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  • Anya Smirnova

The Maternal Wall

Updated: May 16

I chose this topic to show just how much some stories empower us, while others limit our potential.



The Maternal Wall is more of a US term. It means a bias that occurs when colleagues view mothers—or pregnant women—as less competent or less committed to their jobs. In the UK, bias concerns may arise concerning flexible working, for example.

The question is: How hearing about it makes you feel? What stories come to mind? And how much do you think those stories will influence your decisions and responses in the workplace?

When I first heard the term Maternal Wall a couple of weeks ago, it felt heavy-bodied and isolating women among working parents. I imagined a wall from an obstacle course training that all women need to jump or climb, and I emotionally connected with that struggle. The same story using the word 'bias' instead would have had a different impact on me. 'Bias' describes the same concept but has less emotional baggage.

Each of us carries a toolbox of stories. They help us navigate the world, but they also prime us. We save new ones in our bank of experiences, and they might influence our future actions unconsciously, even if our conscious beliefs are different. A large study in the US[1] showed that even people who consciously believe in equal share of responsibility between husband and wife unconsciously might quicker associate 'men' with 'work' and 'women' with 'family', reflecting the traditional story that is still quite present today. These tests are open to the public. I will post a link if you want to have a go [2].

So, here is the thing. The bias at work is a story with many variations. Just when you were pregnant and sought out positive birth stories or those supporting your birth choices. Now that you are reflecting on your career reach out to the stories supporting your authentic career choices. If you feel ready, write a new one, and it will inspire others. And then, share it! By telling your story, you are changing other people's story banks and so behaviours.

The insight is in understanding that one's perception of the world –not just the narrative that the workplace might hold– is actually the driving force of much of what is happening in one's life.

So, what stories do you hold? Do a review of your toolbox. And if you need help, consider hiring a coach. Coaches are trained in unfolding the stories you tell yourself and help you create a resourceful toolkit to support you in life.

I would love to hear your comments. If you have any questions, reach out to me at anya@postnatalrecovery.co.uk.

[1] Project Implicit was founded in 1998 by three scientists – Tony Greenwald (University of Washington), Mahzarin Banaji (Harvard University), and Brian Nosek (University of Virginia). https://www.projectimplicit.net.

[2] Project Implicit offers free online tests on implicit associations about race, gender, sexual orientation, exercise, anxiety, alcohol, eating, marijuana, and other topics: https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/.

WOMEN IN LAW:

You have just had a baby and are navigating this new world of being a mum and a professional, enquire about our coaching around childbirth for professional & personal goals & postnatal health.


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