Mom’s at Work
One of the distinguishing characteristics of the modern world of work is the vast number of working mothers.
This article presents the topic through the eyes of two women. One is a working mother and the other manages a high-tech placement company.
Tzivia – Working Mother
Tzivia, a 29-year-old resident of the Haifa Bay suburbs, has a three-year-old boy named Omer. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Education and French and has done Master’s degree studies in Education Systems Management. Until her son was born she held a student job at the sales center of a large Internet company. The job included working night shifts.
“When Omer was born all that changed. Working night shifts was out of the question. I offered to work other jobs at the company, but it didn’t help – I got no offers. I decided to stay home with my son for a year. Once the year had gone by I started looking for work. I sent out a lot of resumes…it was really hard."
“I don’t think it’s less worthwhile to employ a young mother. It all depends on the person you hire for the job. If I am a hard-working, responsible individual I won’t allow my personal restrictions to have an impact on the way I work.
“Another matter I’ve been exposed to at the many job interviews I’ve gone to is the potential for future births – especially if the interviewer is a man. Male interviewers have shown great interest in my desire to have another baby. I think this is invasive. On more than one occasion I felt affronted by references to these issues. I felt as if a woman in her reproductive years is considered less useful.”
Tzivia touches on a complex issue that has been the subject of government legislation.
When a potential employer asks Tzivia questions not pertinent to the job during an interview – questions such as, “How can a mother come home from work at 7:00 pm?” – he could face legal charges if the matter reaches the court system.
Of course legislators do not want to restrict the employer’s ability to function. The employer is entitled to evaluate whether a female job candidate can work until 7:00 in the evening, but cannot relate this to motherhood and children.
These issues have been brought before the Labor Court. In one case, for instance, the court ruled an employer must pay NIS 50,000 ($12,000) in compensation for taking into account a job candidate named S.P. was a woman and a mother. According to his worldview this fact might have made it difficult for her to work long hours.
The court ruled certain remarks made during the interview – “Women are not right for this job,” “…it’s a matter of work hours…” and “it’s a problem to ask a woman to work after 4:00 pm” – constituted discrimination.
Another point that should be stressed in this case is that it makes no difference whether or not the employer acts with malicious intent. In either case the court is likely to rule against him, finding him guilty of discrimination even if his actions were unintentional; discriminatory conduct and posing discriminatory questions is enough to convict him.
Let’s return to Tzivia, who claims motherhood is not limiting.
“It’s all a matter of commitment,” she says. “A responsible, professional and reliable worker will do the job well, even if the worker happens to be a woman with children. There are many ways to cope with the exigencies of motherhood. For example, many mothers go to work all day and their children are taken care of by a grandmother or a devoted caregiver. Or the father may work out of the home or come home from work earlier in the day."
“In our case my son’s nursery school is located at my husband’s place of work and he picks him up and brings him home at the end of the day. After the child goes to sleep my husband continues to work at home. So the problem of my long workday is solved. In fact this arrangement worked to my advantage in all of the job interviews I went to. Or at least that’s the impression I got from the interviewers."
“Sometimes a working mother does the job even better because she realizes her income is vital to the family. In many cases she is more dedicated and responsible because of the numerous tasks placed on her shoulders.
What does Tzivia do when her son is sick?
“When my son gets sick my husband and I divide the task of taking care of him if the grandmothers, who live in different cities, cannot help. One day I stay home with him and the next day my husband stays home. This poses a financial dilemma, because days taken off of work are deducted from the salary, which can introduce considerations of whose pay is higher and whose absence causes a greater reduction in household income. On the other hand if you want to keep your job you cannot miss too many days. Say, for instance, the husband is self-employed and his absence is much more significant financially. Then it stands to reason the mother will take off more workdays.”
And what do the employers have to say about this?
"Large companies also face pressures. They carry out major projects that must be completed quickly. The need to meet the timetables creates constant time pressure.
One of the dilemmas in this area, especially at high-tech companies, relates to business trips abroad. Many women will not take such positions because they cannot meet their constant obligations.”
How do high-tech employers relate to a job candidate who is also a mother?
“There is a certain awareness of their obligations, but if the candidate says she has no problem taking the job and the work hours, and has no problem meeting the demands of the position, I don’t think she will be rejected or preference given to a man. Today there is greater openness and consideration for worker’s obligations beyond the workplace and more emphasis on management patterns that encourage teamwork and consideration for individual needs.
“If the job really is interesting and engaging, and the employee – whether a woman or a man – is aware of his or her value to the organization and feels connectedness and concern for the place of work, he or she will work out the other demands. Solutions are available, they just have to be implemented. It depends on the desire and open-mindedness of all those involved in the matter – the employee and his or her family on one hand and the employer on the other."
“The employer must show flexibility in finding suitable solutions. For example, a work arrangement in which she leaves work early two days and stays late two days. Today technology makes it much easier to complete work at home. If the two sides are amenable, solutions can be found that are satisfactory to both parties.”
Labor legislation shows great consideration for women’s needs – particularly for pregnant women, and for working mothers as well. For example a mother with a baby is entitle to leave work for an hour to nurse and can miss up to eight workdays per year due to her children’s illnesses.
A survey of working mothers conducted by Jobnet investigators reveals they have real fears of not getting hired because of the very laws designed to look out for their interests. They think the employer, not wanting to violate the law because of his task schedule, will elect not to hire working mothers.
We believe these fears are more prevalent at simpler jobs with relatively low pay or under small-scale employers (and the two often go hand-in-hand). In such cases the determining factor in whether to get a job is the desire to contribute to the family income.
In conclusion, a small-scale employer, e.g. a storeowner, might not hire a mother of small children due to fears her outside obligations could harm the store’s operations. On the other hand a large high-tech company will assess the mother’s capabilities and motivation. If she is found suitable, together solutions can be found to deal with her outside obligations and the restrictions imposed by the law.