Dear DEI, Esq: My Work Thinks My Familial Responsibilities Are Holding Me Back

In this series, DEI, Esq. is helping individuals who may have experienced or perceived some sort of bias become bias interrupters.

Dear DEI, Esq.,

I recently shared with my work colleagues that I’m divorced and am now the primary caregiver for my children. I didn’t share this information for sympathy but to bring awareness to the fact that some days I may have to adjust my schedule based on my parenting responsibilities.

My manager recently announced an opportunity to go on a six-week assignment to Brazil as a project lead. I’ve previously mentioned to my manager that I’m interested in a short-term international assignment, and the nature of the Brazil project is in my wheelhouse. My manager didn’t even consider me for the opportunity, but instead gave it to a colleague with no childcare responsibilities. I’m very disappointed that I wasn’t, at least, considered. What should I do?


Passed-over single dad

Dear Passed-over single dad,

This is discouraging. Thanks for sharing your experience and wanting to understand what you can do to interrupt this unconscious bias. What you may be experiencing is the “maternal/paternal wall” bias pattern where family commitments are used as a reason (or sometimes an excuse) to hold individuals with childcare responsibilities back.

This bias pattern relates to perception bias — assuming that someone without childcare responsibilities is more capable or willing to go on an extended work trip out of the country. Here are some suggestions on how to approach this.

If you are willing to travel, say so. Communicate your career goals and expectations clearly and often. Don’t allow others to create the narrative for you.

Normalize childcare responsibilities in the workplace. You took this first step already by sharing a change in your family structure. So, good for you! However, while you shared the potential challenges you may face as the primary caregiver, you forgot to underscore the fact that this does not prevent you from being committed to work.

Yes, you should not have to emphasize that, but you must remember that your manager is navigating systemic issues and misperceptions at this moment, as well. She may have been trying to alleviate a burden on you by not asking you to accept an international project now that she knows you are the primary caregiver for your children. This perception could be rooted in her own experience as a parent.

So, a sit-down with your manager will help you reinforce your expectations and goals while also making your manager aware of her unconscious biases in making this decision and future decisions.

Best of luck to you!

DEI, Esq.

DEI, Esq. is comprised of in-house counsel who share a deep passion for diversity, equity, and inclusion. While the members, Jane Howard-Martin, Connie Almond, Olesja Cormney, Jennifer N. Jones, and Meyling Ly Ortiz, work as employment counsel at Toyota Motor North America, Inc., their views and the thought-leadership expressed are their own and not necessarily the views of their employer.