A recent Los Angeles Times story by Sabrina Willmer shines a light on the hypocrisy of many corporate family leave policies in the United States. Willmer explains that Goldman Sachs proudly promotes itself as a family-friendly company that offers four months of paid family leave as part of a widely publicized diversity initiative designed to attract talent. When women take maternity leave at Goldman, however, their careers are often damaged, and some have been fired using “business case” justifications that do not align with their performances.
Goldman Sachs is not the only company to offer a family-friendly policy and then punish women and men for using it. Stories like the one reported by Willmer are common in many other organizations as well. The case discussed below is one of many being litigated in a class-action gender bias lawsuit against Goldman Sachs based on complaints of reprisals when women took maternity leave.
Willmer presents the case of Tania Mirchandani, a vice president and employee of fifteen years at Goldman Sachs in Los Angeles. When she reported to her supervisor, a father of four children, that she was pregnant with her third child, he expressed skepticism that she could balance the demands of her job with such a large family. Toward the end of her maternity leave, just before returning, her boss called to tell her she was terminated “for strategic business reasons” and that men in the office were also being laid off to cut costs. In Mirchandani’s gender bias complaint she states that, in fact, she was the only person cut in the Los Angeles office and male colleagues kept their jobs even though their performances were not as good as hers.
Mirchandani’s experience is not unusual at Goldman Sachs, and other women have also report reprisal and pressure after maternity leave. Specifically, after maternity leave, many women at Goldman
- Are assigned to a different position when they return and lose the accounts or clients they developed before taking leave
- Report being passed up for promotions
- Are pushed onto a “mommy track” where they are not eligible for promotions
- Are not assigned to a team and are left to develop new business on their own
- Report that it is “standard practice” for Goldman to pressure women to take shorter maternity leaves than allowed by policy
This same story is playing out for women in many corporations. Is it any wonder that, although most companies have updated their family leave policies, the number of women taking paid maternity leave in the United States each month has remained unchanged since the 1990s, according to a 2017 study by Boston University? Willmer reminds us that family-friendly policies are empty words on paper when the cultures of organizations do not change. The same will be true for all of the new sexual harassment policies being published as a result of the #MeToo movement. Organizations’ cultures do not change without vigilance, transparency, and accountability. We have a long way to go.
Is your organization truly trying to change its culture? Please share what is working.
Anne Litwin, Ph.D. is an Organizational Development and Human Resources Consultant, Keynote Speaker, and Author of ‘New Rules for Women: Revolutionizing the Way Women Work Together.’
Originally published at www.annelitwin.com on January 28, 2019.