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“Go Home!” By Kimberly Tso

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Next Steps

Where do we go from here? “The first step was to generate the scholarly research,” says Williams, referring to research in the Journal of Social Issues. “The next step is to get people in a wide variety of contexts to recognize that this is one of the major forms of gender discrimination in the country. It needs to be taken up by civil rights commissions, by corporate diversity programs, [and] then there needs to be [anti-discrimination] trainings.”

As for the stereotypes about mothers, one of the hopeful aspects of cognitive bias is that it can be changed. Crosby says, “We just have this innate tendency to make stereotypes along gender lines, but the consequences of those stereotypes are controllable.” Crosby suggests that once people are made aware of the stereotypes, they can work actively against them. Additionally, we can examine our views of what constitutes valuable work skills. Crosby notes, “[The research] says something about our stereotypes about mothers and also something about our stereotypes about competence.” She comments that we need to challenge people to view caregiving as highly skilled work.

Williams suggests that today’s mothers and fathers are both victims of outdated gender stereotypes of parenting roles. Mothers pay the price by being left out of positions of power, and fathers pay the price in their relationships with their kids. “Moms don’t ordinarily decide to sequence in order that their children see their fathers less. This is not one of the typical motivations.” Instead, Williams claims that the workplace structure produces that breadwinner/housewife dynamic, and this structure should be the point of attack for those seeking greater gender equality. “It’s about changing the organization of work; it’s not much to do with attitudes,” she says. “The way work is currently organized ends up pushing women out.”

Understanding and recognizing discrimination against mothers is important for mothers both in and out of the paid workforce. It can help us to better understand our experiences, what our partners are going through, and how to counteract and eventually change the stereotypes and workplaces. “All of this is important because women tend to blame themselves when things just didn’t seem to work out after they have kids,” says Williams. “More often, employers just blame women.”

mmo : april 2005

Kimberly Tso is a freelance writer on women, public policy and economics. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and two children. She can be reached at kim@kimberlytso.com.
Available Resources on Discrimination Against Parents:

Journal of Social Issues, December 2004, Volume 60, Issue 4, has the latest cognitive bias research related to mothers.
See the website for Blackwell-Synergy Publishing for more information.

The Program of WorkLife Law
at American University Washington College of Law has numerous resources including legal referrals and research papers. .

Implicit Assumption Test is a free sample online test to help you understand how cognitive bias works and how social psychologists measure bias. Take the test at https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/

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