August 15, 2020

“I was bullied at work for being a mom” says Chayanika Sen

Chayanika Sen, a mum to a six-year-old, freelance writer, communications expert talks on bullying even in work spaces. This is of relevance even more when you are bullied in many ways than you realise for being a mom or talking about mom responsibilities.

The dilemmas which many mums go through and factors that make women quit jobs is hard to go unnoticed. Yet it is important more women speak about it and let’s hope the future holds better works spaces for all genders.

Chayanika shares her perspective with Mums and Stories, through her experiences written through a blog.

“Sorry, we are not considering you for promotion this year since you were on maternity leave for 6 months.” That’s exactly what I was told by my manager during our appraisal conversation after I had my daughter. 

It was not just an isolated incident. It kept continuing all through my working years. “You have to come to the team dinner; it is important for the team. Let someone else feed your daughter dinner today,” another colleague poked one day. I was working in a call centre where the majority of the workforce was young, obviously with “no-child” and “no-obligations” like me. 

And it’s just not me. Look around you, and you will hear many such stories from working moms who had to go through bullies and judgemental comments at their workplaces. 

Yes, workplace bias is real. It has got a name too! The Harvard Business Review mentions this as “maternal wall bias”.

So, what is workplace bullying?   As defined by Healthline, “Workplace bullying is harmful, targeted behaviour that happens at work. It might be spiteful, offensive, mocking, or intimidating. It forms a pattern, and it tends to be directed at one person or a few people.”    

Who can be a bully?

Bullies can be anyone at a workplace — horrible bosses who knowingly schedule meetings after office hours so that a working mother finds it difficult to pick up her child from the day care.

Bullies can be mean co-workers who repeatedly ask questions like, “Don’t you miss your child?” “How can you leave your child and go on business trips?”

How to deal with workplace bullying?

No matter how much we talk about women’s liberation and equality, discrimination at work continues to exist even in 2020. Especially so for working moms. So, how do you deal with it?

Before we discuss that, let’s understand that discriminatory attitudes can be non-deliberate or deliberate. 

Non-deliberate Discrimination

Working moms face unique challenges that are difficult for a non-parent co-worker or a boss to understand.

For example, your boss might be scheduling stand up calls every day at 6 PM, the time when you need to pick up your child from the day care. He might be doing it non-deliberately or unknowingly because he doesn’t realize the issue.

Dealing with non-deliberate discrimination

Non-deliberate discriminatory attitudes and behaviours can be dealt with by making the other person realize the problem. Speaking one-on-one is the best way to get it resolved. The early the better. For the above scenario, you can try the following options:

  1. Talking about it upfront with your boss can be helpful to nip the problem at the bud. Maybe you can try this, “Can we schedule this call an hour early so that I can pick up my child at 6? Or, I can join the meeting on a call if it is necessary to be at 6?”
  • You can also try to make arrangements so that someone else can pick up your child, may be your partner, a neighbour, or a friend?
  • Or, you can request the day care to extend the time by an hour or so?

Deliberate Discrimination

However, the bigger problem lies with the deliberate discriminatory attitudes and behaviours from colleagues and bosses.

Dealing with deliberate discrimination

To deal with such deliberate discriminatory attitudes and behaviours, start documenting all instances with records. This will help you to make your case strong in case you want to report it later.

When the boss is the bully

Is your boss criticizing your performance or denying you your due promotion just because you are a mom?

  1. Get it on an email and save it.
  2. File all the documents of projects you have worked on, any recognition or appreciation mails that you received from clients, colleagues, and stakeholders.
  3. Finally, report your case to the appropriate authority with all the documents. 

When a colleague is the bully

Bullying can be done by a colleague or a co-worker too. Making insensitive jokes, passing remarks, ridiculing repeatedly are all signs of bullying. If you are getting bullied by a colleague at workplace:

  1. Confront the person
  2. Talk to your boss and the colleague’s boss
  3. Reach out to your HR
  4. Read the company policy to understand the workplace’s stand on bullying. Take actions accordingly.

What you should be doing if you are a victim?

Stand up for yourself

Be it deliberate or non-deliberate discriminatory behaviours, learn to stand up for yourself, and speak up as soon as possible. Delaying may only worsen the situation.

Get familiar with company policy

Read your employee handbook to understand the organization policy to deal with bullying.

Take help from your boss

If the bully is not your boss, then take him/her in confidence to deal with the issue. Your boss should be you first point of contact to discuss the matter.

Talk to HR

If you are getting bullied by your boss, identify someone in the HR whom you can discuss the issue.

Take Legal Action

If none of the above solution works then it is time to take legal action. However, remember, reaching out to legal expert should be your last resort. Also, keep documents of all the interactions, copies of emails, and other evidences ready in case you decide to take legal help.

Take care of your mental health

Getting bullied at work can get stressful which may affect your family life. Try to engage yourself with a positive surrounding outside work. Repeated bullying can lead to anxiety and panic attacks. If you think you are feeling too overwhelmed with the situation, consider taking medical help. If you are caught up in an unhealthy workplace or working in an organization that has no policies to deal with bullying, then it is in your best interest to start searching for a new job. 

Your Action Plan?

If you are getting bullied for being a mum at workplace, confront it instead of suffering silently. The above discussed pointers will help you to take action as per the situation.

Finally, remember, above anything else, you and your child matter the most.  Staying positive is the key to not let bullying come in between you and your family life

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