Mother’s Day was celebrated this week and it is important to reflect on the unique challenges that women encounter in the workplace because of their gender. These range from challenges during pregnancy, delivery, juggling childcare with work and family and a host of other challenges that becomes impossible to manage when there is no accommodation from colleagues at work.
Tope had always been brilliant and hardworking all through medical school, house-job and first year of Residency training. No one had any complaints about her work. Then she got married. And then became pregnant within 5 months. And to complicate matters, she had severe nausea and vomiting (hyperemesis gravidarum) and needed to be admitted and placed on bed rest. That was when all hell broke loose. Other Residents grumbled that their calls will increase while she is resting and watching dstv upstairs. Tope’s unit Consultant was irritated, when she was informed, and expressed her sentiments during the ward round: ‘I think she is just being lazy, and the gynaecologists are covering her up. Afterall, I was also pregnant during Residency and I did not pretend and run away from work.’ She further instructed the Chief Resident to ensure that when Tope returns, she is placed on alternate day calls.’ ‘It will serve as a deterrent to others – who may want to be similarly lazy’. ‘She could have delayed child bearing until after her Part I exams, after all she is still young. ‘Now she will have difficulty preparing for the exams and she will present with a big stomach at the exams expecting sympathy’. ‘Nonsense’, she concluded. One of the House Officers informed Tope about what had transpired and she started weeping. But why? She wondered. I have never been lazy before, I have always been diligent. Why can’t I get some empathy, support and encouragement? Is it too much to expect from colleagues? The House Officer consoled her and reminded her that doctors are sometimes very unforgiving or even cruel to junior colleagues. She too could not understand it. Tope continued to be quite upset and weepy, and resolved to ask the Gynaecologist for a discharge. She will survive somehow. Before the entire unit gangs up against her for giving them more work to do.
Bolanle was employed in a Bank, having graduated with a second class upper in Accounting and passed her ICAN exams during the National Youth Service year. She was a high flier, and she was determined to make a success of her career. She was always the first to arrive and among the last to leave every day. The Branch Manager and Head of Operations loved her dedication and always told the other staff to emulate her. Even when she got married and became pregnant, she wanted to take her maternity leave early so that she could do some baby shopping. But her Manager would have none of that. ‘You know you are the only one that is familiar with our auditing procedures based on the new changes’. And it is the end of the financial year now, we need you to complete it before you can go on leave, sorry.’ She was disappointed but took it in her stride and completed the work required of her without complaining. She put to bed 3 days after she started her leave.
A year down the line, the baby started coughing and appeared to have difficulty breathing sometimes. She was frequently called from the Creche to take him to a hospital – which usually ends up taking the whole day. After different tests, her son had a hole in the heart and needed surgery. She had to take time away from work, but this is her child that is ill – surely, they will understand? She met with the Branch Manager who informed her that they had informed HR and the decision was to advise her to resign as she had just taken her maternity leave and was not entitled to any more leave. She was devastated. Surely this cannot be happening? After all her years of dedicated service? She recalled how others had grumbled about sexual harassments and being hung out to dry for minor mistakes….she had always thought they probably did something wrong themselves. Now that this is happening to her, she realized she had been the blind one all along. This was a hostile and cruel work environment.
Women in the work force, face unique challenges related to child bearing, school runs, and so on, which require understanding and some flexibility which they hardly ever get in most work places. These have harmful consequences on their mental health and functioning. Let’s remember that a happy and healthy work force is a productive one, and that women may need some accommodation and understanding.
Tribune Article for the column “Your Mental Health & You”
Thursday, 31st March 2022