Lifestyle Choices: Should Having Kids Should Kill Your Career?
Fiona’s case doesn’t just speak to shift workers. It could also apply to, for example, the corporate lawyer expected to work through the night to bill enough hours to make partner. It applies to accountants during tax season. It applies to C-suite potentials whose loyalty is judged on who is last out of the office. It applies to any woman who would choose to have a child and dare to work.
“Welcome to Canada” the sign proclaims at Canadian Border Services Pearson Airport. As you pull your suitcase up to the booth you could be greeting by this woman, Fiona Johnstone who, just a few days ago, won a historic court battle against her employer. When Fiona had children she requested a ‘static schedule’ rather than the unpredictable shifts assigned with little notice as was the norm at at Pearson Airport. It was just impossible to arrange childcare and, unless she could work in some kind of regularity, she would have to leave her job. They refused claiming that she had made a ‘lifestyle choice’ and that they were under no obligation to accommodate it.
Its at this point that every feminist on the planet says (or screams)…. EXCUSE ME?
After years of arguing for workplace equality we have reached the lofty position of de-facto firing a woman for having children. If it hadn’t been for an extensive support system , Fiona would never have been able to bring the court case that saved her job. However, for every woman who brings a case like this, hundreds of thousands haven’t. They have just quietly packed up their desk and quit despite the fact they desperately need that job. In reality they would not be leaving the workplace to live in some kind of full-time mommy heaven. They are moving to part-time jobs with lower salaries and no benefits.
“So what relevance does this have to me” says the unmarried girl who is just getting her foot on the rungs of the career ladder? Fiona’s case doesn’t just speak to shift workers. It could also apply to, for example, the corporate lawyer expected to work through the night to bill enough hours to make partner. It applies to accountants during tax season. It applies to C-suite potentials whose loyalty is judged on who is last out of the office. It applies to any woman who would choose to have a child and dare to work.
It is amazing to me that the world is still creates a model of a ‘perfect worker’. In the 21st century a perfect worker is available 24/7 thanks to their company supplied smartphone. A perfect worker puts in quantity time (as opposed to quality). A perfect worker never never never makes bad ‘lifestyle choices’… like having children. The law is written for the perfect worker and that perfect worker doesn’t have a womb.
Ultimately the court ruled that mommyhood was not a lifestyle choice but a ‘family status’ and must be accommodated. The outcome might have been what I would like to see but I’m not so sure about the reasoning. I don’t want to live in a world which will ‘accommodate’ me. I can’t build a career around being accommodated and I can’t turn my back on those who in my workplace who would have to pick up the slack because I am being accommodated.
I want a world where no one works through the night to make partner. I want to live in a world our taxes are submitted on a rolling basis year round rather than in one season. I want C-suite potential to be judged on more than my desk-sitting endurance levels. I want a world where my womb and my work are compatible.
Maybe I’m a dreamer and these are big things to change, but I think it says something about a government agency when they are so disorganized that they can’t provide a static predictable shifts for all their workers, not just those who they should ‘accommodate’.