt the pressure to choose between motherhood and career. Several decades ago, women generally left the workforce when they had children. Today, women face a more passive form of gender discrimination. This can range from being passed over for a promotion to losing a position based on some pretextual excuse (no longer being able to lift 50 pounds).
An athlete’s story
In a recent New York Times opinion piece, professional runner Allyson Felix revealed her truth surrounding pregnancy discrimination while working in the world of sports. As one of the most decorated runners in history, Felix had earned a lucrative Nike sponsorship. It was a sponsorship opportunity she chose based on the company’s commitment to promoting the participation of girls in sports.
While trying to negotiate a new sponsorship deal while pregnant, she learned what the company really thought of women. A contract offer that was 70 percent lower than her previous one. While negotiations remain at a standstill, Nike issues a statement that it would reconsider contracts with female athletes who are mothers or expectant mothers.
This happens to many and not just women
Felix shared her story to raise awareness about this important issue surrounding women in athletics. But her story is not exclusive to athletes. Women in nearly every industry face this type of discrimination. For example, lifting requirements have long been used as an excuse to terminate pregnant employees. Denied bathroom breaks or other simple accommodations can also mean it is no longer to technically do a job.
Even women in white collar jobs face pregnancy discrimination. Taking parental leave twice within five years may mean it is nearly impossible to get a long-sought promotion. As many companies begin to offer broader parental leave to fathers, it may become a parents’ issue. With those who do not take time to start families seeing a much better career trajectory.
How to fight discrimination in the workplace
Explicit discrimination of the past is generally gone. Now it is more of an impression. You might question: Is my manager treating me differently because I have children? Am I being targeted?
Discrimination has often become implied, insidious behaviors that can be justified away. For example, we need someone who can obtain grants, which means extra hours above and beyond teaching hours. Or an interviewer who makes a mistake talking about family and questioning if a candidate has children.
If you have an uneasy feeling that the actions of your employer or prospective employer might relate to your pregnancy or time spent caring for children, get legal advice. You have rights. Shining a light on these practices is one way to stop them.