In one of the conversations I had last week one person mentioned that he had heard at least two people making comments along the lines of ‘Well, we wouldn’t employ her. She’ll just go off and have babies.’
Yes, it is discrimination and yes, it is illegal. Why do people feel that they can openly state that they are willing to break the law? I believe it is because there is a widespread culture that legislation relating to employment, equality, health and safety, copyright, freedom of information and data protection is just bureaucratic interference with the right to use whatever means one sees fit to advance knowledge, make a profit, or both.
The standard reaction is to suggest that what people need are courses educating them about their responsibilities under the legislation. Unfortunately, these courses are then regarded as bureaucratic interference with the right to use whatever means one sees fit to advance knowledge, make a profit, or both.
What then can we do? Advancing knowledge and making a profit are both legitimate aims. In fact, one or the other is usually the primary reason an organization exists. Safe, fair workplaces, respect for privacy, and respect for people’s right to know what publicly funded institutions are doing are also legitimate aims. Often, achieving those subsidiary aims entails costs in money or time. If organizations genuinely want to achieve those subsidiary aims then they need to make the resources required available. For example, there are costs when someone takes maternity leave. Should it be left up to individual managers to figure out how those costs are met? My fantasy for universities is that they should each have a ‘Flexibility Fund’ which would provide funding for costs associated with maternity leave and flexible working, including training or coaching for managers. At the very least, we need to recognize that there are costs.