“Family Responsibility Discrimination” is not the same as Sexism

I’m all for equality, but for equality of opportunity, not some feel good, “let’s move all the targets around so that everyone in the special groups gets a prize” equality, so things like this from a Slate article about Working Mother Magazine’s list of best places to work, frustrate me to no end:

Novartis isn’t alone in having serious dissonance between its official policies and the experiences of its female workers. Thirty-six companies that have been on Working Mother‘s 100 Best Companies list have faced “family responsibilities discrimination” suits filed by employees who are pregnant or care for young children, sick family members, or aging parents, according to Calvert. Plaintiffs prevailed in 15 of those cases, including in suits against Deloitte & Touche and Ernst & Young, two accounting firms often heralded for their efforts to retain women by instituting family-friendly policies.

In many ways, Novartis fits right in with patterns observed in this emerging legal area. With more than 2100 family responsibilities discrimination cases having taken place so far, lawyers in the field have begun to make classifications among them, coining terms like “maternal wall discrimination” to describe cases involving working mothers, “new supervisor syndrome,” in which a working parent doesn’t run into trouble until a new boss comes along, or “second child bias.” (Ditto, except it’s a second baby that comes along.)

I”ve done a lot of research on employment discrimination, but I have to admit that I have not seen the term “family responsibility discrimination” before.  I don’t understand why, if an employee has other responsibilities, whether they be to family, a second job, a hobby, or anything else, that interfere with the job that the employer needs done, the employer is somehow wrong for taking that into account.

Women will never get ahead as long as they keep claiming the mantel of family responsibility for their own, because an employer who needs an employee in a high level position needs that employee’s responsibility to be work.  Obviously, in most families with small children, there are going to be important responsibilities that must be attended to, and those responsibilities will sometimes have to come before one person’s job.  This is why it is foolish to think that a two people can both be full service parents and high achievers in their career as well.  One member of the family must put his or her career on pause occasionally, which may mean, and should mean, that you will be less important to your employer.  Unless you happen to be married to a senator, an employer simply isn’t going to pay big bucks for a job in which the employee is not vital to the organization. 

Individual families must work out which party will carry this role, or find a way to divide it, with both the family positives and the career negatives going to each party.  Someone’s career must suffer if there are family responsibilities to attend to.  Women do themselves a sexist disservice to assume that that person must always be the woman, and to expect employers to simply ignore and absorb the resulting costs.

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