Jian Ghomeshi got the fires burning this week on CBC Radio 1's Q with a discussion about whether or not the so-called “glass ceiling” women experience in the workplace is self inflicted. The specific question was: "is motherhood to blame?"
The answer is easy. Yes.
Dutch economist Heleen Mees argues the problem is that too many women prioritize motherhood over their careers. Yet, workplace management expert Penny de Valk says women should have a right to choose how they want to spend their life, and employers need to do more to accommodate them. [source]
My wife came off maternity leave in January, she didn't get a job until this fall. Okay, fine - the economy is in a bad spot and getting a gig isn't easy for anyone. She had over a dozen years experience as a wine rep and was consistently the top seller in her company. She was the one shuffled in to rehabilitate territories when the other people in the company weren’t pulling their weight. She’s a people person, she’s good at what she does.
We moved from Vancouver to Calgary when she was pregnant - that was part of the trouble finding a job - she had no contacts here and the marketplace is very cliquey. Employers hired who they knew or their contacts knew.
Still, she fought on.
In each interview she would have to explain how she was coming off mat leave and was in a new city. And in each interview she was asked “who’s going to look after your kids?”
When I came for an interview in Calgary, nobody asked me who was going to look after my kids. Nobody asks me how I’ll be able to juggle marathon training with my work schedule. Nobody asks me what I’ll do if my kids are sick and there’s no childcare.
But they asked my wife.
Frankly, it’s none of their business and employers who ask that of interviewees are crossing a personal line that belongs in the same field as racism.
A new study shows that people with immigrant sounding last names are less likely to get a call for interviews.
According to University of Toronto researchers Philip Oreopoulos and Diane Dechief, applications submitted by people with English-sounding names are 47 per cent more likely to receive callbacks than those with Indian or Chinese ones in Toronto, 39 per cent more likely in Montreal, and 20 per cent more likely in Vancouver. [source]
It’s why a friend of mine changed his Persian first name to Tony on his resume.
Women in that wheelhouse of 28-38 experience that same prejudice. Employers wondering if they’re hiring a breeder who they will train just to see on the sidelines in 6 months, 1 year or 2 years.
My wife was in that breeding wheelhouse when we got pregnant. She was 35, the same month a promotion came open. She didn’t go for it knowing she’d be 6 months into the job before going off for a year. She missed her window of opportunity. When she came to work after our first she was only in the field for 18 months before heading off on mat leave again.
When she told her manager (the one who got the promotion she didn’t go for) that she was pregnant and taking leave, she was greeted with “well that was your choice.”
Her manager was a woman.
My wife has a job now with a company that values her. She’s underpaid, but is appreciated. She could be managing a territory the size of Alberta and overseeing a dozen reps, her intuition, sales skills, experience and understanding of her industry warrant it, but she’s slogging it in the trenches, trying to catch up with 5 years of motherhood.
Why do women not get paid as much as men? Because of those 3, 4 or 5 lost wage earning years. Those are years without raises. Those are years without work experience growing. Those are years where career opportunity is missed.
Don’t let anyone tell you the glass ceiling doesn’t exist, it does. It’s her womb.
The way moms are treated when they come back to the workplace (who's looking after your kids? what will you do if they're sick? are you having any more?) is wrong. A woman going for a job interview should be judged on her skills and experience relevant to that job.
But (and there's always a but) should women who choose motherhood expect the same career opportunities and salary as those who don't? No. And there's nothing wrong with that, it's just the way it is.