Women find discrimination for being a mother in the workplace
By Deborah Gyapong
Photo caption: Helen Reimer said that while she wants children, she does not want to go to the opposite extreme and say the only fulfillment for a woman is in marriage and family.
Motherhood, not simply being a woman, is the greatest barrier to advancement in the workplace, a mother of nine with two law degrees told a Cardus panel March 8.
“I have not faced barriers because I am a woman, but because I am a mother,” Veronique Bergeron told a gathering of about 100 on International Women’s Day that coincided with the release of a Cardus study on women called “Celebrating Women.”
Bergeron, who became pregnant during her first year of law school, said she faced interviewers from law firms who asked her, “Are you going to get pregnant?”
Because she has children, it was assumed she could not make it to the “7 a.m. issues meeting.” She said while it probably would have been difficult to make the meeting, “Can I be the judge of that?”
Bergeron was one of four women on the panel moderated by Tasha Kheiriddin, a Toronto writer, broadcaster and political analyst who agreed “Having children is the biggest divide.”
In contrast, Helen Reimer told the panel “Being a woman has always helped me.” Reimer started out in sales for Proctor and Gamble, then worked for Christians Against Poverty (CAP) in the UK, and helped launch CAP in Canada in 2013. Recently married at age 35, she hopes to have children.
With the results of a survey conducted for Cardus by the Angus Reid Forum, the panel got to address some of the questions raised in Celebrating Women.
To the survey question: “Are women held back today because they are women?” 57 per cent of women said “Yes,” while only 31 per cent of men say “Yes.” For Canadians overall, 44 per cent said “Yes.”
Panelist Deani Neven Van Pelt, a think tank director with a doctorate in education, said the barriers women experience may be less visible, which is why there is a disconnect between men’s and women’s perceptions.
Van Pelt, who is also a homeschooling mother of three, was formerly a math teacher who often found herself the only female in a faculty of men. Now, at an economic think tank, she said, “Here I am again, just Deani and the boys. I find it pretty shocking I’m still finding that.”
As to the questions “Am I being patronized? Are there barriers?” she answered, “My experience is it hasn’t been a barrier at all.”
Another survey question asked whether motherhood/mothers are valued highly enough in Canada. Only 34 per cent of women said yes, while 47 per cent of men thought so.
“We value the idea of motherhood, but when the rubber hits the road, we don’t,” said Bergeron.