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child-producing breast-feeding legal thing

(107 Posts)
IceBeing Sun 26-Jan-14 22:07:39

I have promotion criteria that involve 'international reputation' which is often rated by the number of international conferences one has attended. I have attended none in the last 3 years due to pregnancy and then breast feeding.

Is there any legal argument to be made that this is discriminatory?

<I am 100% not interested in the moral/ethical side of it - only the legalities>

TheBossOfMe Mon 27-Jan-14 01:48:39

International reputation is key in my role, but can be built in many ways, not just attending conferences. So I can write articles, books etc about my area (and do so frequently), I blog, I appear on the news, and I host seminars that people come to attend.

Providing they aren't saying the only way to build international reputation is via conferences, I doubt there is any legal case to be made - lactating doesn't prevent you do any of the things that I do. Incidentally, it also didn't prevent me attending international conferences - taking baby (with nanny) and/or expressing is always an option.

So what have you done to build that "international reputation" in the last 3 years? If its nothing, then why would you expect to be given promotion over someone who has built one?

IceBeing Mon 27-Jan-14 11:07:39

hmm see this is exactly the sort of response that kills the chances of other women..

'oh well I managed why couldn't she?'

Well maybe I couldn't afford a Nanny...or to take my child to conferences...or maybe said child couldn't travel for their own medical reasons....but yeah as long as it worked out okay for you then stuff everyone else....they probably weren't trying hard enough.

The meeting to discuss promotions is closed to the candidates. I know for a fact that number of conferences attended is discussed even though it is known to be a discriminatory metric. I could of course put down all the things I did that weren't to do with that - papers, articles and book chapters but there isn't much point if someone is going to do a quick sum and reject me is there?

Lonecatwithkitten Mon 27-Jan-14 11:26:54

Are there other ways of gaining the information disseminated at the conferences that you could list. For example my professions two key conferences are released as pod casts each year so whilst attending is more fun, you can still gain the same benefit by listening to them.
Equally there is a third conference where the whole benefit is in being there so no way to make that up.

HomeHelpMeGawd Mon 27-Jan-14 11:39:55

IceBeing, you're being a bit stroppy and passive-aggressive with the boss of me. It's also a bit after-the-fact. The right way to go about this is to say to your manager at the start of your discussions about mat leave etc "I understand that attending international conferences is normally a criterion for promotion, as a proxy for international reputation. That's obviously going to be tricky for me over the next few years. Can we discuss how to work around this?" I doubt there's much you can do now, three years on, tbh.

Theas18 Mon 27-Jan-14 11:51:34

Interesting q. I agree with HHMG after the fact discussion is difficult.planning ahead might have been possible.

I have just done equality and diversity training (go me! LOL) and I think you would have needed to ask for help as people would think they were treating you fairly by NOT expecting you to attend overseas engagements. I don't think you can then claim discrimination for the same thing that would have you up in arms along the lines of " it's not fair I'm expected to take the baby and nanny to a conference".

ChunkyPickle Mon 27-Jan-14 12:03:33

I'm afraid I agree with everything the others have said - my conference attendance has also slipped now that I have a newborn, but I have to say it didn't let pregnancy stop me (including speaking - in fact I think it was good for a room largely full of men to see a humungous pregnant woman up there talking, reminding them that we exist and can still think) - both in the UK and abroad (admittedly only Europe).

Admittedly I had an easy pregnancy, so that wouldn't work for everyone.

I can't afford a nanny either - DP took time off work instead and took the toddler around whichever city it was whilst I attended the conference, so a kind of mini-break for him while I was working, and now that the baby is a bit older I expect we'll do the same (only works if you can afford the travel/your company is easy going about you sharing/boosting the hotel room)

IceBeing Mon 27-Jan-14 13:50:05

The thing is that attending international conferences really isn't necessary for promotion. It isn't on the criteria for promotion. Having a 'sufficient international reputation' is. So obviously I can argue that I do have one and therefore should be promoted.

What makes it discriminatory is using 'number of international conferences attended' as a proxy for international reputation.

I did not have the kind of pregnancy that allows international travel. I had the kind of pregnancy where a 1 hour train trip to give a seminar I was determined not to cancel left me back in hospital.

No amount of pre-planning discussion or provision of uni sponsored nannies (as if that is even a thing) would have gotten me out of the country for a two year period.

It is great that the majority of women can continue these activities while pregnant and with a newborn but that actually causes more problems for those of us who through no fault or decision of our own were not able to.

So either my department needs to realise that comparing numbers of conferences attended is wrong on two counts (one: you aren't supposed to compare candidates, you are supposed to compare individuals to the criteria for promotion, two: you shouldn't used metrics known to be discriminatory when processing applicants) or I have to go into rather more detail about my physical and mental health then anyone is likely to be prepared to do in order to get through....

RalphRecklessCardew Mon 27-Jan-14 13:52:56

Are you in the union? They might be able to advise.

IceBeing Mon 27-Jan-14 13:56:50

theas18 Please could you expand on what you wrote I am having difficulty making out what you are saying? (maybe some negatives missing?)

I feel that I did plan ahead for some (although not all - I mean who the hell expects to be out of commission and in and out of hospital for two years just because they have a baby) eventualities. I have worked hard to maintain my profile in the ways I can. I didn't know that promotion was approached in this particular way - and as I mentioned the official paperwork does not suggest that it is.

How could I plan in advance for the university not following its own protocols for promotion and doing things that anyone with any DE training knows is inappropriate?

IceBeing Mon 27-Jan-14 13:58:13

Ralph yes - although that seems the nuclear option tbh. I was asking about BFing from a legal perspective because I would be prepared to make that public knowledge in order to get through. The real reasons for my not being able to travel are rather too personal for me to want the whole department knowing about it!

HomeHelpMeGawd Mon 27-Jan-14 14:03:35

IceBeing, I'm sorry to say I still think you're being pretty unreasonably chippy about this. As you said yourself, sufficient international reputation is fine, and attending international conferences is just a proxy. The conversation to have had three years ago was not one about "let's see how I can get to these conferences" but "let's see how I can demonstrate my international reputation without needing to attend these conferences".

I really think you're on a hiding to nothing in telling them that they can't take account of others having attended international conferences as a marker of others' international reputation because you couldn't have done so, unless they had told you that this was the only significant marker of international reputation that would be acceptable.

This all feels like a bit of a waste of energy. You would be better off thinking about how else you could demonstrate your international reputation now as part of your promotion case, and then doing your best to have at least one person in the room as a supporter who says "IceBeing obviously hasn't been able to go abroad for the last three years due to starting a family. But she has a towering reputation as demonstrated by all her publications, the fact that she's called by overseas colleagues at least twice monthly, her contribution to effort X which is cross-border, etc etc".

Incidentally, I have never heard of an organisation that has promotion candidates present when discussing whether they should be promoted! I can't imagine that this would ever happen, anywhere.

PiratePanda Mon 27-Jan-14 14:16:04

It sounds to me like you're being rather too negative in advance of necessity. It may take a bit of work, but have you thought about pre-empting the international reputation issue by finding other ways round the problem? So, you haven't gone to any international conferences. Have you got senior colleagues or peers who would be willing to write a paragraph or two of unsolicited reference for you saying how internationally ground breaking your work is? Have you got great comments from reviewers of your recent publications that you could include as a different kind oc proxy? What about citations? If you're not in a discipline that collects these as a matter of course, google yourself on google scholar and see who's cited you and where. Have you been invited to speak internationally but had to turn down the opportunity? Submit the letters or emails of invitation.

As long as you've been publishing and had some international responses to your work that way then I'd say you've still got skin in the game.

IceBeing Mon 27-Jan-14 14:32:50

home where on earth have I said that conference invites can't be used by others to demonstrate international reputation?

I said you can't compare candidates and that a lack of international talks shouldn't be used as an indicator of a lack of meeting that criteria...

IceBeing Mon 27-Jan-14 14:36:57

home ahh I think we are at cross purposes more than I realised. The problem in the process is at the stage at which the department decides if they will back an application for promotion. It isn't the point at which promotion is actually secured or otherwise which is done centrally by the university (and probably with actual reference to the promotion criteria -although you never know).

I can write whatever I like in my application - but I already know that at this closed doors meeting people will do things like comparing how many conferences people have attended.

My whole point here is to make the case to those running the meeting that this is inappropriate and discriminatory. This is probably enough to make them pack it in but it would be easier if it was also illegal!

Hence posting here.

PiratePanda Mon 27-Jan-14 14:44:29

Look, any department worth their salt would go out of their way to avoid even possibly discriminating against a woman on the grounds of maternity and breast feeding. But you may have to explicitly argue your corner in your application for promotion. You have legitimately been unable to go overseas due to your children's health at a point in time when you could not leave them because you were breast feeding. I know you don't want to, but you are going to have to say so -- but then say "I have nonetheless kept up my international reputation by X Y and Z alternatives."

IceBeing Mon 27-Jan-14 14:51:08

pirate so you think that rather than challenge them for misapplying the promotions criteria I should just put up with it and feel forced to reveal personal medical information?

I wouldn't have to tell them anything if they weren't doing it all arse about face....

Also maybe that is fine for me...maybe I don't give a shit if the whole department knows the ins and outs of my child bearing experience...but what about the next person? Maybe they have a sensitive mental health issue or a hidden disability. Why should they have to make these things public just so the department can carry on with their flawed discriminatory processes?

and to think we just had a lecture from the Athena Swan people about the need to 'change the system not the people'....

Who has said uou have to share intimate medical details?

PiratePanda Mon 27-Jan-14 15:01:40

Well unless you get an iron clad legal opinion that what they are doing is illegal - which I'm pretty sure you won't for a number of reasons - then what's the point. And I'm afraid that legally yes, you do need to declare a disability or embarrassing medical problem in order for your employer to make reasonable adjustments. What you may be able to do - and you should find out about this - is only share your medical issues with the chair of the promotions committee, who would then direct that conferences could not be used as a proxy in your case for confidential reasons. This is exactly how the mitigating circumstances procedure works for student examinations.

And no, I don't think it's a productive idea to go in all guns blazing and accuse the people who have the power of granting the promotion or not of acting illegally and discriminating against you when you actually have no idea if that's what's going to transpire in the meeting. You have to box clever.

minniemagoo Mon 27-Jan-14 15:02:07

You need to be 100% sure that attendance at international conferences is the only metric used to determine 'sufficient international reputation' at the promotions meeting. To be sure of this you would need one of the attendees at the closed meeting to confirm this and to agree that no other metric which could have been used was looked at.
As, from the tone of your post, it seems this meeting has not yet taken place you cannot prove this at this moment.
in fact from your post I gather you do not yet know if you have been unsuccessful.
Once you are informed that you have been unsuccessful you can request a meeting to go over your CV and clarify where it is insufficient/how you can improve. If at this point they say 'you were unsuccessful due to the above' (very very unlikely) then you may have a case.

I would question how you know what is to be the criteria, did someone tell you? Could you not approach them and mention you think it would be fairest and more legally transparent if other criteria (such as articles, seminars etc) were included.

PiratePanda Mon 27-Jan-14 15:04:17

And I know you have a sense of injustice here, but do try not to take it out on people who are trying to give you useful advice.

Reduction Mon 27-Jan-14 15:06:14

I think a man who was "in and out of hospital" for two years would also find his international reputation suffered so I doubt it's discriminatory.

I also think that if you come across IRL the way you do here I would have reservations about promoting you too, which would have nothing to do with your international reputation.

TheBossOfMe Mon 27-Jan-14 15:56:48

No need to be rude, and I'm country CEO of a company that has over 80% female employees in the office I run, with 12 out of 14 of the management board being women, including 6 working mothers. We run all kinds of programmes to advance the rights of women in the workplace, very successfully, in what is traditionally a very male dominated industry. So I'll thank you not to lecture me on how I'm holding women back.

Back to the legal point, I would think, as Reduction says you would need to demonstrate that a) attending such conferences was the only criterion of international reputation requirements you haven't fulfilled and b) that a man with a similarly work-limiting situation eg long term illness did not have his lack if attendance held against me.

I assume since you now know what is discussed at these promotion discussions ( which are closed in many industries), you could just as easily have found out before now.

You do come across as rather lacking in interpersonal skills. Which could be a factor in your perceived lack of success.

TheBossOfMe Mon 27-Jan-14 16:00:19

Oh, and I also had a difficult pregnancy, and didn't travel whilst pregnant. But I discussed ways to manage my reputation the day I disclosed my pregnancy. It's called being proactive. And not being entitled.

Clouddancer Mon 27-Jan-14 17:57:53

ice, I do get where you are coming from. I am a single parent of two dc, still breastfeeding. I find it impossible to travel. I did the international conferences, travel etc with one small dc and appropriate support, by taking her and her gran, but with two? Forget it, one is in school and I can't afford it because of already sky high childcare. I tick every other box over and above what is necessary, but I can't travel. I am advised that where I am, it is on preponderance, so I may give it a go. We'll see. Otherwise, I will wait a few years. That is why we have a gender gap in senior positions.

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