“I am on the partner track. For the first time in my career I have some traction…and now I’m worried they would use this to penalise me.” – Luca Quinn on being pregnant
I was watching “The Good Fight” last night and one of my favourite characters, Luca Quinn, is pregnant. She is a strong, feisty, intelligent (brilliant actually), problem-solving, lightning-quick-witted lawyer and she exercises complete ownership of her sexuality. Oh! She’s also up for partnership. What’s not to love. I relate to her. I want to be her. I love her. You get the gist. To my surprise, she is also pregnant. When the episode starts, she hasn’t told anyone that she is pregnant officially yet.
Then things get interesting… they show a painful realistic scene of the Partners sitting in a closed office discussing her “condition.” The biggest case of her career is coming up and they are discussing “removing her from it to accommodate her “condition.” In exasperation one of the partners wonders out loud why she hasn’t said anything. A fellow Partner responds, “this. this is why she hasn’t said anything.”
The exasperated partner approaches one of Luca’s friends to ask her if Luca has spoken to her about her “condition” and to find out why she is not speaking up. The answer was “maybe she wants to be thought of as a lawyer and not as an expectant mother.”
I could have high fived the TV screen at this point because that is how I felt. I didn’t mention that I was pregnant for 6 months because I had so many fears and reservations. Discrimination is against the law but some forms of being discriminated against cannot be regulated. I was afraid of being subtly moved to the side. I was afraid of losing “points” in my performance review. I was afraid I might be passed over for big projects or worst of all, that I would cease to be a lawyer in the eyes of my colleagues and simply become the pregnant lady. My career had finally taken off. A takeoff that had been almost ten years in the making. Would pregnancy add another 5 years?
It is not lost on me that I was lucky that I suffered minimal discrimination and hardly any from the people I work with that matter to my career progression. In fact, my performance review at 8.5 months pregnant was my best to date. Although this year is not a career chart-topper, it’s not the worst either. A lot of women are not so lucky. There is a whole website dedicated to women who suffer cloak and dagger discrimination like getting some of their responsibilities reassigned, missing promotions and not being granted “discretionary” salary increases. Its called “pregnant and screwed.” What a name right? But it’s a reality. With women already earning 30 to 40% less than their male counterparts doing the same job, this is a sword to the knees of women’s rights.
I looked into Luca’s character this morning and found that the actress who plays Luca, Cush Jumbo, suffered the same fears and concerns about her job playing Luca when she found out that she was pregnant. She was afraid that the horror stories of characters being written out or forced to act “not pregnant” might happen to her.
Even now, post-baby, I am acutely aware of colleagues who only want to speak to me about my baby. I wonder if they still see me as a lawyer or have I become a mum who is a lawyer in her spare time in their eyes? I try to pay attention to whether I am treated differently. Do they ask male colleagues with children in the same age range how their children are or it is a question reserved for females? Often, they don’t.
I won’t really know the impact that pregnancy will have on my career until years from now when I can look back at the full picture but this is where I am now. And what I hope for now is that feminists across the world, whether male or female, start focusing their energy on effecting real-life changes to their spheres of influence like encouraging and pushing for equal pay and accommodating pregnancy without “sanction.”
If even one other woman has the same fears and anxieties as I do, there is a real narrative that feeds those fears and that narrative must be changed.