Maternal Wall Discrimination in the Workplace
Mother’s Day was a great to appreciate mothers and caregivers, yet it also a day to examine the maternal wall bias and discrimination that women and caregivers face in the workplace. An issue that is prevalent to mothers and caregivers is the maternal wall discrimination faced in the workplace. This is an additional barrier excluding working mothers and caregivers in the working place. Maternal discrimination is based on the stereotype that a woman’s responsibilities to her children prevent her from being a dependent, committed, and competent employee.
Women in the workplace may find their effectiveness and competency questioned once they become pregnant, take maternity leave or adopt flexible work schedules. Joan Williams raises an important examination of the gendered space that is the working environment. She writes, “When a childless woman is not in the office, she is presumed to be on business. An absent mother is often thought to be grappling with childcare. Managers and co-workers may mentally cloak pregnant women and new mothers in a haze of femininity, assuming they will be empathetic, emotional, gentle, nonaggressive—that is, not very good at business. If these women shine through the haze and remain tough, cool, emphatic, and committed to their jobs, colleagues may indict them for being insufficiently maternal.”
Joan Williams is apt in her description of what this maternal wall bias results in the workplace. It is the further reinforcement that a) women cannot separate their work life and the home matters, and b) the reinforcement of an aggressive capitalist narrative that treats people as commodities other than human beings who simultaneously operate outside the workplace. The duality of women is diminished by this maternal wall bias/discrimination. Women CAN be excellent caregivers and successful employees in the workplace. The P for people in the triple bottom line approach is often overlooked in the race for profit. People have responsibilities and duties beyond the workplace, they are affected by the occurrences beyond their professional bodies.
Employees can arm themselves with policies and constitutional rights in their countries and the workplace. Employment Equity Acts and Labour Relations have strict laws aimed to protect workers from unfair discriminations. Speak to your Human Relations (HR) about their policies and procedures in the company. Know your rights.
Williams writes that employers must examine their hiring, attendance, and promotion policies to ensure they are exempt from biased standard. Furthermore, she writes that employers ought to operate in a manner where job duties can be achieved and personnel decisions on legitimate business need rather than on assumptions about productivity and commitment.
Employers need to remove bias and stereotypes by addressing and educating employees and managers on unconscious and implicit bias. Employers can offer alternative solutions for mothers and caregivers such as remote channels such as Slack, WhatsApp meeting, Zoom etc. By creating inclusive spaces, you create a solution and a way around problems arising. Offer more inclusive policies beyond maternity leave. Policies should be inclusive of all family stages, perhaps offering parental leave for primary and secondary caregivers, offering family planning benefits for those considering parenthood too.
Relocation Africa is cognisant of the maternal wall bias and has created an inclusive policy to enact change in organisational culture.
Human Resources Manager, Joy Jackson explains: “ Flexibility for working moms at Relocation Africa: after returning from maternity leave – in conjunction with prior discussions and arrangements/approval from Head of Department and HR a new working mom will participate in our hybrid Work From Home (2 days) and Work From the Office (3 days) structure and added to this can structure her lunch break to do a nursery school pick up and then resume WFH / WFO depending on the agreed arrangement. Mothers of older school-going children also have the flexibility to structure their lunchtimes according to the end of day school roster and can collect their child/children and drop them back at home or spend the last part of the day working from home depending on the time of day. In the case of emergencies, school-going children of working moms are allowed to stay at the office for a short period – in a separate venue that does not disturb colleagues or affect productivity,”
It is not enough to celebrate Mother’s Day, boasting about the care for mothers when you are not acknowledging their role as caregivers and bodies outside the workplace. Be on the right side of history and acknowledge the implicit bias on women, and work to eradicate it.