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All the Workplace Rights Your Mother Didn't Have

Happy Mother's Day to the Silent Generation, who endured everything

woman riding a bike with her baby

For Mother's Day, we took a deep dive into what rights your mom wouldn't have had when she started her career, generation by generation. Despite all the strides women have made in the workforce in the past century, gender discrimination still lives on today. 

We’ve built a lot of momentum, but the fight for more rights is far from over. So, hug your mom (or call her), and praise her for the strong, resilient woman she is. 

If your mom is in the Silent Generation 

Born between: 1928 and 1945

The oldest of the Silent Generation lived through the Great Depression, the Dust Bowl, and World War II. When we take a look at the workplace rights between this generation and now, the differences are stark. Before Title VI of the Civil Rights Act was passed in 1964, employers were not forbidden from discriminating on the basis of gender, race, religion, or national origin. If born in 1928, your mom would have been 36 by the time that was illegal. And although the act established the legal foundation for preventing sexual harassment, that wasn’t included in the legislation at the time.

The Equal Pay Act wasn’t passed until 1963, which means the Silent Generation moms were earning two-thirds less than their male counterparts for doing equal work...wait, some things haven’t changed (screams internally since the gender pay gap isn’t expected to close until at least 2059). Before the Equal Pay Act was passed, there was no way for these moms to file a complaint with their employer or the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), but it still remains a landmark bill aimed at reducing gender discrimination in the workplace.

Read more: A Brief History of the Equal Pay Act

If your mom is a Baby Boomer 

Born between: 1946 and 1964

This generation went to drive-in movies, talked to an operator, and...still dealt with pregnancy discrimination in the workplace. Before The Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978, it wasn’t illegal to discriminate against a woman because of pregnancy, childbirth, or other medical conditions related to being a mom-to-be. Employers could use a Baby Boomer’s pregnancy as a reason not to hire her, a pregnant woman’s PTO and benefits could be affected, and a pregnant woman could be fired just for having a bun in the oven. (This still happens shockingly often, with employers even asking illegal interview questions to gauge women’s interest in starting a family.) Your mom, if born in 1946, would have been 32 when the Pregnancy Discrimination Act passed; she likely would have given birth to her first child at least seven years earlier.

Baby Boomer moms were protected against most types of workplace discrimination under the Civil Rights Act of 1964, but they still weren’t eligible for damages or compensation for intentional employment discrimination. And Baby Boomers still had no legal guidelines outlining what sexual harassment in the workplace was. Cue Mad Men music.

Read more: Know Your Rights: The Ins and Outs of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act

If your mom is Gen X 

Born between: 1965 and 1980

The Family and Medical Leave Act was signed into law in 1993, meaning Gen X moms weren’t granted temporary medical leave (now typically 12 weeks, unpaid) to give birth, adopt a child, or take care of a sick family member until then. In other words, these moms and the women who came before them often had to choose between caring for loved ones and job security. The Civil Rights Act of 1991 built upon the 1964 act and allowed the women to seek damages for intentional employment discrimination, but was not retroactive—so Gen X moms with already pending cases weren’t covered by the act, and neither were their moms. If born in 1965, your mom was 28 and 26 respectively when these new rights were signed into law.

There still wasn’t protection for employees working in businesses with less than 15 employees and no protection against workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation; however, Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 prohibited employment discrimination on the basis of disability by private employers. Mom was 27. 

Read more: 22 Women in Politics Who Fought to Make Better Workplaces for Women

If your mom is a Millennial 

Born between: 1981 and 1996

Ah yes, the technology-based generation. Women have it all, right? Not so. Regarding the Equal Pay Act: When the first millennial moms entered the workforce, they were still required to file a complaint within 180 days of a discriminatory pay policy first taking place since the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act wasn’t passed until 2009. The short window for filing meant women could go years without knowing they’d been paid unfairly and have no room for recourse once they found out. Now the 180-day timeline for filing restarts after each new offense occurs. Mom, if born in 1981, was 28 when this changed.

Read more: 3 Essential Steps to Allyship in Times of Crisis

If you’re a Gen Z

Born between: 1997 and 2010

Chances are, there aren’t too many Gen Z moms. (Although, you 1997 babies are 23 now. It’s definitely possible.) So the question is, what workplace rights do we still not have that would be beneficial for Gen Z’s kids? 

Despite same-sex marriage being legalized in 2015, there’s still not a federal law that explicitly protects against workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. That’s an estimated 11 million people in the U.S. who aren’t protected from workplace discrimination based on who they love. The EEOC argues that discrimination on the basis of gender identity is considered discrimination because of sex and therefore is covered under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 recent court cases have agreed that Title VII does indeed protect LGBTQ+ employees. But since the current administration is actively trying to decrease health care discrimination protections for LGBTQ+ folks, we need to fight harder to make protections irrefutable for everyone in the nation.

What else do we need? Real enforcement of the legislation already in place. Yes, historical bills have been passed with intent to end discrimination and sexual harassment in the workplace, but they aren’t an end all, be all—discrimination is still rampant against women in the workplace. To keep the positive change rolling forward, we need to listen to women, believe women, and promote women. 

Read more: Ending Gender Inequality in the Workplace: 6 Things That Must Change

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By Cara Hutto

Contributor

Cara Hutto is a freelance writer and the former assistant editor at InHerSight. Her writing primarily focuses on workplace rights, job searching, culture, and food, and she holds a bachelor’s degree in media and journalism from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.

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