I did do my yoga DVD yesterday which was fab. But again something that has been on my mind a huge amount (namely losing out to a job I KNOW I should have had) prompts me to write about this issue. I’ve pondered this a lot over the last few months since finding out I was pregnant. My bipolar diagnosis is relatively new to me, having only had around a year and a half to figure it out in my brain. Pregnancy and having a family are still in this day and age viewed with suspicion and mistrust by employers, with women so often having to play a game of do I tell, don’t I tell.
I’m an inherently honest person. I am crap at politics at work because if I don’t like someone or if I think something is not working I’ll say so. I’m no good at brown-nosing managers who suck just to get myself ahead. Fortunately it’s not often I have found myself in organisations that have those types of culture but where I have worked in them, I have struggled. If that’s they way you want to do things, then all power to you but it isn’t my way. I have found that people often don’t want to be upfront. Smoke and mirrors give me a headache. It’s not like that everywhere and I think it’s the norm to prove yourself with work rather than who you can flatter, but hey it takes all sorts to make the world go round. I’ve thrived in teams where managers and senior management have been upfront and willing to engage in good debate and take on board different views and opinions.
I’m very glad to date that I haven’t spoken out about my bipolar to previous employers though. I’ve developed a suspicion and mistrust which will take a while to be overcome, hopefully by being able to focus on what I’m good at as opposed to slaving away for peanuts just to make ends met. As for being pregnant, hyperemesis didn’t leave me with the opportunity. I had to say something as I was spending most of my time in the toilet.
To what D am I referring to then? it is, of course, DISCRIMINATION.
I try very hard not to discriminate. I happily employed a pregnant lady as she was far and away the best at the job. I’d rather have someone brilliant for six months who will achieve so much than someone useless who will cost me money in the long run as they sit in that job for the next 10 years doing nothing. I try my hardest to be understanding about people who are under pressure and need time. Don’t take me for a ride and yes, there are business needs that should be met, but at the end of the day an understanding and supportive employer goes a long way to a happy employee who won’t take the piss. The majority of people are fab, let’s not forget this.
But oh boy, there are some awful attitudes out there.
My friend was asked whilst walking into an interview how many children she had and was she planning on getting pregnant. Another removed her wedding ring after one interviewer pointed at her finger saying she’d be off having babies soon (she’d already had two children!). Yet another dear friend continually had her bump referred to by her manager disparagingly and was excluded from projects throughout her pregnancy despite them supposedly coming under her team.
I am discriminated against because I am pregnant and no one wants to employ a pregnant woman. I could be discriminated against if I disclosed my bipolar disorder. I had never experienced much discrimination in the workplace or in life generally, aside from age perhaps a couple of times. Until I had my latest crash, where I was told I was suffering from depression pending a further psychiatric review. I was having a vile time at work with no support and when I told my boss I was diagnosed with depression and might need to take it easy for a bit, two weeks later I was out the door with a four month payout to make me stay away for good.
More recently, I knew my contract was coming to an end and wasn’t sure I wanted to carry on with the company anyway. I interviewed for, and got offered, another job. Because of my hyperemesis, combined with the fact that at that stage we didn’t know if the pregnancy was viable, I felt honour-bound to say I was 11 weeks pregnant but I wanted to accept the job. The job offer got withdrawn but I was told ‘well at least you know you were first choice but we can’t deal with the team upheaval’.
You’d think as well that women might be more supportive and understanding. But nope, just the examples listed above are a pretty even split between male and female.
Goes to show you can legislate as much as you like but it makes no difference.
It knocked my confidence to bits, particularly trying to be open about not being very well and then being taken to pieces and made out to be awful at what I did. The reality was they just didn’t want to deal with someone being mentally unstable or pregnant. It’s taken me to this point to recover from that and will take me a long time to trust again which is a bit sad. Maybe if we all trusted each other more then we wouldn’t be in such crisis.
Why didn’t I appeal which I could have done (particularly with the withdrawn job offer and just to say Dutch law is even stricter on this than UK law)? Because I don’t want to work somewhere like that in that kind of environment. I don’t want to be with people like that. I didn’t have the energy or the time or the inclination. Because I believe in a dignified silence and leaving on good terms. What good does it do me or my illness or my baby to get angry? My life is worth more than that. I also believe there are other ways of changing attitudes. Wider things I could be doing that are more positive. My health and keeping in balance are more important to me than dealing with these petty people. I also think their lives are all the poorer for it and a big believer in karma. She can be a real bitch sometimes. What goes around comes around.
And I am actually the most content and happiest I have ever been in my life right now.
So, what are the statistics? Apparently in 2006 discrimination in the workplace against pregnant women amounted to 6.5% of all cases in the US. There are some stories that make my jaw drop such as http://www.nwlc.org/tags/pregnancy-discrimination-act and http://www.nwlc.org/our-blog/pregnancy-discrimination-far-thing-past from the National Women’s Law Center in the USA. In the UK the charity Maternity Action estimates that as many as 30,000 women are pushed out of work each year with a further 200,000 facing unfair treatment. Just for having a baby. Which surely must be the most natural thing in the world and kind of essential for survival of our species.
Let’s combine that with statistics of people living with a mental health illness. The fantastic campaign, Time to Change, in the UK, states that 1 in 4 people will have some form of mental illness in any given year. It’s not far off the 1 in 3 statistic for cancer. It’s a HUGE amount of people who experience some form of depression, illness or something else.
And 9 out of 10 people with a mental illness experience discrimination. 9 out of 10. Holy shit. I didn’t even realise it was that high.
So yes, the point of this thread – we face discrimination as pregnant ladies and we face discrimination because we all should be in the loony bin and are incapable of working. No matter all it needs is a bit of compassion, understanding and flexibility. I hate to say it but there it is. We’ve got a double whammy going here.
So what do I DO about it then!
And we wonder why people don’t talk about it. Reading those numbers kind of makes me a bit mad. Who knows about my bipolar disorder? My family and close friends. I’ve never ‘come out’ about it. I feel a bit of a fraud and I’m working up to just being able to link this blog on Facebook.
Another part of me wonders why the hell I should. I am me, I’m not a patient. It is no-one else’s business apart from mine and why should it matter? It is an intensely personal issue, actually, as is the matter of pregnancy and starting a family. But I don’t think as a society we are there yet.
When economics comes into the equation, however, this is where things get skewed. I could write all day about how much money and finances and the way our world is structured is responsible for so much social evil today but that’s a whole different blog let alone post! Let’s just leave it at some people only see numbers and the bottom line whilst others see beyond that to the potential. Bit like oil and water when I’ve encountered this at work.
I think all we can do, and I am only at the start of this journey, is to be open and up front. Write about it, educate people about it. Education is key to changing attitudes. I don’t really have the answer but I know I want to do more to change attitudes. I LOVE Stephen Fry, for example, for being so open and making such candid programmes about bipolar disorder. I don’t think people realise how much it costs him to talk about these things sometimes and he is my hero for doing so.
I will revisit this again when I get more inspiration. But there are lots of wonderful people out there doing their best to change attitudes. I will make a list soon to share. Let’s take heat that it isn’t all doom and gloom either. Lots of people are fantastic and lovely and wonderful.
You may well see me soon out and proud. I think I might judiciously prune some people from Facebook and share this blog.
http://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/types-of-mental-health-problems/statistics-and-facts-about-mental-health/how-common-are-mental-health-problems/ and I am wondering about finding out some more about the Dutch stats too (just need to get a translator aka DH!).
Time to Change campaign