A few months into my marriage, I got a call for a job interview. Among other questions, I was asked about my plans to start a family because I was newly married. I found that strange, because according to me, my performance had nothing to do with whether I decide to become a mother or not. But what they were concerned about was whether the training I would receive would be worth the money they spend on me if I decide to quit post-pregnancy. This is not just my story alone. Thousands of women in India and across the globe are questioned about their decisions to have a child while still being employed. It is as if you have a make a choice whether you want to climb the corporate ladder or raise a child. Apparently, you can’t do both!! Are newly married men subject to the same kind of questions in an HR interview? I don’t need to answer that….and brownie points for getting it right too.
If you have been following the news, particularly of the recent Olympic games held in Tokyo, you would certainly have read about Allyson Felix, the celebrated athlete from US and her story. In 2018 when her contract with Nike was due for renewal, Nike wanted to pay her 70 percent less when she decided to be a mom because it was believed that wanting to be a professional athlete and a mother was a crazy dream. Allyson, on her part wanted to secure protection for herself and others that she wouldn’t be punished if her performance falters during the months surrounding pregnancy. But that did not happen. She said that her “stomach dropped” when she was asked to do an ad supporting women empowerment while she was negotiating terms for maternity protection with the company. This left her in disbelief and that’s when she decided to end her contract with Nike and signed up with Athleta, an apparel company focusing on women. Today she has her own shoe and lifestyle brand, Saysh. And the new update is that, following public outcry, Nike has now announced a new maternity policy for all the athletes it sponsors.
Though, it is heart-warming to hear that Allyson was able to secure justice for other athletes, it is a battle that many women continue to fight, some silently. While your own family wants you to become a mother soon after marriage, the company you work for wants you to keep it on the side if you wish succeed professionally. As if motherhood is a choice and ultimately a punishment. So, if a woman decides to go for it, her family celebrates while at work she is penalized. The question that’s more important here is, why are women exclusively punished for a choice that is not theirs alone? Why are men not questioned or punished if they become fathers? The answer probably lies in the fact that in India at least, raising a child, sacrificing a career for the child is solely the mother’s responsibility. The father is merely expected to ‘provide for’. He doesn’t need to sacrifice his career and he is not even branded selfish if he chooses to prioritize his career over his paternal duties. He is not even expected to do that.
Women are heading to unexplored territories and creating history, but behind every success is the story of a woman who has defied rules, stood her ground and has secured a place for herself in history. But not all women end up seeing light at the end of the tunnel. There are many that have given up mid-way, many who continue to struggle and many more qualified women trying to find a spot for themselves in a male-dominated world and workplace. There are many who quit a flourishing career to raise a child, never to go back. And then there are those who decide to sideline their ‘motherhood dreams’ to rise high professionally only to be branded as selfish. Getting back to work post-delivery is another struggle which deserves a separate post. What’s the need of the hour then? Motherhood should not be made to sound like punishment. If women are made to feel that choosing to step up to start a family post marriage will not affect their career, they will work without pressure and excel. This discriminatory practice should be avoided and must be made clear in the contract itself. Companies should take steps to retain talented women and concentrate on their skills alone.
This post is a part of Blogchatter Half Marathon and #CauseAChatter/Gender Talks