Would you hire a woman of child-bearing age with the risk that she may become pregnant and cost your business money? One redditor suggested that if you did, you would be justified. User ty_bombadil started the discussion on Reddit’s “Change My View,” a subreddit for people who have an opinion on a topic but accept that they may be wrong and welcome others’ opinions that could change their view. Reddit is a website where registered members can submit content, and serves as an online bulletin board system. Users can vote on submissions and add comments to the conversation.
The redditor started the discussion based on pure economics.
“I think the goal of a business is to make money. I think it makes sense when a business doesn’t want to hire women of childbearing age because they worry about the cost of healthcare or hiring temporary workers. It seems like a legitimate financial expense that a company could worry about to the point that they do not want to take that risk…Businesses should be expected not to hire women of childbearing age because they are primarily profit motivated. Change my view.”
The redditor clarified that he’s mainly interested in the hiring process and the question of discrimination.
“I understand the societal impacts and the fact that what I’m suggesting is currently illegal…When the issue is individualized it is justified by businesses. In a general way, saying you won’t hire women between 18-40 (which are ages others have been using) is silly. But in a decision about a single individual, I can see the business being justified in their actions.”
To make the point clearer, the redditor gave the following hypothetical scenario:
“Say our company is hiring. I approach you with the two finalists, a 25-year-old female and a 50-year-old female. All things being equal in terms of skill, ability to do the job, likability and cohesion with team. The one difference being that when asked, “What is one of your life goals?” The 25-year-old says she is excited to be a mother. The 50-year-old says she wants to put her kids through college. Would a business ever choose the younger woman? Why? And is it valid that they don’t? Is that discrimination?”
The question garnered a range of responses, with the overwhelming majority attempting to change the original poster’s view. Here are a handful of the thread’s 192 redditor comments.
It’s the Law
“You are correct that there is absolutely no reason a company should want their employees to have children, so that’s why we have to make laws about things like maternity leave and preventing companies from punishing new mothers for taking leave. These laws allow society to have more children, and keep the population at a healthy level…it’s just about being fair. Everybody should get the same opportunity to make something of themselves. Giving everybody a fair shot is one of the cornerstones of western society.”
What About Dads?
User Ip000 brought up the issue of men taking paternity leave to care for their children.
“…more and more males are taking off time to care for young children. I read years ago some countries (Scandinavia) have policies where the mother’s leave must be matched by the father or the benefit must be paid back through taxes. This leads to much fairer work conditions for women. In this case you could say that all parents are a burden on companies and the government, but many counties already have incentives for families. And no, it’s not fair to ask someone (male or female) [if they plan to have children]. People’s situations change. It’s like asking, “Is it possible that you may choose to look after a sick/elderly parent rather than putting them in a home?” Some people don’t have parents, and sure it’s not a problem for them, but it’s a question most people couldn’t answer.”
Not Enough Workers
AeroEngineer90 responded that if businesses didn’t hire women between the ages of 18 and 44, there wouldn’t be enough workers.
“According to the 2010 census data, the total population is 50.9% women. In addition, there are 112 million people in that age range. That means you are removing over 57 million employees. Nearly 20% of the population. In less tangible items, women provide plenty of good ideas over their 40-year working lives, just as men do. Let’s say women take six weeks off for maternity leave. On average women are having less than two children each. So you are giving up useful knowledge and ideas from 20% of the population that could provide great benefits to the company any time in the 20+ years you won’t be using them because they may have a baby and take off 12 weeks? That doesn’t make sense to me.”
Bad for Business in the Long Run
“Once populations are shrinking everywhere in the world, and economies too, what happens to businesses in this hypothetical world?” asked redditor ohitsasnaake. “In the sufficiently long run, a healthy population and a healthy economy also make sense for businesses. It may make sense for a business in the short run in some circumstances to be exploitative of the workforce, but businesses, like people, are bad at considering the long term.”
FireNexus adds, “If you don’t hire women of childbearing age, you won’t have women of childbearing age. Diversity is good for business. It promotes innovation to have different kinds of people working for you. Also, half of your customers or so are probably women in that range. It’s smart to have, where possible, a workforce that at least somewhat matches your customer base.”
anon_smithsonian said when employers make assumptions when hiring instead of looking at who is actually the better candidate, they may be losing out.
“If it’s fair to discriminate against the younger woman because of the likelihood she will take a couple months of maternity leave in the next few years, then why wouldn’t it be equally fair to discriminate against the older woman because she will be more likely to face health issues in the future that will require time off, or because she may decide that she only wants to work part-time once her kids are finished with college or maybe even just retire early? …The reason why it’s unfair is that you are not basing your decision on who is the better candidate anymore… you’re making unfounded assumptions based on factors that are outside of the candidate’s control.
In reality, no two candidates are ever exactly equal in all other factors. Are the 50-year-old and 20-year-old really exactly equal in terms of experience? Or references? Or expected salary? If it comes down to the kind of things like, “Well, she might get pregnant in the next couple of years, she’ll have to take unpaid leave for a couple months, and she might quit…” as the determining factors for a hiring decision, then the company is not choosing candidates for the right reasons.
An Employer’s View
Marie1420 gave her opinion from an employer’s perspective. “I emphatically agree in principal. However, much like many aspects in life, I am glad when I can get by without following the dictum that I profess to agree with. In this case, though, I agree with you and fully support the protection of class and non-discrimination, I am secretly glad that I don’t have childbearing women working for me. I manage a small business with Teamster truck drivers who are all men. Our scheduling would be a nightmare to have an employee take maternity leave and then have said employee miss days here and there because the baby gets sick or what not,” she said.
“Finding temporary replacements who won’t be hired full time is really difficult and in the day-to-day scenario and when the kid is sick, a nonexistent option. Losing an employee without a replacement would mean we would have to turn down some work and lose money. So, yeah, I just thank my lucky stars that I don’t have that to worry about, though I fully support the law and principle of the matter. And by the way, I’m a woman. I’ve never had kids nor plan to, so no, I never put any of my employers through it.”
Some provocative questions that arose in the discussion include:
- Even if you believe them to be the wrong reasons, shouldn’t the company be able to make the choice about who to hire?
- What about other things that affect certain demographics more than others that could impact hiring? Should businesses not hire obese people or people who smoke because they have higher rates of illness?
- Why is it up to businesses to make up for the things that society deems important?
What do you think? Would a business be justified in the decision to not hire women of child-bearing age? Share your views in the comments below.