So, over shabbat lunch the issue of women, careers and glass ceilings came up. Again. And a young man at the table stated that “In my company, we don’t hire women. I mean, it’s not like a policy or anything, but there are no women working there because it would ruin the company when they get pregnant.” We all looked rather stupefied at that point. The company in question is 30-people and “high-tech” oriented (and no, he wouldn’t tell us its name. I think he knew some of us might actually try and sue them). I asked why it would ruing the company and he said something along the lines of “it will take 7 months to train someone to do the job, so when a woman is on maternity leave, no one is doing her job. So the only way is to not hire women.”

I have more than a few thoughts on this. But my main issue with this — and I hear similar arguments other places — is the false analogy. And in my opinion, that is what we need to fight first: There is a fundamental difference between BIOLOGICAL facts and SOCIOLOGICAL facts. They are not the same. Yes, women have wombs and give birth. But the way society handles that is not an unchangeable part of reality (as opposed to the womb). We cannot indulge this attitude any more! Just because things are a certain way, doesn’t mean they have to stay like that. Because we CAN change society.

The guy at lunch was saying “how will you change that women have children?” and I kept explaining that I don’t want to (and couldn’t even if i wanted to) change that. I want to change the way the work place reacts to a couple that decides to have a baby. Don’t tell me that there are “no solutions” to how to structure a company and a society in a way that allows for women to have children, maternity leave and a fulfilling career (however she defines that). And the same goes for the dads… Point in case: if all men were forced to take paternity leave then I assure you we would see solutions being found and created, also by this guy’s company.

Saying “it’s too much of a fuss to hire a young woman” is simply an easy solution. and it’s stupid. Remember Prof. Slaughter’s article from last month (Why Women Still Can’t Have It All – https://gatesofcity.wordpress.com/2012/06/26/why-women-still-cant-have-it-all-response-6-2/). She doesn’t use the word stupid, but that is the best way to characterise the current model…

Stupid, because it ignores all the potential young educated women bring to the job. Stupid, because it assumes that men are OK with being absent in their children’s childhood. And again — stupid because it is being complacent. The system is not working. So yes, we do need to fix it. First by admitting that the system us cultural and not biological and we *can* fix it. Second, we have to decide to do so.

In Scandinavia, they have alrady started this process and while the different Scandinavian models of *parental leave* are not perfect, but they are a step in the right direction.

Here is an overview of the European situation. It’s from the group LeaveNetwork (http://www.leavenetwork.org/) which is a great source for comparative analysis and inspiration:  http://www.leavenetwork.org/fileadmin/Leavenetwork/overviews_2012/final.Statutory_Parental_Leave.pdf

More on Denmark here (http://www.leavenetwork.org/fileadmin/Leavenetwork/Country_notes/2012/Denmark.FINAL.7may.pdf)

Overall, therefore, what seems to be important when men and women negotiate on who should take leave is wages, educational level, workplace culture and age and these seem to be common factors for both the public and private sectors.

Sweden here

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/10/world/europe/10iht-sweden.html?pagewanted=all

But laws reserving at least two months of the generously paid, 13-month parental leave exclusively for fathers — a quota that could well double after the September election — have set off profound social change.

and Norway

http://www.norway.org/aboutnorway/society/welfare/benefits/

Parental leave is still a hot topic of debate. The Equality and Anti-discrimination Ombud, Beate Gangås, has proposed that the parental leave period be divided into three, with one-third reserved for the mother, one-third reserved for the father and one-third to be used as desired. As of yet few political parties have shown their support for this solution.

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