Living Single

The truth about singles in our society.

Best Story I’ve Ever Read on Singlism in the Workplace

Journalist describes “the single girl’s second shift.”

I have been railing about workplace discrimination against single people (and adults who have no children) for quite some time. Now and then, a story on the topic will pop up in the media. Just about any story that raises awareness about the issue is one worth publishing. The most recent entry is, so far, the best I’ve ever read.

In “The Single Girl’s Second Shift,” just published in Marie Claire, Ayana Byrd really did her due diligence. She talked to a number of single women who felt that they had been treated unfairly in the workplace because of their single status. She found some relevant survey results. She referred to federal laws. She gave a nod to some companies creating workplace arrangements that better accommodate single workers. She recounted what one fed-up single employee did – a strategy that actually worked. And, okay, so she also talked to me.

Here are a few highlights:

  • An example of a single woman’s experience.  Attorney Simone Allen started out scheduling her other interests after work, but that didn’t last: “Instead, she's spending most nights poring over her cases—and she's one of the only ones working such intense overtime at her office. With more than 100 lawyers on staff at her firm, fewer than five are single and do not have kids, says Allen, and overwhelmingly, those are the attorneys juggling the extra load.”
  • Another one. IT training consultant, Tanya Kelly, observed: "Each year I ask for the week off after Christmas, and my supervisor says no every time because another employee has to be home with her kids that week," she says. "After giving 110 percent all year, I can’t spend this time with my family?"
  • About employees without kids covering for parents: “An August 2011 survey by the Center for Talent Innovation found that 61 percent of women ages 33 to 47 without kids believe that their parent colleagues receive more flexibility at work.”
  • Some of the companies leading the way to workplaces that are fair to all workers: “Companies like Apple, Google, and LinkedIn are quietly offering workers leeway in how they spend part of the workweek to encourage creativity and boost morale without affecting productivity. Consumer products giant Unilever encourages all of its employees to adapt their schedules to their own needs…”
  • The Feds say that employers should be doing better:“ According to federal Equal Employment Opportunity laws, any benefits that a company offers to one employee—like leaving the office early from time to time—have to be available to all, says human resources manager Alice Winston... But often that's not the case.”
  • Not taking it anymore: “Dianne Baxter got so fed up with that double standard that the 40-year-old senior vice president … asked HR [Human Resources] to hold an intervention. Confronting the parents involved ‘a lot of uncomfortable shifting and a lack of eye contact,’ says Baxter, but in the end, she won out when HR required the same schedule for everyone.”

I want to add just one word of caution to this story. Sometimes single people, or adults with no children, who voice their concerns to their coworkers and bosses get backlash instead of justice. Most people think they are fair-minded and do not practice any sort of discrimination. Suggesting something different can be threatening to them, and some of them respond by further insulting and stigmatizing the person who has already been targeted by the unfair treatment. (In stories people have told me, “You’re just bitter,” is a common reaction.)

That’s one of the reasons I think that stories in the media, and other writings that raise awareness about singlism and singlism’s cousin, are so important. They make these matters part of the public dialog and not something specific to just a few individual workers here or there.

Discriminatory practices in the workplace are not personal. They are institutional. And they are wrong.

Bella DePaulo, Ph.D., is author of Singled Out: How Singles Are Stereotyped, Stigmatized, and Ignored, and Still Live Happily Ever After. She is a visiting professor at UCSB.

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