Hillary and 'Maternal Profiling'

Candidate vows to fight firms that won't hire women because of potential pregnancy or caretaking.

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Sen. Hillary Clinton was campaigning in New Hampshire yesterday and her way-ahead-of-the-pack status (I won't use the word "front-runner") must be giving her the confidence to return to her roots and stump for the women's vote. Up until now, with her support for the Iraq war and tough talk on international issues, she has seemed more focused on convincing male voters she'd make a worthy commander in chief than convincing women voters she'd make a fine president.

The National Organization for Women sent an E-mail cheering on Clinton's commitment, in New Hampshire, to tackle so-called maternal profiling. Such profiling occurs when companies that are considering hiring or promoting young, married workers or employees with sick, elderly relatives presume that these workers, if they're women, won't put in as much time or energy as others because of their family responsibilities.

NOW President Kim Gandy says, "Such assumptions are deeply ingrained in stereotypes about women as caregivers, and they affect the pay and employment status of millions of women, and some men as well. ... This is discrimination, pure and simple, and it contributes to the enormous wage gap between mothers and nonmothers."

According to the Center for Worklife Law at the University of California's Hastings College of Law, in the year 2005, there were more than 600 cases brought by women in academe charging their employers with "family responsibilities discrimination."

This is just in academe. Imagine how many there must have been in corporations nationwide. Stereotyping of any sort is wrong and it's illegal. But some women contribute to it on rare occasion by taking advantage of corporate benefits. I know of several cases in which women took long paid or unpaid maternity leave, only to quit as soon as the leave was up, in order to keep their salaries or benefits for longer periods. We've got to reach a middle ground where companies do not stereotype female or male workers, but workers also don't abuse corporate benefits.