Moms Fired For Being, Well, Moms

by Julie Graber | on 22 Jul 2020

I got pushback last week on a report that a number of women have lost their jobs recently for basically being working moms trying to juggling work and kids under the current extreme conditions creating by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The comments from one individual were not unfamiliar: women make choices to have children, women shouldn’t expect to have exciting careers and children (at least not at the same time), and moms shouldn't expect others to pick up the slack when their family needs pull them away from work. 

Early in my career, I might have agreed with the comments. But years ago I realized a couple of things:

  1. Men and women make the same choice - to have children - but women are the only ones who pay for it with lower lifetime wages and stunted career advancement. That’s discrimination - pure and simple. (See Joan C. Williams: choice and discrimination are not mutually exclusive.)
  2. The world would be a much better place if half of our leaders were women - and that can’t happen if the only people who can lead us are 1) men and 2) women who aren’t moms*. By the time they are in their 40s, upwards of 80% of women are moms of some sort (US) (and almost all women end up with care-giver responsibilities at some point in their careers).

We continue to struggle with women's presence in the workplace because men are defined as the norm - the ideal worker - and women are the "other." We've built career paths around what works for men. Or what worked for men in the 1950s, because most men don't want to sacrifice their family for their career these days. 

There was also a comment that seemed to ask why women - moms in particular - felt the need to pursue advancement - and a question about whether or not it was about ego. 

I don't see it as ego - I see it taking responsibility for the world we live in - something women are very good at doing.

And let's face it - not working is not an option for the vast majority of women. Single moms, women who are primary breadwinners, and women in general have a right to the same opportunities and financial rewards as men in similar situations. Most can't afford to give up anything. Opting out is a privilege not a given.

The issue of moms at work came up last year when a former Miss Ukraine sued the pageant organization for disqualifying her for having a son. She has a great quote:

“Imagine you are Serena Williams going to play in Wimbledon, when suddenly you realize that the entry criteria bans moms from taking part in the games.”

Our assumptions about moms undoubtedly keep too many Serena Williamses from advancing through the pipeline to the top, where frankly, we need them. It's time to stop penalizing women for the care they give and start creating organizations where moms are welcome.

*or individuals who are moms however they identify their gender

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