Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Is mommy bias real?

The Cincinnati Enquirer writes that "anti-mommy bias persists. There's an assumption that once a woman becomes a mother, she won't be as competent at her job or as committed or dependable - without the employee ever getting the chance to prove herself." The article continues:

Mother's Day recognizes mothers for their dedication, resourcefulness and persistence. But some working mothers say that on the job, they're viewed in opposite terms. They say employers see them as less reliable, focused and committed than their co-workers, and weed them out of job interviews or bypass them for promotions.

The practice has been labeled maternal profiling, and it is the source of a growing body of discrimination lawsuits being filed against employers.

According to the Center for WorkLife Law at the University of California's Hastings College of Law, family-related discrimination cases increased by 400 percent from 1996 to 2005. Some workers sued because they were questioned about their marital status, family plans or child-care provisions during job interviews, then promptly dismissed. Other mothers say they were taken out of contention for jobs that required travel, long hours or physical labor.

But, does the empirical data support the popular notion of maternal profiling. HR World reports on a survey done by Adecco, the staffing firm, which suggests that mommy bias might be more fiction than reality:

Think what you want about parents in the workplace, but a new survey from Adecco found that 71 percent of working moms are likely to work late and respond to emails. That’s only two points below non-parents. However, 32 percent of workers would be less likely to ask working parents to stay late or answer emails after hours.

Nonetheless, 49 percent of moms believe their companies should do better at helping achieve work/life balance.

According to the survey:

  • Do Moms Have It Better When It Comes to Access to Work/Life Balance?: Depends on who you ask! 60% of working moms think they have the same level of access to work/life benefits as non-parents. Less than half of non-parents (44%) agree with the statement and one in four (25%) non-parents think they have less access.
  • Which is Harder to Manage?: According to working moms, managing career is a piece of cake next to managing family: 71% of working mothers find it more difficult to manage their family vs. career (29%).
  • Career & Motherhood Can Go Hand-in-Hand: A majority of working mothers (59%) say becoming a mother has not impacted their career path, while 15% say its actually had negative impact on their career.

So, what's the answer? It mommy bias real, fiction, or somewhere in between? It's hard to ignore the realities of maternal profiling when companies are hit with multi-million dollar verdicts. At the same time, it is only a small minority or working moms (15%) who report that motherhood had a negative impact on their careers. At the end of the day, maternal profiling is real, but simply may not be as big of a problem as the Kohl's case makes it seem. Yet, 49% of moms still believe their companies should do better at helping them achieve work/life balance.

The takeaway for employers is that regardless of whether maternal profiling is as prevalent and widespread as some claim, it is still illegal sex discrimination. Separate and apart from the legalities of mommy bias, promoting a strong work/life balance is becoming increasingly important in the recruiting and retention of quality employees. Purposing screening out parents (moms and dads) from hiring or promotions needlessly removes a significant portion of the population of the workforce from a company. After all, today's young go-getter is tomorrow parent. Mommy tracking employees will result in a revolving door of younger, less qualified employees. And, it's illegal.

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