By Emily Barske, Business Record editor
A few weeks ago I saw an Instagram post about what we celebrate. The post said we often put a lot into celebrating what our society deems the big things: graduations, engagement, marriage, pregnancies, children, big career moves. But we don’t always put as much effort into celebrating our loved ones for other major life events if they aren’t looked at as typical milestones and achievements.
Why can’t we throw a shower for someone who is getting married but also put together a shindig for someone who is leaving a toxic relationship, the post suggested. Why can’t we plan a grand event for a wedding but also have a big party for someone who ran their first marathon?
It isn’t to say these other kinds of celebrations never happen, but I don’t see them happening as frequently. And, to be clear, I’m not advocating for the elimination of celebrating the big things. I love doing the “Cha Cha Slide” at a wedding reception and games at a baby shower as much as the next person.
But what we take time to celebrate and what we don’t says a lot about what we value, and that means some life journeys are celebrated more than others.
While the women’s movement has allowed women far more choice in what they want in life, career or otherwise, there are still elements of bias in shaming women who are single or don’t have children. A woman is worthy of respect and admiration regardless of her relationship or parental status.
Beyond what’s celebrated, this has played out in workplace bias as well. So many conversations about flexibility have gained traction during the pandemic – and they needed to. A lot of those have focused on child care, and rightfully so. If we cannot fix child care challenges, women will never gain full equity in the workplace because they still often play the primary role in raising kids. But child care is not the only cause for women needing more flexibility.
There are plenty of reasons that women in particular – including those who don’t have children or whose children are grown – need flexibility.
- Women have higher rates of anxiety and depression.
- Women are more likely to hold more than one job.
- Women are more likely to volunteer in their communities or volunteer for tasks at work that aren’t part of performance reviews tied to promotions.
- Women have menstrual cycles that affect their work.
- Women are more likely to be survivors of domestic violence, sexual violence and trauma. Many cannot afford to take leave from their jobs as they process trauma and may not feel comfortable disclosing what they’ve been through in the workplace.
- Women are more likely to be caregivers for their parents and other adults.
The list could go on.
Some women who don’t have children are getting fed up with being left out of the conversation or with assumptions that their lives are easier. Just read the replies to this recent tweet: “I don’t know who needs to hear this, but: Being childfree doesn’t mean being more available,” Nedra Tawwab said.
I’ve recently heard from a few people without kids who have expressed frustration that they’ve been expected to travel frequently for work while colleagues in similar positions with kids have not been required to. Similarly, I’ve heard lots of companies offering flexibility around school schedules for employees with children, but this same flexibility is not always widely talked about for the myriad reasons others may need flexibility during some parts of the day.
This bias in the workplace runs parallel to “mom bias,” which is when colleagues view mothers — or pregnant people — as less competent and less committed to their jobs.
What does this tell us? Women face bias and unfair expectations no matter if they have kids or not, no matter if they are married or not. So – let’s change that in both systemic and individual ways.
Systemically, we need to address this in the workplace and in public spaces. Business leaders who tout flexibility should talk with employees about what that means for them individually and should also question how their own perspectives may play a role in the flexibility they offer. When using examples of flexibility in team meetings, they should highlight different life experiences. It’s imperative to note that making workplace adjustments to address these issues that disproportionately affect how women show up in work and life would greatly benefit men as well.
Individually, we can all do a better job of questioning how our own biases may be playing a role in how we view women. Women are competent, capable and intelligent regardless of what their paths look like. Let’s stop making assumptions that someone else has it easier and instead assume that everyone deserves our grace because stress is relative, after all. The life journeys of childless women, single moms, married women – and, say it with me, all women – are important. Every woman deserves support and celebration of what’s important to them.
Read other Fearless coverage on flexibility: