Zero Discrimination Day

By Eleanor Moriearty

March 1, 2019

Today is Zero Discrimination Day, an annual, global campaign to promote equality in the law and in practice for all individuals. Discrimination is all too often visible in the workplace, whether in hiring practices, salary gaps, or the selective promotion of employees.

In the United States, today’s mothers are more educated than ever before, and the majority of mothers with young children are in the workforce. Globally, 40% of women are in the labor force, and many of them are mothers. In honor of these women and Zero Discrimination Day, let’s examine more closely the discrimination women, especially mothers, are facing in their workspaces.

NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA – FEBRUARY 24: Zinda, pictured here with her baby, is a young advocate inspired by her experiences at Let’s Talk suppers at Ashé Cultural Arts Center. The Let’s Talk suppers lead with art and culture to address issues of reproductive health, rights, and justice. (Photo by Nina Robinson)

Have you heard of the Motherhood Penalty and Fatherhood Bonus? Studies from the U.S. Census Bureau and Research Institute of Industrial Economics show that while a new dad typically experiences a salary increase after having a baby, having children hurts women’s earnings. New moms, regardless of whether they take maternity leave, often experience demotions, cutbacks to part-time work, or a failure to be promoted.

Why? This discrimination can come from antiquated assumptions that fathers are always the primary breadwinners and that a mother’s income is merely a supplemental bonus. But these assumptions are often false. We can never assume a mom’s financial status or partnership status at home and, in reality, the majority of mothers in countries like the United States are the sole, primary, or co-breadwinners for their families while also being primary caretakers.

A problem that goes hand in hand with the motherhood penalty is pregnancy discrimination – the term for when expecting mothers are made to feel uncomfortable, pushed out, or fired from their place of work simply because of their pregnancy. While there is legislation like the U.S. Pregnancy Discrimination Act and standards from the International Labour Organization on maternity protection, this past year many companies have been sued for allegations of pregnancy discrimination.

Finally, we must also remember that a workspace can be a skyscraper, a 100-acre field, or a home. Informal economies often have less protections in place for women and mothers than traditional corporations. In informal economies like agriculture, domestic work, and childcare, there is often no paid maternity leave, no accountability measures for pay discrimination, and no designated, safe space to breastfeed or pump. Fortunately, organizations like the Domestic Worker’s Alliance are working to protect women in informal economies and better regulate these industries. Mothers are assets to workplaces and must be treated as such.

Photo from Serena William’s Instagram

Take Action Challenge on Zero Discrimination Day:  

  • If you live in the United States, call your Representatives in support of the FAMILY Act, which would provide workers with up to 12 weeks of paid family leave.
  • Is there a lactation room where you work? If not, rally your co-workers to demand one so new mothers have the resources and space they need if they choose to breastfeed.
  • If you’re an employer looking to build workspaces that work for parents, reach out to Mindr for organizational guidance.

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