PSA: When You Hire a Speaker, Don't Then Un-Hire Her for Being a Mom
It was an incident that might shock non-parents and have working moms nod their heads sadly in recoginition at yet another case of workplace discrimination towards mothers. Drew Zachary, a director at the U.S. census bureau, was recently attending the GEOINT Symposium — as she does every year. The only difference? This year, she had her daughter Dasha, who is still breastfeeding, in tow. What happened next Zachary shared on Twitter.
She later spoke with Today about the incident, saying, “Everyone just kept repeating, ‘We don’t allow anyone under 18, it’s a liability issue.’” In another tweet, she even included the infuriating detail that the man refusing her entry said to her, “I’d like to show my 14mo old what I do for a living too.”
Zachary was eventually able to attend the event she was speaking at only because her partner, Brian, was also attending and speaking at the event. But that meant they both missed half of the event in splitting childcare duties, and, frustratingly, that was also the best case scenario. Zachary, or moms like her, could have very easily been in a situation where she was attending the conference alone and had to opt out entirely. Just like working moms might missing out on after work networking events, and women, in general, can suffer from being left out of informal boy’s clubs, conferences are often vital parts of a person’s professional development.
The organizers of GEOINT responded on Twitter apologizing, but their stated reason for denying Dasha admission reveals another truth: People who create working conditions and policies aren’t thinking about moms or parents when making them.
“In heavily male-dominated fields like defense and the intelligence community, this pops up a lot where people haven’t figured out how to accommodate people who are parents and still have really important contributions they should be able to make,” Zachary also told Today. A no kids under 18 policy only makes sense if you don’t think about all the reasons a parent of any gender might need to bring a child along. Of course, as the comment from event organizer about wanting to show his own child the event shows, men, even fathers, can be easily shielded from this reality. Women who are addressing the very real needs of their family can then be dismissed as silly.
Zachary’s own call for women to be better included in planning committees and leadership is certainly a strong solution, but, when you take into consideration all the hurdles that stand in the way of women and mothers to even get a seat at the table, it can be a sobering reminder of how far we have to go.
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