As more and more women reach the glass ceiling, they face one final, seemingly unsurmountable barrier at work – being pregnant.
Have you heard of anyone bragging about having contractions at their work desks, utilising less than the given maternity leave, or seemingly not slowing down at work despite just having a child? If you have, it is because mothers are still made to feel that they need to juggle between work and home, or even that they prioritise their careers over their family.
This year, Citizens Advice in the UK revealed a 25% rise in people reporting pregnancy and maternity discrimination. Expectant and new mothers reached out to the organisation about reduced working hours, demotions, being pressured to cut their maternity leave short, and even being made redundant on the pretext of “organisational restructuring”.
A UK government commissioned research also found that 20% of mothers experienced harassment related to their pregnancy and access to flexible work hours, while 10% reported being discouraged from attending their prenatal classes.
Closer to home, Moon Su-jong, a web designer with a South Korean conglomerate, declined alcohol at a company night out. Her bosses guessed that she was pregnant and expressed outrage. They criticised her for passing on more work for her colleagues to shoulder, asked her when she was going to quit, and said that the firm should hire more men. She reported this to the HR manager, who agreed with her bosses. She quit five months later.
In 2014, Noorfadilla Ahmad Saikin was awarded RM300,000 in a landmark case against the government, after she sued them for revoking her temporary teacher contract upon discovering her pregnancy. However, this year, the court slashed the awarded amount by 90%, calling it a “handsome profit”. In Malaysia, it is not illegal for an employer to ask an interview candidate if she’s pregnant, and the Malaysian Employers Federation (MEF) has dismissed calls for laws protecting pregnant employees.
The voices from women in top management positions have differed over the recent years. CEO of Yahoo! Marissa Mayer was criticised for taking a two-week maternity leave after giving birth last year, while CEO of YouTube Susan Wojcicki wrote an op-ed on The Wall Street Journal ahead of a fifth pregnancy titled Paid Maternity Leave is Good For Business, saying that when Google increased its maternity leave to 18 weeks, the rate of new mothers quitting their jobs reduced by 50%.
Some countries have introduced policies to address the perceived role of a mother as the prime or sole caretaker of her child, such as paternity leaves. In South Korea, fathers are permitted up to 53 weeks of such leave, but less than 2% used this benefit in 2014. Fathers surveyed said that they would be more willing to take leave once it becomes more “socially acceptable and financially possible”, as men are still being paid more than their female counterparts, a regrettable condition that rings true in any part of the world.
How can we address this age-old issue about gender roles in workplace, and society? Can a woman be equally successful at her career and also as a carer of the family? Or should we start teaching our sons that men are not expected to be the sole or primary breadwinner, and that being a stay-at-home dad is not something to be embarassed about?
Share your stories and thoughts with us, we’d love to hear from you!
Mummies who are fighter pilots and firefighters – click here to read all about Malaysia’s extraordinary women.