Yesterday I attended a Women’s Empowerment Conference filled with powerful women in politics, entertainment and the tech business. As I listened to speech after speech concerning the current drive to end inequality in the workplace, I was struck by an unintended hypocrisy. These well-intentioned champions for women’s rights too often forget to champion the very women who stealthily make their lives work.
For 35 years I’ve had the honor of placing domestic workers — often single Mothers who have emigrated from other countries in search of a better life. My initial crusade was to persuade employers to treat household employment as an occupation deserving of the same benefits any professional has, such as paid vacation, health benefits and holidays off. Although we’ve made leaps and bounds, the struggle to change perception too often remains an uphill battle.
Recently, as more women go back to work after having children, a troublesome trend has emerged. When we ask for a client’s “wish list,” we frequently hear – “please don’t send anyone who has children of her own.” They go on to list their greatest fears: “Mothers miss too much work, they may bring a cold or virus in to my house, and they come late or leave early for school drop-offs. I don’t care if a candidate has older children, but young Mothers prioritize their children over their job.” I always wonder – is this client referring to her potential hire, or is she speaking to her own insecurities about her place in the workforce? We need to keep reminding ourselves that all women need the same consideration.
The work I do is personal. People tell me about their home, their children, and their life and in return, I place with them the women who care for their babies, clean their homes and keep their secrets. In this most intimate relationship — it is painful to see one workingwoman reject another based solely on the fact that she is a mother. That shared experience should be a bond, not a liability.
Change at the executive level is both welcome and long overdue, but real change shouldn’t just happen in the boardroom. It begins at home. Domestic workers are now caring for our future leaders; When the care they give is not given back in equal measure, a culture of inequality is perpetuated. When we empower ourselves and see one other as complex and whole with meaningful lives beyond the workplace, we raise the bar and we create real and lasting change.