I had been married for five years then and I had gone for a job interview in a magazine. After checking my CV, the editor (lady) asked me about my capacity to handle the heavy workload in an understaffed department, asked me about my willingness to stay late on most evenings, and asked me if I was available on weekends. Then the editor shot a question for which I was not really prepared.
“Are you planning to get pregnant soon?” she asked. I was tongue-tied for a moment. I wanted to tell her this was a personal question and had no relevance to the interview. But instead I chose a diplomatic path because I knew she wanted to hear a “no”. I laughed and said, “I am extremely ambitious.” (Although personally I believe most ambitious and successful women are great mothers too, but the answer satisfied her.)
The Editor smiled. But later I thought to myself if after joining I had got pregnant in three months would she have terminated my contract?
But that is exactly what happened to a reporter working in a reputed news channel in Mumbai. This piece of news published in the website meant for media professionals, The Hoot, caught my attention recently. It reported that a lady reporter working in a reputed news channel in India was handed the termination letter when she got pregnant.Why she moved court
The company said that she was asked to leave her job because she was underperforming but she moved court saying that the real reason for termination was her pregnancy. She questioned the company that for the two years she was in the job she had got extremely good appraisals, how come she became an underperformer the moment she informed her boss about her pregnancy?
In an interim order the judge in a labour court in Mumbai has upheld the fact that an unfair labour practice has taken place and has ordered her re-instatement.
Pregnancy discrimination is rampant
I really appreciate the guts of this journalist, who moved court and is fighting for her rights. I think this is a landmark judgment in a country where many women are forced to leave their jobs because of pregnancy and are often denied a pay hike or promotion when they have a baby. Pregnancy discrimination is something that is rampant around the world the only difference is women in the West are fighting it – in the US more than 3000 pregnancy discrimination cases were filed in 2012 and in UK steps are being taken by the government to stop discrimination– but in India women are still shoving the issue under the carpet.
Sexual harassment that women face in the workplace might be a more serious issue that is addressed these days but discrimination because of pregnancy and child birth is an equally serious issue that people rarely talk about.
Women professionals talk their mind
I asked women from different professions if they had faced any problems from their bosses or management during and post pregnancy. A few said that they had extremely supportive colleagues and management and never had any problems but some said they have themselves dealt with discrimination because of pregnancy and many said they have seen others facing it.
Here is what they said:
A lady doctor: Pregnancy discrimination is common even in the medical profession when men pass comments like “oh she will get light duties now that she is pregnant.” One has to either ignore or challenge these stereotyping.
An IT professional: Though I worked for eight months that year, carried the project on my shoulder and only then went on maternity leave I got a low performance band as my assessor said I had not worked for four months. This was eight years back, since then policies have changed. But IT as a whole is not sympathetic or encouraging towards women going into pregnancy or women with small children.
A risk management expert: I have seen women losing promotions and raises because of their pregnancy. We have a Women’s Council in our company through which we try to push for better rights for women. But most often the person who is pregnant does not raise her voice for fear of losing her job or ruining her future chances. When a woman gets pregnant or has a baby the common perception is they can’t stay late, they have to rush off for doc appointments. After child birth they need to stay home if the maid does not come or the daycare is closed or the child is ill. They can’t take late night calls as the baby needs attention…so on and so forth.
A journalist: When I was pregnant I worked doubly hard so that no one could raise a finger at me. But I wish my company had flexible timings and work-from-home opportunities then I could have continued in my job. When my daughter was three I left my full-time job because I felt I was spending all my time in office and giving her very little time.
An Indian media person based in the US: I got my promotion when I was pregnant. After I had a baby, I was still rated for above target performance and got my bonus. But I wish we had longer maternity leave which is usually between six and eight weeks and one joins back after the doctor gives a fitness certificate. I have to travel in my job but I did not travel for a year after my daughter was born. And when I started travelling I took my daughter and even family along because I was still nursing and my company was perfectly okay with that.
A banker: When I was pregnant I got my raise. I was very lucky to have extremely understanding and supportive colleagues. They made all the difference.