Two and a half years ago I was desperately unhappy in my job but knew that my partner and I would soon be trying to conceive, so resigned myself to stick it out. This was because a) I didn’t think I’d get such a good salary elsewhere, b) my employer’s maternity leave was generous, and c) because I didn’t want to piss anyone off.
All considered, it didn’t seem such a bad thing because when I did have a baby, I’d be liberated – free(ish) of it for up to a year. And after that, I could consider other career options. To be quite honest, the thought of it seemed positively dreamy!
Some might tell me that I am normalising my secondary status as a woman; I have learnt to be grateful for every crumb they offer me because us girls don’t deserve it. I have adopted the mind-set of my oppressor and am myself promoting inequality.
You do hear these stories, though, of women who really did piss people off. Yes it can be tough – women should absolutely be able to work and have children. That’s what maternity leave is for. Sometimes, if pregnancy and a new job coincide, that’s just the way it is. But sometimes, you hear stories where a pregnant, or soon-to-be-pregnant, woman sought promotion from a perfectly comfortable and secure job. She takes the pay rise and suddenly lands her employers with the task of seeking maternity cover for her forthcoming absence.
There is a tricky balance here between need and want. We probably all go to work for a combination of need and want. However, seeking promotion when you’re already in a decent professional job seems to verge on the side of ‘want’. Compare this to being a casual cleaner, and being offered a full-time job at Marks and Spencer’s; that seems a bit more like ‘need’.
Yes you could argue that a woman needs to have a baby, just as she also needs to work. But the vast majority of the time, couples have the luxury of choice. They can plan and make pragmatic decisions about when they start trying for a family. If a woman is certain that she can’t miss the chance of that promotion, then is it really so outlandish to suggest that she make that commitment her priority, and delay trying to conceive a bit? It seems (dare I say) a little greedy to want to have it all.
On the subject of the maternity leave itself, it should surely be universally generous, and not a big deal for employers. It shouldn’t matter how senior or special your job is, employers just need to get with the programme, man.
Perhaps women on maternity leave should even be paid more, though that’s maybe a question for an economist… Anyhow, we’re getting there. Shared parental leave is certainly a great thing. Of course it would be good to see more of it, but we can’t always blame men for not getting involved. It’s not as simple as that is it? The mother grew that baby in her body and feels closely bonded with it. She may want to keep breast-feeding for as long as possible. She may just not want to be away from the baby.
And life after children? Well, it strikes me as particularly backward when women with children are discriminated against. And if that is the case, it seems kind of odd and short-sighted that men with children aren’t equally discriminated against, as surely in this day and age, they face much the same challenges as their female counterparts. It also seems in everyone’s interests for employers to have a bit more trust in their employees and allow more flexible working. But that’s a whole other story, eh.
Back to the main issue… I don’t think it’s unreasonable to ask for a bit of give and take; a bit of honesty about what is needed and what is wanted. Yes it’s her legal right, but does a woman really need to move into a job with greater responsibility, only to let people down? A bit of courtesy is all that’s required – if said job was indeed so much wanted, a year wait before having something else so much wanted is not so long.
When women try to have a baby, they are choosing to focus on fulfilment of a non-work dimension of their life. If they succeed, it is a miraculous thing for which they should feel blessed and humble.