An article written in Women’s Agenda made me clench my teeth and sweat – and not in a good way.
According to the Fair Work Ombudsman’s Annual Report, for the first time pregnancy discrimination is now Australia’s number one complaint against employers, with pregnant women facing more discrimination than those with a disability. The report also found more people believe their family responsibilities see them treated differently by their bosses.
My experience saw comments by (only male – never female) co-workers start flying as soon as I was married – which was an unexpected shock and perhaps naivety on my behalf as I didn’t even consider the act of declaring love for someone could automatically set off alarm bells around whether I was a risky employee or not.
A year after I was married I went for a new job and in the interview the CEO looked at my engagement ring and said “I can see you’re married and I want to make it clear that we expect a three-year full-time commitment from you”. During a second interview potentially starting a family was again brought up, not by me, and the CEO this time said: “From talking to you I think you’re the kind of woman who if you had a baby would only take six weeks off, and we’re OK with that if that’s the case”. I didn’t take that job – even though I had wanted it before I’d met the CEO – as having a family was on the cards and I knew they would have made it difficult for me to work at their organisation – I weighed up the risks and decided it just wasn’t worth it. That same week in an interview for another job the again male CEO asked me straight out if I wanted to start a family soon. I swear it must have been written in caps lock on my head or something.
The entire employment process is completely clucked because after getting married, I was made me feel, perhaps unintentionally, like I would be letting any employer down by having a child. I felt guilty when I found out I was pregnant. When in hindsight that’s a crazy emotion to have about bringing a child into the world.
Thankfully I took a job with an employer who was thrilled for me when I became pregnant, and has made it easy to return to work post-baby. I love the days I have in the office, which in many ways are much easier and more rewarding than the some days spent at home.
I believe employers have it wrong if they think a woman who may become pregnant is a risk. In fact it’s an asset. Having a child gives you a much richer life experience, makes you a top negotiator, more efficient, a master at time-management and incredibly resourceful. Having a child makes you more empathetic, able to get through anything on two hours sleep, and gives you huge perspective – office politics don’t matter when you have a family waiting for you at home .
In my case I believe the life lessons from pregnancy and having a baby has made me a much better employee. It’s a shame we still have a lot of work to do for other people to view it in the same way.