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A Mother of a Dilemma

Posted: 01/08/2012 (5:27 pm) | Filed Under: Daily Grind,Politix |

I commented on Facebook when someone posted a link to this blog post the other day. It was a knee-jerk reaction to be sure, but it seems, from the comments and spinoff posts here, here [in Serbian] and here [in Serbian] that this is a hot button topic not only in Europe but all over the globe.

Apparently, American women in the workforce don’t have it quite as good as some of their European counterparts, with the standard average maternity leave in the U.S. being 6-12 weeks rather than the generous allowances of some European countries. This Wikipedia article breaks down allowed parental/family leave by country. It seems that Central Europe and Sweden are the most generous, with Slovakia allowing mothers to stay home up to three years with each child. This practice would cripple American industry and bring corporate America to its knees. That is why I was so flabbergasted at the apparent vitriol of the article’s author, a Hungarian. Europe as a whole has far more generous parental leave policies than Canada or the U.S. Although the article doesn’t speak to Europe’s treatment of adoption leave, I assume it is also covered under these parental leave policies, as is done here in the U.S.

My big beef with all of this is the author’s insistence that he wouldn’t hire anyone over 50 or any woman. Now me being over 50 and without a uterus (but a woman nonetheless), I took umbrage at this statement. All my life, I’ve given my employers my best efforts. I have always believed, perhaps wrongly, that achievement supersedes class. In other words, its not my circumstance of birth but what I bring to the table that will get me ahead in life. Oh how wrong I must be.

In defense of older workers, I was instrumental in another law firm where I worked in convincing the powers that be to stop hiring college graduates as file clerks. For one thing, the youngsters don’t have the same work ethic as older people do, they want to start a career and a go-nowhere position is not going to keep them interested very long. But what better group to recruit for this kind of position than a retired person. They have already had their career so that’s not of paramount importance. Most of them are collecting retirement and/or social security and are capped at the amount of extra income they can earn without compromising their retirement or social security income. They are perfect for this job, as my law firm discovered after replacing two file clerks with retired ex-military personnel. Those guys had the file rooms in top shape in no time, had no problems taking direction from younger people and seemed content to have somewhere to go and be productive during the day.

My position is still that merit should dictate who gets hired and who gets promoted, and every company has to look at its bottom line to decide whether a woman is valuable enough to the company, notwithstanding any maternity leave she may take over the years, to be promoted or even kept on board.

The flip side of this pregnancy coin, which is seldom discussed outside CFC forums is the huge disparity between the way mothers and childless women are treated in the workplace. In the U.S., some firms bend over backward to accommodate mothers and their children. And this I find very distasteful. Case in point: Every year when signing up for vacation when I was working day shift (it’s not an issue now that I’m on swing shift), priority was always given to women who had children in school, so they could schedule their vacations during spring break. And this was regardless of their seniority. Meanwhile people like me, who had been at the firm over 15 years, closer to 20, because we are childless, were pushed aside and given the “leftovers.” This is wrong on so many levels. Ditto the “nursing” room that the firm has designated for nursing mothers to apparently use breast pumps during office hours. Uh, we had a room for that; it’s called the ladies’ rest room. Ugh.

So on the one hand, I can see this author’s frustration with women of childbearing age expecting businesses and employers to bend over backward for them, I also don’t think that should be the sole deciding factor on whether or not a women (or older worker) is hired or promoted or not hired or not promoted, or even outright fired. It should be about performance, period. If they perform, I don’t care if they have 10 screaming kids. If they benefit my bottom line, keep them. Reward them. If they don’t, cut them loose, politically correct or not.

There is a LOT wrong with the way corporate America treats its workers. Fear of discrimination lawsuits governs their every move and it shouldn’t be that way. Still, in light of what I’ve discovered about the way Europe treats its workers, especially its women, the U.S. has a lot of catching up to do, if indeed that is what we should be doing. Personally, I don’t believe women should be given preferential treatment just because they are women; ditto minorities. The race card is played way too often here in the U.S. There, I said it. I am just glad that I’m not a victim of such discrimination, at least not yet. But the older I get, the more risk I run of being discriminated against due to my age.

All this begs the question: Is the European way better? Does Europe have a higher family value than the U.S. Are we all just a nation of workaholics? A rant for another day.


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