Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Maternal profiling

Maternal profiling. noun.
Employment discrimination against a woman who has, or will have, children.

I am on the e-mail list for updates from MomsRising, a non-partisan grassroots advocacy group which works for legislative and social changes in support of motherhood and family issues.

"Maternal profiling" was listed in the New York Times as a buzzword of 2007. The term was popularized by MomsRising. It's more than a buzzword, of course. For most working mothers (and those even suspected of becoming mothers by employers), it's a reality.

This reality is well known within the academic sciences. If you work in that setting, you've heard plenty of horror stories or been the subject of one yourself. The stories run from the flagrant--the professor at my old universitywho tried to deny his pregnant postdoctoral employee any maternity leave whatsoever--to the more subtle (like the quiet assumption that you are no longer a serious scientist once you become pregnant).

What I did not realize was the extent of the problem across fields. If you really feel like getting pissed off today, read this link I received from MomsRising. There's a summary of statistics and studies--according to one study, mothers are 79% less likely to be hired than non-mothers with equal resumes and job experiences. And there are some heartbreaking and infurating personal stories told. The story of the pregnant social worker who could not get hired for a job in her field. Stories of mothers in the fields of child care and childhood education who were discriminated against. The woman who worked for an organization supporting women's rights whose maternity leave was taken away. A professor of humanities in a department known for its women's studies program who was denied tenure--at least in part, she believes, because she was a mother.

I don't know simple solutions, and I don't mean to get into a full-blown discussion about policy here. I just wanted to provide the news link to those interested, and raise awareness.

And here's my own (very) slight story:

I'm not going to blame my layoff on maternal profiling. My supervisor really did lose his major source of funding that year. A number of people were asked/pushed to leave. But before I left that postdoctoral position, I made an appointment with my supervisor for a frank discussion about my career prospects. When I walked into his office, the first thing he asked me was "Do you plan on having any more children?" At this point, Bean-girl was almost two years old, and my husband and I already knew that we would like another. When I replied in the affirmative, my supervisor literally threw up his hands and exclaimed "Then what's the point?!" He then proceeded to lecture me for the next 15 minutes on how it is simply impossible to combine motherhood with an academic science career.

He would never have given that lecture to one of the fathers in the lab.


ScienceMama said...

No he never would have. And there's a lot of reasons for that, the main one being that despite the fact that men are patting themselves on the back for being more involved with their children than their fathers were with them, women are still the primary caretakers, no matter their profession.

I've got a big post on this coming, but it'll have to wait until after my lab meeting tomorrow.

Suffice it to say, I am outraged on your behalf. ARGH!!!

EcoGeoFemme said...


ScienceGirl said...

Infuriating! And even more so as it is hard to have hope for a change...

arduous said...

That is horrifying and frustrating. I'm glad you're bringing attention to this though, because the more that we talk about it, and the more we call for change, the more likely it will become a reality.

The bean-mom said...

Thanks for the comments, all. I'm looking forward to your post, Sciencemama...(hope lab meeting goes well!)

Anonymous said...

Wow, that is unbelievable. You must have been flabbergasted. Outraged is a good word.

I recieve the Mom's Rising e-mails, too, and sometimes don't have the time to read them. This one, however, I'll have to go back to. Thanks for providing the link.

(Dare we presume to think that the possibility of a woman president might change things a little for women, to a certain extent? Not to fuel the fire by bring politics into it, but...)

Life As I Know It said...

WOW! That is awful. Shocking, but shocking more in the sense that he was so upfront about the discrimination. Usually, it's much more subtle. There. But subtle.
My career path definitely changed once I had a baby. I was denied a promotion, and as soon as I left, the GUY who took my job immediately got the title I had been asking for for years. A boys club.
What's the answer? I wrote a long post awhile ago about the Feminine Mistake book and someone pointed me to the MomsRising site.
I have so much more to say, but perhaps I should blog about it instead of commenting about it!
Great post!

TheMusingMommy said...

Wow, reading the Moms Rising article was disturbing. But it's good to be reminded that we live in a country that needs to make improvements. We need to keep these conversations going. Thanks for posting this.

I never directly experienced maternal profiling at my previous place of employment, but I did have a co-worker -- a single mother of a 3yr old -- who was expected to work late into the night with the rest of us. So what would she do with her kid? She had no choice but bring her back to the office after her day care closed for the day. We would be working late into the night -- 10 or 11 pm -- and this little girl would be there with us, getting cranky from lack of dinner and lack of sleep, while her mother was guilted into staying and working late. Not fair. Especially to the little girl.

The bean-mom said...

Life is Rising, so sorry to hear about your own experiences at work. I think what we really shocked me (although it shouldn't have) is how maternal profiling cuts across all fields, even the ones thought of as family friendly.

And MusingMommy, that is just so sad to hear about your friend dragging her little girl to work till 11 pm....