Working Mother Problems: Women have made progress in many quarters when we talk about gender equality. Today, the proportion of women who work outside the home has dramatically increased but despite these changes, women continue to be many families’ primary caregivers. These responsibilities for family caregiving are not limited to childcare. Along with childcare, women are disproportionately responsible for caring for the elderly, including parents, partners, family members with disabilities etc. Thanks to our societal norms which somewhere are still dominated by patriarchal expectations of men being the primary breadwinners of the family and women being the primary caregivers.

India.com spoke to Ms Rupali Kaul, Operational Head-West, Marching Sheep about how these notions and norms around the role of women as caregivers at different life stages have over a period of time, transitioned into biases and stereotypes acting as key barriers to women’s entry, progress and retention in the workforce.

What is Family Responsibilities Discrimination?

It is an umbrella term for workplace discrimination based on biases about how employees with family caregiving responsibilities will or should act. This type of discrimination arises because the employer’s actions are based not on the individual employee’s performance or own desires or ambitions, but rather on stereotypes based on her life stage responsibilities.

1. The Maternal Wall Bias

Maternal wall bias is bias against women because they are mothers. This bias can manifest in different ways when an employer starts seeing a woman as a mother rather than a prospective candidate or an employee or a potential leader. When at work, maternal wall bias tends to be triggered on multiple occasions like the following:

  • When a woman announces her pregnancy
  • When a woman returns from maternity leave
  • When a woman switches from full-time work to a flexible work arrangement

It is assumed that women would do the lion’s share of childcare. The misguided assumption that high-potential women are more likely to discard their careers after parenthood is yet another bias women confront at the time of career advancement and learning opportunities. Mothers suffer a penalty relative to non-mothers and men in the form of lower perceived competence and commitment towards their work.

2. Caregiver Bias

Simply put, caregiver bias happens when employees are treated unfairly because they are responsible to care for family members. Bias against caregivers can be subtle or blatant, and it can happen to anyone irrespective of gender. This bias often polices men out of caregiving roles and women out of breadwinning or leadership roles.

3. Menopause And its Impact

Symptoms of menopause start in women between the ages of 45 and 55, and even earlier in some cases. Menopause symptoms can bring hot flashes, night sweats, loss of sleep and mood swings and many other symptoms that can impact productivity with reduced ability to concentrate and even erratic behaviour. Some women’s symptoms can be mild but for others, the health effects can be debilitating. It has been one of the reasons for women in this age group (likely to be eligible for senior management roles), to be driven out of the workforce.

What can we do?

Provide an Enabling Environment

In general, as a society, we need to raise awareness and increase attention towards the life stage barriers that still exist. Companies should call for more-comprehensive organizational solutions to address gender disparities at work.

  • Workplace Flexibility
  • Affordable Childcare
  • Bashing Stereotypes

Companies need to provide adequate entry points for women to join the workforce from full-time to part-time. While it is extremely important to create an enabling environment for women in different life stages to thrive through flexible and family-friendly policies to help them navigate their family and career decisions.

Create Level Playing Field

Women who have achieved top management positions have done so basis their competence, while managing family responsibilities. It is now time for companies to consider how they can institutionalize a level playing field for all employees, regardless of gender or caregiver status. While organizations are hiring more women to bring gender equality to the workforce, they need to focus on providing an enabling environment and creating level playing opportunities for them irrespective of their personal life stages to see the true aspects of gender equality in the organization.

Even though awareness is gradually increasing in the corporate world, a lot of it still needs work!