Discriminated at work for not being a mother


In this month's Incognito article, a HR worker tells us why she feels it’s time to challenge unfair attitudes towards non-parents in the workplace.


I’ve worked in HR for 10 years and during this time have noticed that non-parents, like myself, are discriminated against, but no one’s really talking about it.

Essentially, the accepted mindset seems to be that our lives outside of work are not as important as those who have children.

This manifests in different ways, but at my current place of work, for instance, it’s very common for the boss to say, ‘Sorry people, we’re going to have to hold back tonight.’ But then, to the parents: ‘But you guys go.

Obviously, I understand that parents are under pressure to get home, so I don’t think they should be asked to stay, I just think there needs to be more consideration and acceptance that just because I’m not a mother, it doesn’t mean I’m not just as entitled and eager to finish work at 5:30pm.

I think the problem is that this mentality is often accepted across the board, both by senior teams and often by parents themselves.

For instance, I’ve worked in places where if you didn’t have children, you didn’t even bother trying to book leave in the school holidays. I understand the logic, but this is still unfair and can be difficult – I have friends that I go on holiday with, one of whom is a teacher, so we have to go in holiday times.

At my current role, there wouldn’t be any problem from management if I booked annual leave during school holidays, but I have come under fire from a colleague before. I had booked a few days in October and she said, ‘But that’s half-term, I wanted time off with the kids’. She hadn’t actually booked it, it was just implied that her needs took priority.

Sometimes this is even more overt. I know someone whose colleague looked them square in the face and said: ‘I shouldn’t have to work the same hours as you, I’ve got a family.’ I also overheard one colleague tell another, ‘but it’s your choice not to have a family’.

As it happens, this was never my choice, it’s just circumstance and one I’d like to change. And – as I often mention to my boss – if I don’t have a social life because I’m at work all the time, I’ll never meet someone to have children with.

As pervasive as this mindset is, however, I don’t think it would be that difficult to rectify; the solution is to offer equal opportunities to everyone.

Flexible working and working from home is not offered on an equal basis across the board, and it should be. I really want to drop to four days a week; I have colleagues with families who do that but I don’t think it would be taken as seriously for me.

And parents can drop everything and leave if there’s an issue with one of their children, and of course, that’s as it should be. But I have a lot of single female friends, and I’d like to feel that I could do the same if something urgent happened with one of them, or if my dog was sick and needed to go to the vets. At the moment, I feel like there’d be a lot of eye-rolling if I tried to give them the same priority, which makes me feel like a second-class citizen.

Lastly, I think my colleagues who are parents could give a bit more recognition that the rest of us often have to put a bit more overtime into a project. Next time the boss asks if we can stay late, the parents could say, ‘I’ll shoot off now, but my kids will be in bed by 7:30 pm, so let’s tag team and I’ll take over then.’

In recent years especially, there’s been more of a conversation about the pressures that working parents face, and that’s definitely a good thing: a greater understanding of people’s experiences benefits everyone.

But a similar dialogue needs to start for non-parents now, to create workplace environments where everybody’s life outside of work is treated with equal respect.