Saturday, December 16, 2006

Inequity: The root of our discontent

I was reading an advice column in Pink, a magazine for businesswomen, and it's made me very upset. There was a time when I had the opportunity to be interviewed for an article on childfree women in the workplace, but because I and the writer were never able to connect, it never happened. This turned out to be a good thing, because after reading the article she wrote, I got the impression that I'd have been painted as petty and mean and completely lacking understanding of the plight of the working mother; the focus of the article was changed to yet another rehashing of the whole "opt-out revolution". Whatever.

So in this advice column, a writer says, "I am offering flex-time to female employees, but I'm afraid that the men are being adversely affected." The woman giving advice states that she assumes that she's giving the flex-time to working mothers, in which case the writer should also give the same to fathers who are primary caregivers. If the employees without small children have an issue with it, the writer is advised to meet with them to "find out the root cause of their discontent." This really, really bothered me. The insinuation is that the discontent couldn't possibly be because parents are given a flexibility they're not. No no no no no, there must be some other underlying problem. Because I already had a letter to the editor printed in the magazine this month, I have chosen not to write to the editor again, but I'm hoping someone else will.

One reason I'm so frustrated with this is that I've seen this happen recently with my mother. She has worked with her firm for nearly a decade, managing a number of clients who have flat-out refused to work with anyone other than her and have pledged to take their business elsewhere when she leaves. She is an invaluable "cog in the machine", as it were, for the company. For the last three years, she has been pleading to go to a four-day workweek. She's there at least 10 hours a day anyway and spends entirely too much time working from home as well; she feels that she has earned this. Time and again they have said no. Recently, a new employee has made the same request, and her bosses have honored it. Why? Because she adopted a new baby and "needs extra time to bond".

Nevermind that my mother may as well be singlehandedly raising my niece and has been doing so for nearly 8 years; that doesn't matter. Because this new woman has a baby, she gets the right to the flex-time. It's completely unfair.

Rules like this should be universal; either you have them for everyone, or no one gets the rights. Too many times I've been the one who picks up the slack for the mothers and fathers who leave early for the events of parenthood; school functions, parents' day, and I'm often the only one who's productive on "bring your child to work day". Yet when I have an event that requires leaving early it's either a request that's granted reluctantly or not at all, which means I end up being forced to lie (embellish the situation -- it's not just a day off, I'm in a friend's wedding! -- or call in sick when I'm not) or face missing an event I consider every bit as important as little Jaime's parent-teacher conference.

I'm tired of the inequity, of parents getting preferrential treatment. So often I see the parents being allowed to work from home when staying with a sick child, when I know that I couldn't work from home instead of calling in sick myself on a day when I'm too ill to be braving the train and the walk to work but could probably make it through my design work and my phone meetings just fine. They leave work early, they come in late because of children's illnesses, late schoolbuses, school injuries, or snow days. But if the childless and childfree are late, it's unacceptable.

"The root of our discontent" should be obvious, and to imply that it must be something other than being treated differently that our parenting counterparts is insulting.


Anonymous said...

I've really enjoyed reading your blog. It's a great feeling to know that there are other folks out there who are childfree like me. I really enjoyed your latest posts. I totally agree...they should either extend benefits for flextime or working from home for everyone or none at all.

Anonymous said...

Couldn't agree more. I see it all the time - Scott leaves early because school lets out and he has to pick up his kid. The school calls and says Tommy got soap in his eye so Molly has to rush to school or Susie has a play that takes place at 1pm, it's her first so can't miss that!

It's sad that if we rushed off to do things that are equally important to us, for example, playing with my cat and introducing it to the outdoors for the first time, that would NEVER be an acceptable excuse!

So glad to know there are other people who see it too and it's not just me!