Babies are a part of life. We were all babies once. Most of us will have babies. And, whether or not we do, we need babies to continue our society. So, why is it that the burden of having babies has landed completely on women?
The recent HBR discussion on whether women are obligated to tell potential employers that they are pregnant when they interview is a great example of how women are blamed for having babies. The conundrum is: tell the potential employer and don’t get hired or don’t tell the potential employer and be called a liar. It’s a lose-lose situation for pregnant women looking for work.
Are men liars if they don’t tell their potential employers that they have medical conditions that might affect their work? It’s interesting that pregnancy is considered a medical condition that needs to be disclosed, even though people have fought hard to have the right to privacy over their medical issues. The disability act requires employers to find a way to deal with a disability, but why don’t employers have the same obligation to find a way to deal with pregnancy? Isn’t that gender biased?
In an ideal society, we’d all be honest with each other and give each other warning when things were about to change. But this is not an ideal society. Employers don’t do it and neither do employees. Why are women held to a higher standard?
More to the point, however, is that we all have to bear the cost of having babies and we all get to reap the benefits of having babies too. We think so often about how people who don’t have babies are saddled with the cost of other people (especially women) having babies. But, could it actually be the other way around? It could be argued that people who don’t have babies are free riders of a sort.
The problem with the blame game is that it blocks productivity. We’ve seen this on a large scale, for example, when Congress disagrees on the budget and when presidents are investigated. Our government comes to a standstill. People get so rooted into a position that they bring everyone down disagreeing. They’re fighting for win-lose but everyone loses.
We’re asking the wrong questions about pregnancy at work. We shouldn’t be thinking at the granular level of what he said/she said or if he/she should hire this person or that. The reason why women are losing out is that employers keep thinking at the level of “would this person be better for me over the next 3 months” rather than what is the best solution for the company over the long-term? This is a pennywise, pound foolish approach. Women are losing wages and opportunity and companies are losing access to a huge portion of the productive workforce.
Let’s turn pregnancy into a win-win proposition by asking ourselves to challenge our current assumptions and think in new and creative ways. Wouldn’t we all be more productive if we started implementing solutions rather than blaming and harping on problems of pregnancy at work—if we found ways to leverage the productivity of pregnant women and mothers, rather than write them off as being less worthy? Wouldn’t we all be better off if we found a way to collectively bring in the next generation of leaders and employees while supporting the current leaders and employees? Think of how much more we could get done!
Pregnancy is not a women’s problem. It is a part of life that can drain or regenerate our society, depending on how we handle it.