Ellen Bravo, executive director of Family Values at Work
By Ellen Bravo
March 9, 2015

MPW Insider is an online community where the biggest names in business and beyond answer timely career and leadership questions. Today’s answer for: If you’re a working mom — have you experienced workplace bias? If so, how do you respond? is written by Ellen Bravo, executive director of Family Values at Work.

When Katherine Zaleski apologized to all the mothers she used to work with for questioning their commitment to their jobs, some people groused that the damage had been done. I understand. Still, I appreciate that apology – we need more people holding themselves responsible and sharing the wrongs they’ve done — however cringe-worthy they may be (e.g., Zelski’s admission that “I didn’t disagree when another female editor said we should hurry up and fire another woman before she ‘got pregnant.’”) Discrimination takes a big toll.

As a working mom who experienced workplace bias, I made sure I knew my rights – and when I realized how limited they were, I joined with others to expand them. The way to respond is to have executives and others like Zelski take another critical step: help us win policies that will provide a floor for every woman – and man – to be able to provide for their loved ones and care for them at the same time.

As Zaleski points out, the vast majority of women in the workforce will bear children. For many of them, being a good mother can mean losing a paycheck or a job. Nearly half of all employed mothers receive no pay during the time they’re on maternity leave – and most of those who do have pay use accrued sick time or vacation.

Having a child is a great joy, but it’s hardly a vacation. Not surprisingly, one in 10 mothers of newborns return to the job before four weeks; some take only four days.

Imagine trying to function, not to mention trying to find infant care, in such situations.

And what about when your child gets an ear infection or strep throat? I often joke with my kids that if they’re going to get sick, try to do it during evenings and weekends. As you can imagine, I’ve failed miserably, as do most parents. Yet millions of workers in this country – especially those in low-wage jobs – don’t earn a single paid sick day. That means following doctor’s orders can lead to dreadful choices – diapers or phone? Bus pass or heat?

The financial consequences pile up, as taking a sick day can cost someone their job. Nearly a quarter of adults in the U.S. have reported having been fired or threatened with being fired for taking time to care for themselves or a loved one. Apologies and actions are also needed for dads – those punished for sharing in caregiving; those not allowed to; and those discouraged from trying.

And let’s not forget that young children aren’t the only ones that need care. Even those who are not parents have parents or partners or personal health issues that require time to care. More and more business leaders are speaking up in support of public policies like earned sick days and family and medical leave insurance, fair treatment during pregnancy, part-time parity, fair and predictable schedules, and the right to collective bargaining. They do so not as a favor to women, but because they recognize these measures are good for business and good for the economy.

Read all answers to the MPW Insider question: If you’re a working mom — have you experienced workplace bias? If so, how do you respond?

Why working moms should never have to apologize by Jane Edison Stevenson vice chairman, board and CEO services at Korn Ferry.

Working moms: Stop pretending everything is perfect by Erica Galos Alioto, vice president of Local Sales at Yelp.


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