on workplace inequality

I can always tell how overwhelmed my mom and I are by the number of times we have baked potatoes for dinner (or, as we call them, vessels for butter). Thanks to a crazy time of year and a sudden family medical emergency, it’s been more baked potato butter dinners than I can count.

Nevertheless, I’m trying to regain some sense of routine, thus the blog post attempt. Also, something recently got me riled up, so virtual sharing ensues. Now on to the topic…

A few days ago, my friend and I were talking about women in the work place. At one point, he mentioned that his CEO recently had gotten in the habit of jokingly telling senior female employees that “you better not get pregnant right now!” Ha. Ha.

Aside from being ILLEGAL, that statement says a whole lot about the current status of the entrepreneurial culture of Silicon Valley (well, and pretty much everywhere…). In a hustle bustle go-get-’em environment, pregnancies, marriage, sickness, or family can easily slide into the “hindrance to success” category. This CEO, leading a company doing big things, was largely reflecting on the fact that this ship can’t sink now, we’re heading to mega success — and a pregnancy is a serious sinkage. I mean, babies, who needs ’em.

I was reminded of a conversation I had with a friend of a friend, who was suggesting to me that women must be inherently less entrepreneurial, since everyone he interacts with in his field is a man. I didn’t want to spend my energy then, nor do I now, deconstructing the MANY issues in that logic — but I do bring it up to demonstrate the pervasiveness of the gender bias in this start-up world.

On a more constructive note, it also reminded me of a talk given by Cheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook (which is echoed here in her Commencement Address at Barnard) that tackles this very subject. Having once met with venture capitalists who could not tell her where a women’s restroom was in their entire building, she’s  well acquainted with the gender gap in the Silicon Valley world. But she went on to discuss how she watched as many of her female employees would turn down promotions, leave jobs, or accept lesser pay because they knew that kids would be on the way shortly. Add on a dollop of “we could get funded, don’t get pregnant!” fear-mongering, and you’re one step away from working for free.

Though I question Sandberg’s logic that this burden falls on women (i.e., we must learn to be as ambitious as our male counterparts), I appreciate her insights into a work culture that dramatically needs reform. However much you ask women to “be ambitious”, the fact of the matter is that the laws are unequal. As long as we demand that women must return to work 6 weeks after giving birth and that partner or paternity leave is nonexistent in this country, the mother makes the sacrifice. Compared to the majority of Western Europe (where parents are granted 1 to 5 years leave, man or woman), our policies are laughable. What’s not laughable is the CEOs and employees who frame personal lives (and largely female ones) as hindrances to money-making.

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One thought on “on workplace inequality”

  1. It really comes down to sharing the burden and coming up with new, flexible ways to work. Increasing paternity leave, allowing people to work at home (I mean, with all the things computers can do these days, this is so very possible), reconsidering stringent work hours, etc etc. The solutions are out there. It’s only a matter of enlightening people with the power and incentivizing their cooperation.
    Good post. Love ya!
    Shivs

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