The desire to be different from other women

Just you and the moon.  Photo by  Jordan Steranka  on  Unsplash

Just you and the moon.  Photo by Jordan Steranka on Unsplash

How much can an individual woman reset people's expectations of all women? 

The New York Times interviewed a corporate employee who sued her employer for pregnancy discrimination. Erin Murphy's quote really highlights her desire to be different from other women and the perceptions that society has for women.

The New York Times and their pregnancy discrimination coverage.  Full content is here.  The quotes below are from The Daily podcast interview that Michael Barbaro did with Erin Murphy.  


Erin Murphy: "I was pretty nervous about being pregnant.  I was pretty nervous about how it was going to impact my career so I waited a long time to tell work... Since I had a pretty friendly relationship with [my boss]. I pulled him aside and let him know. 

I said 'I'm having a baby. I'm 18 weeks along.'  

And he asked, "Why did you wait so long to tell me?"

And I said, 'I'm been very concerned that it's going to impact my career.  

His response was, 'Well it won't impact it, but it will plateau it'

Michael Barbaro: Plateau it?  That's a fancy way of saying your career is going to stay where it is now?

Erin Murphy: Yes. I was immediately defensive to prove to him that it wasn't going to change me.

Michael Barbaro: "But in the back of your mind, did you believe him?"

Erin Murphy: "I think I still had hope. I think I still felt like 'Well, he doesn't know me. Maybe that happened with other women, but I'm going to work even harder and put in 10x the effort than I've already put in and prove it different and prove him wrong and maybe they'll see that women can be mothers and have great careers.  To me it was very important that I didn't get stereotyped.

I’m going to work even harder and put in 10x the effort than I’ve already put in and prove it different and prove him wrong...To me it was very important important to me that I didn’t get stereotyped.

Michael Barbaro: "And what is the stereotype you were afraid of?"

I think that it's sort of known that once you're a 'mother''s a game changer.  You're different, you're not on the same playing field anymore. I thought I could be different. I thought that I would find a way to be a mom, but to also be a woman with an amazing, growing career.  

To me, Erin's story shows the impossibility of creating societal changes just based on individual merit. Even though Erin came back from maternity leave, lined up exquisite childcare, had a supportive husband, and essentially worked two jobs for the company, she still didn't get recognition for her accomplishments and is now suing.  What did the company get out of this deal?  A worker who was willing to work two jobs for one salary.  

What if we could do the collective work to change stereotypes about women, minorities, older people, etc. so that way it wouldn't just be on the shoulders of individuals to try and then bump up against structural/societal issues? 

Lastly, I want to draw attention to the response of Erin Murphy's boss, when she expressed concern that pregnancy was going to impact her career.  

Well it won’t impact it, but it will plateau it

A career plateau is a type of career impact. It seems like there's a level of denial of Erin's concern. And it turns out that her concern was actually very valid. Do you related to any part of this story? Personally, I was younger I thought that I was special and different and that I would be able to use just hard work to reach my goals.  As I've gotten older, that belief has been challenged and I'm realizing that it's going to require more effort than I can expend on an individual level.