Potential parents often consider a variety of factors before having children. Do they feel financially secure? Will they have any support from friends and family? Is their current living situation hospitable to the mobile and judgment-free? Do they have a deep yearning for a plump, sweet-smelling tiny person? Are they sick of spending $15 on muddled and infused specialty cocktails and looking for a way out? And, in our near-dystopian family unfriendly society, what would their employer think about it?
According to the Bright Horizons Modern Family Index, a new survey commissioned by the child care company Bright Horizons, “nearly 70 percent of expectant women and new parents say their employer tops the list of considerations when deciding to start a family.” That’s a lot of people seeking explicit or implicit approval from their bosses for what is an exceedingly normal, and existentially necessary, personal decision. In a just world, the culture of individual workplaces would play no more of a role in our choice to have children than it would in our choice to marry, adopt a Labradoodle, or take up long-distance running. We don’t live in a just world.
In a survey of 530 pregnant women, 515 women who have had their first child in the past two years and returned to work, and 150 men with the same profile, Bright Horizons found that a good many parents feel that having children is a professional liability. After announcing their pregnancies, 1 in 5 women felt that they were at greater risk of being fired, 1 in 5 say they were passed over for a new opportunity, and 1 in 4 perceived judgment from colleagues or management. After returning to work, 43 percent say they believe their employers see them as less committed, 39 percent say they believe their employers wish they would quit, 37 percent say they’re treated worse than other employees, and 35 percent feel actively discriminated against.
Such impressions are not the result of their conflicted, guilt-ridden mommy brains compromising their judgment and making them believe that everyone is conspiring against them. According to the survey, 96 percent of expectant mothers are eager to return to work after having a baby, and 92 percent say they plan on being as committed as they were before. More than two-thirds of these women say they look forward to being able to provide for their families, 64 percent want to be a role model for their child, and 53 percent want to return so that they may further develop their careers. In other words, mothers want to be good parents and good employees—they just feel that their rigid workplaces won’t let them be both.
First-time fathers experienced a similar letdown after having children. While many are excited about the prospect of being equally involved in parenting and maintaining their career, their hopes are also dashed by the realities of the workplace. Around a third of new dads say they felt judged by their colleagues and management, believed that fatherhood limited their opportunities to advance their career, and worried about being fired when they told their employer that they were going to be a parent. Also, 69 percent of men said that becoming a dad will likely lead them to make a job change.
Indeed, half of the parents who took the survey say they changed jobs to one that is lower paying but more family friendly after having a child. This is a reasonable solution—but only in the context of the highly unreasonable circumstances in which we all must make a living.