I’ve caught myself laughing out loud when my manager asks myself and a group of coworkers to volunteer for an assignment and the one among us who is a mother will say she has to pass because wants to be home in time to put her child to bed. Don’t get me wrong, if I had a kid and I could give that reason to spend more time with her, I would… so I don’t blame my coworker. But it amazes me how unfair it is that we live in a society where she feels comfortable enough to give that excuse, but if I said I wanted to get home to walk my dogs, I would be laughed out of the office.
When you are the single, childless women in the office, very often others assume your personal life doesn’t matter. Therefore we often carry the unfair burden of being the go to girl when married co workers with kids have family obligations… like picking up little Annie from soccer practice. Now, I’m not talking about when you are just starting out in your twenties and every other twenty something is on that work grind trying to get their career of the ground. I’m talking about when you get into your late thirties/forties and older… and many of your work peers are married with kids.
Over the years, I’ve heard my married female coworkers use their husbands and/or kids as excuses not to stay late, not to take an extra assignment or to avoid having to travel out of town. Earlier in my career, I didn’t think it was a big deal. After all, I also planned on having a husband and children one day, so I felt it reasonable for these married women to get special consideration. I had no idea it was unfair and discriminatory.
I have a single, childless girlfriend in her forties who recently dealt with this at her job. She was asked to travel out of the country for a work conference. But the first day of the conference conflicted with a personal project that was near and dear to her heart. Months earlier, she had the opportunity to become a producer on a Broadway play. It was a dream come true and she poured her heart into that production. And that hard work payed off because the play got nominated for a major award! Well, as luck would have it the date for the award ceremony fell on the first night of her work conference. She asked her manager if she could miss the first day of the conference to attend the award show. Her boss said no.
She decided not to take no for an answer, because she is a senior manager and is very familiar with how her company operates she knew she really didn’t have to be there for day one of the conference. She pointed out that if she were a mother whose child was graduating or a wife who’s husband was celebrating a big birthday, she would be allowed to come late to the conference. She explained to her boss that this play was her ‘baby’ and being there for it’s biggest night was very important to her. Her boss agreed she could miss the beginning of the conference and go to the ceremony.
Everyone deserves and needs to have fulfilling lives outside of the workplace. It is important to our mental health. For single women, that fulfillment may be our spending time with our pets, taking a salsa class, going on a date or to dinner with friends, traveling the world, volunteering or binge watching House of Cards. Society makes us feel that these things we fill our lives with are not valuable. Out of guilt or fear of being penalized, we don’t speak up. That needs to change.
The Economist recently reported that half of America’s adults are unmarried, up from 22% in 1950. And nearly 15% live by themselves, up from 4%. Those numbers are predicted to continue to increase. Businesses need to recognize that they should be mindful of discrimination against single, childless employees. For example, if your company provides benefits, chances are unmarried, childless workers lose hundreds or even thousands of dollars per year in employee benefits compensation. There are laws in place to protect the rights of pregnant women and new mothers, but not one law to protect the rights of Single women. Before you say that an actual law isn’t necessary consider what would happen to my girlfriend if she wasn’t a senior manager and she made an argument to miss the first day of that conference. Chances are she would have been penalized in some way or they probably would have found a way to eventually fire her (if they felt her ‘insignificant’ personal life took priority over work).
Many of us are afraid to speak out and rightfully so. But when you can, do it. If you are in a management role, be mindful of discrimination against single, childless women and work against it. Let’s start talking about this issue among family and friends and making people aware of this unfair treatment. The life of the Single girl outside of work matters, and if we don’t believe it no one else will.