Economy & Budget

‘There’s no such thing as work-life balance’

A significant gender discrimination lawsuit sent shockwaves through the
feminist community last week that rivaled the earthquake that shook the
East Coast yesterday.

In a pivotal ruling by Judge Loretta A. Preska of United States District
Court in Manhattan, she dismissed the pregnancy discrimination charges
against media and finance mogul Bloomberg LP. The federal Equal
Employment Opportunity Commission brought a class-action suit against
Bloomberg, claiming that the company engaged in a pattern of
discrimination against pregnant women and women returning from maternity

While pregnancy discrimination cases are common — think Google, Novartis, even a major maternity clothing chain — the outcome of this case is far more rare. And the judge’s free-market reaction to the charges left many feminist groups appalled.

Judge Preska wrote, “ ‘J’accuse!’ is not enough in court. Evidence is required.” She emphasized that women who went on maternity leave received bigger raises than employees who took leave for other reasons. And in her ruling she delved into a discussion of work-life balance, quoting former General Electric CEO Jack Welch in saying, “There’s no such thing as work-life balance. There are work-life choices, and you make them, and they have consequences.”

I couldn’t agree more — with Judge Preska or Welch.

As a mother of two (soon to be three) young children, I feel I can write about this issue with some added legitimacy. Efforts by women on the left to pass gender-protection laws like the Pregnancy Discrimination Act actually increase the cost of employing women — especially of childbearing age. Protective laws create the threat of lawsuits and uncertainty and ultimately make it less desirable for employers to hire women.

The fact is being pregnant and taking time off for maternity leave doesn’t come without some challenges — and losses — for a company. As any woman who’s had a child will admit, there is certainly more time spent away from the office for doctor’s appointments, and businesses are often required to shift work responsibilities when women take maternity leave.

Ignoring these economic realities is narrow-minded. Instead, feminists should focus more on the fact that many employers want to accommodate women when they start families because women have real, hard-earned, measurable power that makes them an extremely desirable part of the workforce. Women not only earn more B.A.’s, M.A.’s, and now Ph.D.’s than men, but also are the leading purchasers — from groceries to cars. As a result, hiring women has become not just a good business practice, but also a necessary one.

A better way to protect all employees is by eliminating burdensome regulations that place limits on employer decisions and actions. Instead, we should encourage a marketplace that allows employers and employees to enter freely into contracts that suit both parties’ needs.

Last week’s decision in the Bloomberg LP case should remind us that men and women have to make choices. If feminists started viewing tradeoffs as a positive — rather than a negative — women would be much better off.

Sabrina L. Schaeffer is a senior fellow with the Independent Women’s Forum and managing partner of Evolving Strategies.


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