#SWAAYthenarrative

How Pregnancy Discrimination Has Become a Problem of Humanity

4min read
Career

"It's simple biology."


I'm sure you've heard those words before, in one context or another. It's used to justify discrimination against every imaginable group: people of color, LGBT people, women, and on and on and on. It gets by on a dubious claim to scientific legitimacy; why, if it's biology, then it's an indisputable fact, and biologically speaking, X group is deficient in Y manner and that's why it's okay to discriminate against them en masse.

When it comes to the workplace, women, indisputably, are treated this way. It's simple biology, we hear over and over, that we're too emotional, less logical, more prone to getting upset, less proficient at data-driven fields, natural caregivers, and so on (never mind the actual data that invalidates these sexist stereotypes). But perhaps there is nothing thrown our way more invidious than discrimination on the basis of pregnancy.

I'm sure I need not remind you that pregnancy is a key part of the perpetuation of the human race, and concomitantly every single business and institution in existence. So you'd think it would be something human society valued, and it does to a point, at least inasmuch as it can be used to promote an image of docility and dependence, which is, perhaps, the problem. You see, even the merest possibility of pregnancy is enough to deter employers from hiring women in greater numbers.

And why's that? Because pregnancy is a lot of work. It means an employee who can't be tied to her desk, is going to need medical leave sooner rather than later, and might need some reasonable accommodations (like time and space to pump). So pregnant women get penalized during the hiring process; with employers making every kind of assumption about her job performance and commitment. But it doesn't stop there; married women face a motherhood penalty, too, regardless of whether they're actually pregnant, because they might get pregnant in the future. It's bad enough that common advice for women seeking jobs is to take off their ring.

It all makes the recent news about Google's alleged workplace hostility toward pregnant women far from surprising. The author of the memo paints a picture of hostile management, unresponsive HR, pressure to refuse maternity leave, and threats that a promotion could be denied if she did take maternity leave. It's even less surprising in the male-dominated bro-y culture of Silicon Valley that both nurtured Google and which the company itself now fuels.

At best, it's a kind of patriarchal benevolence; at worst, it's naked expectation that employees work grueling hours and give their entire lives to the company's bottom line. That means even the barest accommodations won't be offered, forcing women to choose between their health and their income at a time when finances are often extremely strained. It all ultimately boils down to employers doing the calculus of what can be extracted from a worker rather than how a worker might benefit and strengthen a team; the human dimension goes entirely unconsidered, and where pregnancy factors in, that attitude strikes a remarkably punitive tone. We are punished for even potentially being fertile.

Nobody reading this is likely to believe that workplace discrimination against women is rare or non-existent; we've all, in one form or another, lived that reality. I still recall how, as a newly-minted employee of a large French bank, fresh out of business school, my colleagues would expect me to make coffee, answer phones, and generally do secretarial work. I was so incensed, I went and started my own business almost out of spite. And while I worked to grow that business from a dorm-room startup into a major industry player with global reach, I learned quite a lot. Not only about how this kind of discrimination functions, but how it persists.

It ultimately comes down, as I've gone into at length elsewhere, to workplace cultures structured around a particular kind of employee. The modern workplace birthed after World War II assumes a prosperous, middle class man with a wife and children at home. She handles the domestic work and caregiving, freeing him to work long hours, socialize in bars, and travel as needed. In short, it's a workplace where employees must be unencumbered – and women not only have encumbrances, but are seen as encumbrances: burdens the rest of the team must carry, especially when she's in what they used to call "a family way."

There's a headline that's been meme-ified and made its way around the internet: "I Don't Know How To Explain To You That You Should Be A Good Person." It's a searing look at the callousness, dismissiveness, contempt, and cruelty of so much of American society, the ways in which we abuse each other, not just for our personal gain, but to salve our own pride and secure our own position. There is no easy way to stop pregnancy discrimination that doesn't involve asking people to recognize that their employees are human beings and not fixed costs against which profits are calculated. We can look at data, we can implement policies, we can explore how pregnancy does affect productivity and find ways to mitigate it, but all of that ignores the root human problem of not caring about the wellbeing of others.

I have a great deal of faith in the rising generations, who seem – seem – to have their heads a bit more together on what sort of world we live in and how we should treat each other. Perhaps having been raised in an age of such stark inequality, watching their parents, elder siblings, and friends struggle with realities that our economy simply can't cope with in a constructive way has taught them that fairness and equity go hand in hand, and the free market isn't really free if people are systematically restricted from participating in it. It's something I see every day in my own children and their peers: hope for the future.

And I hope I'm right to see it.

3 Min Read
Finance

When There's Room To Fly, Women Soar: Why We Should Invest In Women Entrepreneurs

I think we can all agree that we are living in unprecedented times, and many of us are experiencing challenges in both our personal and professional lives. But it is important to remember that often, challenging moments present opportunities for change. Right now, companies and individuals are using this time to rethink how they conduct their business, the resources critical to their success, and how they go about their daily activities. And what we are seeing is that more and more people, especially women, are taking control of their lives by starting their own businesses.

While it is estimated that the number of women-owned businesses is one-quarter to one-third of all enterprises worldwide, there are still many women who aspire to make entrepreneurship a reality. A new Herbalife Nutrition survey conducted by OnePoll of 9,000 women across 15 countries, including 2,000 women in the U.S., found that globally, 72% of women want to open their own business. Of those, 50% don't yet have a business and 22% have one but would like to open another.

Women want to have more control over their future, but they are committed to helping future generations by being a role model for younger women; 80% believe this is a strong motivating factor.

The second annual survey, which explores women and entrepreneurship globally, revealed the overwhelming challenges women experience in the traditional workplace compared to their male colleagues. In fact, more than 60% of women said they would like to start a business due to unfair treatment in previous job roles. Of the women surveyed, 7 in 10 believe that women must work harder to have the same opportunities as men in the workforce. Results also revealed that 43% of women have delayed having children because they thought it would negatively affect their career, and 25% said they had faced pregnancy discrimination. 42% believe they've been unfairly overlooked for a raise or promotion because of their gender — and of those, the average respondents had it happen three separate times. These are a few of the challenges that have been a catalyst for the surge in entrepreneurship among women.

The irony is that startups founded and cofounded by women performed better than their men counterparts: on average women-owned firms generated 10% higher cumulative revenue over five years, compared with men.

With the barriers and negative experiences women cited in the workforce, it is not surprising that across the globe, the top motivation for starting a business is to run it themselves (61%). Women want to have more control over their future, but they are committed to helping future generations by being a role model for younger women; 80% believe this is a strong motivating factor.

But the women surveyed don't expect entrepreneurship to be smooth sailing: one-third of women with plans for entrepreneurship are "very worried" about their business — or future business — failing in the next five years. The top three challenges when starting a business center around finances — earning enough money to offset costs, having enough budget to grow, and financing their business. And when it comes to financing, women face stark disparities in the capital they often need to fund their business. Boston Consulting Group found that women entrepreneurs averaged $935,000 in investments, which is less than half the average of $2.1 million invested in companies founded by men entrepreneurs. The irony is that startups founded and cofounded by women performed better than their men counterparts: on average women-owned firms generated 10% higher cumulative revenue over five years, compared with men.

Women entrepreneurs create a source of income for themselves and their families. They are a vital part of our world's economic engine that society needs to support with flexible opportunities, mentorship, and access to capital. Herbalife Nutrition is proud that more than half of our independent distributors worldwide are women who set up their businesses and decide when and where they work and do so on their terms. We need to invest in women entrepreneurs, not only to help one generation, but to offer role models for the next.