Workplace Equality: Women’s Struggle to Remain Employed

BY HANIYA JAVED

Speakers at the United Nations Commission on Status of Women talk about the distinctiveness of women’s work and empowerment.

Grazie Pozo Christie is a mother of five who grew up in Mexico and came to U.S. when she was 11. She is an orthopedic radiologist who has also worked as a television commentator and writer.  After each of her baby’s were born, she went right back to work. Her independent medical practice has allowed her to return to resume her career without hiccups.

Christie’s experience as a working mother is shared with a small number of women.  According to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 44 percent of the workers displaced from jobs they have had for three or more years are women. When a similar survey was conducted in January 2014, 58 percent of women had been re-employed in comparison to 64 percent rate for men.

Christie was on a panel with three women who discussed issues women face at workplace at Commission on the Status of Women at United Nations in March. From juggling with personal and professional life, the focus of the discussion was returning to work after unpaid maternity leave.

According to professor Yana Rodgers at Rutgers University firing an employee on maternal leave is illegal. “An employee cannot be fired on maternity leave. The leave is actually an employment protection as part of US Medical Leave Act of 1993, which provides for 12 weeks of unpaid maternal leave,” she said.

Among 41 nations, the U.S. is an outlier when it comes to paid parental leave, according to the research compiled by OCED. The International Labour Organisation recommends women be given paid maternal leave. Countries like Sweden, Canada and Norway provide at least 26 weeks of paid leave.

“It is indeed a financial burden for new parents. I have heard stories of people limiting their family to one child only because they cannot afford to go unpaid over and over,”says Professor Yana van der Meulen Rodgers

Robyn Saunders, a career coach at the New York Public Library, said women have to develop a strategy to get their jobs back.  “I see around 200 women who come for career counselling and job advise,” Saunders is approached by all women who are beginning their first jobs and women with extensive work experience.  One of the reasons that women have trouble re-entering the work force, is that they don’t use their credentials and sell themselves. “What we need our better job opportunities to benefit their cultures,” she said, in reference to the myriads number of backgrounds her clients belong to.”]

For panelist Andrea Picciotti Bayer, an attorney, at U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division, giving her job up to take care of her kids wasn’t a hard choice to make. “I told my husband, the law can wait but my kids wouldn’t,” she said.  A mother of 10, Bayer, said that whenever women work her home family always occupy her mind. It was a matter of choice for her and she prioritized her children over her work. “When I tried to get back to work, I didn’t have it easy. My job was given to someone else.”

The battle for workplace equality has taken some setbacks.  President Trump issued an executive order a week ahead of “Equal Pay Day” on April 4 that seeks to  reverse the President Obama’s 2014 Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces rules that required, federal contractors to comply with labor and civil rights law, protect parental leave and ensure equal pay for women.

“For now we cannot know quantitatively how the order will affect employees without this added protection,” says Sarah Fink, senior counsel at the National Partnership for Women & Families.  According to Fink, the law focuses government contractors only therefore employees of private companies are still in compliance.

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