I was in a room full of peers at a conference when there was a lull in the conversation and my male boss called out, "who wants to talk about Jan's sex life?" I believe, in that very moment, I was truly hoping the floor would swallow me up as everyone made awkward excuses to leave the room.
When he sent me a text inviting me up to his room for a drink later that weekend, I ignored it and hoped this would all just go away. I probably shouldn't have been so surprised when he fired me a few weeks later for not being able to "play ball".
I was furious and devastated to have my career sidelined by this man, and tried to take action against him for what I deemed to be wrongful dismissal. But, I was very clearly told that there was no point in pursuing it, because it just came down to a he said/she said situation and there was no way anyone would believe me.
Fast forward a few years and the #MeToo Movement gave a voice to so many who felt voiceless. It has been hailed as a "watershed moment in the advancement of gender equality" and changed how we think about power, and it also has me thinking.
Discussions with working moms about how to protect themselves in the workplace have become a common part of my day to day.
I hear stories about women who have had their salaries reduced because they requested flexibility in their schedule to accommodate daycare needs. Others are bringing sick children into work with them and setting up makeshift beds on office floors because their employers won't allow them to use a sick day to take care of their child.
Employers are still asking women deeply personal questions about their reproductive choices and using veiled threats about the impact a maternity leave can have on their career.
The more I hear, the more I wonder where is our movement? The one that will protect working mothers and place the spotlight on the reality of discrimination, harassment and professional misconduct that mothers encounter far too often. When will we get our #MotherMovement?
Employers have a responsibility to the people they employ, which includes being educated and informed on human rights in the workplace. It is not excusable to claim innocence or misunderstanding as a justification for violating someone's rights. As an employer, they have accepted a position of leadership and the primary responsibility of that leader is to their staff.
As with all cases of harassment, the fear of standing up against those who are perpetrating it always comes down to repercussions. We know that it is illegal to deny a woman the right to pump in the workplace, but we also know that it is happening to some woman right now. We also know that the employer will most not be held accountable, and that is because we need our jobs. Both for personal fulfillment, but also in order to survive and take care of our families. This puts mothers in the most vulnerable of situations because we feel we can't bring forward complaints about harassment in the workplace because we can't afford to lose our jobs.
Just as the #MeToo Movement was not exclusively about getting men fired, our movement shouldn't be about that either. We need to talk more openly about the truth we face as mothers and spread the message to each other that you are heard, you are understood, you are not alone. We need a #MotherMovement that is determined to end harassment and discrimination against working mothers. We need to hold employers (both male and female) accountable for their misconduct. We need to educate the women coming up behind us of their rights as moms with careers. We need to end the silence and the fear.
The #MeToo Movement had been around for more than 10 years before Alyssa Milano brought it to the next level. It had been built from the voices of courageous women who are survivors. I long for the day when I don't need to worry about what my daughter will face in her career or I can have a conversation with a working mom that doesn't involve how to navigate discrimination. But until then, I'll keep doing my part to help women to know their rights and navigate their career, while I wait for our time. For our Moms Too Movement.
Jan Elizabeth Ditchfield is an award-winning human rights professional and social entrepreneur. She is the CEO & Founder of RISE Mama, which creates return to work strategies and helps women to re-shape their professional identities after taking time away from a traditional work setting in order to dedicate themselves to their families. .Learn more at risemama.ca and follow them on Facebook and Instagram @risemama.